Treasured for 6,000 years, emeralds were already much sought-after items in the gem markets of Babylon. The ancient Egyptians were mining emeralds long before other gems as far back as 2000 BC in the desert of Upper Egypt near the Red Sea. They buried the mummies of their notables with an emerald attached around the necks. It was carved with the hieroglyphic symbol for verdant foliage as the gem symbolized eternal youth and rebirth by virtue of its luxuriant spring-like greens. Cleopatra valued her lustrous emeralds so greatly that the ancient mines in Egypt are now called Cleopatra's Mines. In India, moguls inscribed sacred texts on emeralds and wore them as talismans. The ancient Romans dedicated the emerald to Venus, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, and Emperor Nero reportedly wore emerald sunglasses to watch the gladiators fight in the Coliseum.
Colombia, South America has always been the source of the finest emeralds. When the Spaniards conquered the Incas in the early 16th century, they stole all the emeralds they could find. However, the Incas refused to reveal the source of these coveted gems, and fortunately, the jungle quickly grew over the paths to the mines. The precious treasure was safe from the
plunderers at least temporarily. In 1555 one of the mines of Muzo was discovered by accident, and the Spanish began mining.
Colombian emeralds are a relatively clear pure green, slightly yellowish-green or slightly bluish-green. The only neighboring country to Columbia that is important as an emerald source is Brazil. Other sources are the African countries of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The two most famous emeralds are the Devon shire and the Patricia. The
Devon shire is a 1383.95-carat, uncut Colombian crystal of fine green color. It was given to the sixth Duke of
Devon shire by Emperor Dom Pedro I of Brazil in 1831. It is on permanent loan to the British Museum of Natural History. The 630-carat Patricia Emerald is another crystal of fine color that resides in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.