Emerald Physical Object

Accession Number
Alternate object names
A natural, hexagonal emerald crystal. The Spanish discovered emeralds in Colombia in 1536, during the conquest of South America. Emeralds were highly prized gems, and mines quickly established by the Spanish, adding another facet to an almost unbelievable array of New World treasures controlled by that nation. Colombian emeralds quickly became both a standard trade item and a popular statement of wealth mounted in rings, crosses, necklaces, belts, and caps. As a natural consequence of their commanding value and portability, a clandestine market in emeralds evolved, well- evidenced by the fact that the cache of 6,000 loose and uncut emeralds on the Atocha site was not declared on the ship's manifest. The Atocha emeralds are from the Muzo region of central Colombia, an area that even today produces some of the finest emeralds in the world.


2.5 cm H x 2.7 cm L , Item (Overall)

77.76 carat. Collective Access does not accept carat as a weight.

Exhibition Label
Case/Object Caption (2023):

Smuggled Gems
Emeralds, pearls (c.1620)
Gifts of Jeanne A. Azen, Kim Fisher, Mel and Dolores Fisher, Taffi Fisher-Abt, John Russell
1986.003.0003, 2005.008.0001, 2006.014.0001, 2006.015.0001, 2006.016.0002,
2007.008.0001, 2008.011.0001, 2009.006.0001, 2010.004.0002-15, 2011.002.0002-14

When conquistadors captured the emerald mines at Muzo, in present-day Colombia, emeralds were worth more than rubies or diamonds. Deep in color and exceptionally fine, Muzo emeralds are still considered the finest in the world. The largest emerald in this display was also the largest one found on the 1622 galleons, weighing 78 carats.

In the early 1500s, conquistadors discovered oyster beds along the coasts of Venezuela and Panama. At first, they enslaved local divers to collect the pearls but, when Indigenous slavery was outlawed in the 1550s, they imported enslaved Africans to do the dangerous work. These pearls were among thousands found inside a lead box.

These gems were not recorded on the galleons’ manifests. They were being smuggled!