MUZO: Fact and Fiction

 Muzo town

No other single word or phrase is so inextricably linked with the mystique, history and current reality of Colombian emerald mining as the ubiquitous “Muzo”.   Given its evolution in the form of noun and adjective over centuries, and its sometimes-erroneous use in the promotion of Colombia’s world class emeralds, it seems a good idea to attempt to clarify what “Muzo” is, and what it isn’t.

Historically, the earliest appearance of the word “Muzo” is as the name of the early Cariban-speaking native inhabitants of the area of what is now northern Cundinamarca and western Boyacá provinces in the eastern range of the Andes, the epicenter of Colombia’s most important emerald deposits.  The Muzo drove the earlier inhabitants of the emerald belt, the Muisca, into higher altitudes around 1000AD and ruled the area until the arrival of the Spanish.  They were known as “The Emerald People” because of their early exploitation of the deposits within their realm.  It took the Spanish nearly 20 years, from 1539 to 1560 to finally subdue the Muzo and take control of the source of the world’s finest emeralds.  The tribal legacy lives on, however, as their ancestral land remains home to thousands of descendants and is still known generally as Muzo.  As well, the most important population center in the area is also called Muzo. The city has existed as an entity since its founding by the Spanish in 1559.

“Muzo” has important connotations as well in reference to the actual geological structure of the emerald deposits found in a specific area of the western emerald belt in Boyaca’ and Cundinamarca.  What is known as the Muzo Formation encompasses the area that stretches from approximately the city of Muzo and the famous Muzo mining complex at the confluence of the Rio Itoco and the Rio Minero in the south to approximately BorBur in the north.  It includes as well the important legacy mines of Cunas and La Pita along the Rio Minero to the east and Coscuez to the west, plus hundreds of smaller properties.  It is within the Muzo Formation that the finest emeralds the world has ever known have been found, all of them in the same type of formation as the photo included: veins of calcite crystal including emeralds sandwiched within dark gray shale.  So, it can be said that any emerald found within the Muzo Formation can be considered a “Muzo Emerald”, no matter what the hue, tone and saturation may be.

Muzo Formation structure

And then there is the “Muzo Mine” to consider.  Although the name is used commonly in discussion, literature, and sales promotion, there is actually no such mine.  What is being referred to is the large mining complex created years ago by Victor Carranza and his various associates along the Rio Itoco, just before its confluence with the Rio Minero.  Owned and operated now by Minería Texas Colombia (MTC), it is still the largest and most productive by far of all the Legacy operations.  The Puerto Arturo mine, from which billions of dollars’ worth of emeralds have been extracted over the years, is the center piece of the of the Muzo Complex with numerous other adjacent properties added to the holding.  Always with an eye to sales and promotion, MTC has continued to use the “Muzo” brand to promote their superb emeralds in the global market.

“Muzo” has even become an adjective used by various marketers with reference to the spectacular and unique green hue that can only be found in highest quality Colombian emeralds.  “Muzo Green” is being substituted in some circles for the more scientific, and generally accepted, Vivid Green designation of GIA origin that has been used for years by gem labs the world over.  Is it ethical or not; who are we to judge?  It does fail to take into account all the various other hues of emeralds found within the Muzo formation that are, in fact, Muzo Green as well.  It’s our opinion that standardized and precise language is important in the classification process for all emeralds, and especially for those of the quality and value of the finest that are extracted from the mines situated among the majestic emerald green mountains where the Emerald People once ruled.

A fine vivid green emerald from the Cunas Mine, the Muzo Formation

Clearly the word “Muzo” maintains an iconic prominence as part of the lore and legend, as well as the modern development, of Colombian emerald mining and marketing.  Hopefully we have been able offer a more precise definition of what the word actually refers to in the various contexts in which it appears in the lexicon of the world of emeralds.