Wednesday, 13 May 2009


In Cartagena, I visited another wonderful museum, the Museo de la Esmeralda, a museum dedicated to the study, gathering and conservation of emeralds. It took a few times to find the ‘real’ Emerald Museum, with a jewellery shop on the same street proudly displaying the sign ‘museo’, and a taxi driver who took me to an emerald factory instead.
The museum has a fantastic array of emeralds in their natural state, some very rare, including the trapiche, which apparently has a waiting list of potential buyers including Spanish royalty. The museum, however, will not part with their prized emerald.

A trapiche emerald exhibits a star pattern, having ray-like spokes of dark carbon impurities that give the emerald a six-pointed radial pattern. It is named after the grinding wheel used to process sugarcane in the region. Colombian emeralds are generally the most prized due to their transparency and fire. Some of the most rare emeralds come from three main emerald mining areas in Colombia, which are Muzo, Coscuez and Chivor in the department of Boyacá.

Colombian emeralds may be highly sought after, but are they ethical. Privatised in 1973, the mines have often been the preserve of cartels and prospectors, with dangerous working conditions being the norm. The work of emerald dealer Ronald Ringsrud is seeking to reverse this trend by introducing the concept of fair trade emeralds in Colombia, working with small-scale, artisanal emerald miners to create safe and fair working conditions, whilst reducing poverty and strenthening communities.

Museo de La Esmeralda - Calle Don Sancho #36-75, Cartagena de Indias

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