I recently had the pleasure of attending a special event in Los Angeles. It’s hard to resist the allure of gems, especially when those gems are the most vivid green and sought-after emeralds in the world, from the famed Muzo mine of Colombia. It is even harder to resist when the gems are set into truly memorable high jewelry by Robert Procop. (Editor’s note: my trip was hosted by Robert Procop. My words and experiences are my own.)
At Robert’s jewel box of an office, I was surrounded by treasures. Literally. The representatives from Muzo Emeralds brought a couple of historic pieces from the shipwreck Atocha. This included some of the most spectacular emerald jewelry I have seen–and these pieces were underwater since 1622. The way they are displayed is the way they were found–no polishing or extraordinary cleaning. Just unadulterated beauty.
Beyond the skill and workmanship of craftsmen from almost 400 years ago, the exhibit from Muzo connected me to geologic wonder: there were raw emerald crystals that defied logic or reason. 1296 carats of perfect hexagonal Emerald crystal? It’s almost impossible to think that it came from the earth.
Spending some time with these emeralds illustrated why the gems from this particular area are special. Though there are beautiful emeralds found all over the world, the emeralds from this region in Colombia are 98% pure, versus 95% pure from other localities. More importantly, the emeralds from the Muzo area of Colombia contain no lead, so they fluoresce, which illuminates them beyond their natural green into something more vivid.
Since responsible sourcing is important to me, what I found most remarkable about emeralds from Muzo is that they are tracked from the moment they are mined. Each gem can be traced back to an individual shaft of the mine, where the rough gem is recorded and given a unique number. This number follows the gem from the mine shaft through the cutting process. Each gem is bagged and sealed with this number, with appropriate taxes and duties paid for every gem. While I would love to see this kind of transparency with every gem purchased by a consumer, it is extraordinarily rare. I pored over the certificates…
The historic Muzo mine, producing emeralds for at least 500 years, changed ownership in 2009. Muzo now employs some 700 people, and is working to bring the mine up to modern environmental and social standards. Muzo workers are paid double the minimum wage in the region and are provided with food, shelter, transportation and health care. The modernization of mining practices has improved the working and living conditions for thousands of people in the region.
From the mine to Robert Procop
Robert Procop has worked with exceptional jewels almost as long as he has been working. He started in the diamond business while still in high school. He has had an extraordinary career, including commissions from each POTUS since Ronald Reagan, and an elite clientele from all over the world. These are customers that want to be the first to own–or see–a singular design.
Once the Muzo Emeralds reach Robert’s office, in their original bags from the mine, the story continues. Robert archives each bag and certificate, and continues the provenance through his design process. Some of the finished pieces end up with their own book: each tome represents a single jewelry creation, start to finish, documenting the details for the current and future owners in a meaningful way.
Long before any piece of jewelry is created, though, there is a creative process to unlock each jewel. I was intrigued by the variety of light sources in Robert’s atelier. Robert confessed to looking at a gem over days, weeks, even months under different lighting conditions. I found out that his father was a lighting engineer for General Electric, which figures into his fascination for color, light return, and performance under different conditions. Investigating with light, Robert can showcase the gem to best possible advantage. To even warrant a purchase, the individual gem needs to speak to him.
Two words I would use to describe Robert’s design approach to jewelry: innovation and engineering. The designs using Muzo emeralds that Robert has created are classic, yet many of them break new stylistic ground. Inventive gem-setting, or structure that defies conventional wisdom (“you can’t do that!”), or just simply sublime details that no one thinks about–these are Robert’s hallmarks.
Once Robert has a sense of the individual gemstone, he sketches and comes up with a concept. These sketches are handed off for rendering, which is in itself a work of art. Models are carved by hand, an increasing rarity in a world of CAD design. Then a team of jewelers, representing the highest standards of old-world craftsmanship, make the rendering into exquisite reality.
It is impressive to see things done to perfection, from gems unearthed 400 meters underground, to the finest pave work I have seen. In the presence of the Atocha treasures, I couldn’t help but think that Robert and his team are creating modern renditions of these historic heirlooms from the past.
You can contact Robert Procop here about his exceptional jewels. I recommend following Muzo on Instagram here: beautiful gems, of course, plus a sense of where they truly come from. For more information about the emeralds, Muzo representative Ronald Ringsrud is a passionate source of information about Muzo and emeralds.