Trapiché Emeralds

A very rare variety of emerald known as "Trapiche" (above), found at the Muzo, Chivor, Cosquez and Peña Blanca mines, has distinct carbonaceous shale inclusions that radiate from a hexagonal center point in a six-spoked star pattern. The name "Trapiché" (tra-pee-chee) comes from a type of wheel that is used to grind sugarcane in Colombia.

Trapiche emeralds are found only in Colombia at Coscuez, La Peña and the celebrated Muzo mining district, these are perhaps the rarest of "pattern" gems, and certainly the most unusual amongst the big three (emerald, ruby, and sapphire). Their six spoke-like carbon "rays" emanating from a hexagonal centre with the areas in between filled with lively emerald green makes this an interesting. These rays appear much like asterism, but, unlike asterism, they are not caused by light reflection from tiny parallel inclusions, but by black carbon impurities that happen to form in the same pattern. Atrapiche is the result of the growth of an Emerald crystal with the darkened impurity of lutite. As the crystal grows in its normal six-sided shape, the darker lutite is pushed to the center of the crystal and then radiates out in the six directions of the corners of the crystal. It is an absolutely amazing natural process that creates an Emerald crystal with a six leg "star" of the darker Lutite

The earliest reference to trapiche emeralds was in an 1879 French mineralogical bulletin. It was more than 36 years later before it appeared again, remarkable because such literary greats as George Kunz were writing much around the turn of the Century. Gemmological examination show that the trapiche is a single crystal and not a twinned specimen as first thought. A 1970, analysis of Muzo´s trapiche emerald by Nassau and Jackson, found that the principal colouring agent was vanadium.

Trapiche is the Spanish word for a spoked wheel used to grind sugar cane which bears a striking resemblance to the pattern in these emeralds. It is pronounced trah-pee-chee with the accent on the second syllable.

There are two types of trapiche emeralds.

The "A" type has fine bands and lighter emerald separating the sections. Very clean crystals, with center lines, usually from Muzo mine. Is very rare Trapiche emeralds of more than 6 carats in this type of Trapiches.

The more prized is "B" type, ranges from 2 to 50 carats and has distinct carbon bands with deep green colour. There is just few specimens that meet all standards of high quality trapiches: in colour, centre lines and good cut.

Trapiche emeralds are valued based on a number of factors.

1- The most important is the definition, completeness, and centring of the "rays".
2- A close second factor is the colour of the emerald which ideally is deep, saturated, and even.
3-And third, and also quite important, is the quality of the cut.

Expressing Full Knowledge of Trapiche Emeralds

And about her courts were seen

Liveried angels robed in green

Wearing, by St. Patrick's bounty,

Emeralds big as half the county.

- Walter Savage Landor

Colombian trapiche emeralds have intrigued connoisseurs and collectors from all over the world. Geochemists and geologists look at trapiches and see pure mystery: "How", they ask, "did these stones form in nature?". Like the star sapphire, the trapiche crystal's hexagonal nature is made evident by the six-rayed pattern that appears on every well cut cabochon. The oft-appearing hexagon in the center of a transparent emerald trapiche only adds to the allure, drawing in the intellect as well as the senses to marvel at its formation.

The word trapiche was originally used to describe the heavy gears the Spaniards used to crush sugar cane. In the new world, the Conquistadors called these unusual emeralds trapiches because they reminded them of these gears. Even today, in the settlements very close to the emerald mine of Yacopí in Boyacá, Colombia, a pair of these antique gears is connected to a long pole, ready to be yoked to a mule and to grind the cane brought in from the surrounding green hills.

Emerald aficionados sooner or later find themselves seeking a well-formed trapiche for their collection. Once having acquired such a piece, in moments of repose and wonder, the gem gets pulled out of it's paper and scrutinized; the color and texture of the very slightly bluish-green cabochon fills and satisfies the senses while the mathematical perfection of the six rays and the central hexagon alert the intellect to appreciate Nature's design.

Of all the sciences, gemology lends itself to involve much more than just the usual analytic, deconstructive and intellectual phases that science concerns itself with. While science avoids subjectivity and aesthetics, gemology's object of study, the gem, is nothing less than a thing of beauty, allure, timelessness, rarity, uniqueness, wholeness, perfection of color, and fineness: all immeasurables - all beyond the realm of science. Many of the world's best gemologists know this to be true and some of them are able to use that to their advantage.

One such scientist is Eduard E. Gubelin, a world-renowned gemologist who habitually goes beyond the scientific boundaries to wax poetic when talking about the color or internal features of a gemstone.

Gubelin's contribution to the science of gemology is broad and undisputed. Also, his contribution to the subjective aspects of gemology is recorded in the numerous uniquely descriptive and poetic phrases that adorn both his published papers as well as his laboratory certificates. While appreciation for his objective/subjective style of gemology is universal, the gemological institutes of the world do not teach the art or poetry of Gubelin's approach, they only teach the science - for this sensitive and delicate subjectivity cannot be taught; it is only cultivated and developed by seeing, in the lifetime of one's career, thousands of gems, rare and unique like the trapiche, whose beauty and allure touch one so deeply that it inspires the poet inside to express in words the immeasurable.

Two other gemologists who are respected throughout the world, Richard T. Liddicoat and Robert Crowningshield, have seen so many rare and unique gems in their careers that the experience has permeated their beings and created personalities so rare and true that they are like gems themselves.

From his book The Internal World of Gemstones (Zurich, 1979), Doctor Gubelin describes the inclusion features of emeralds in poetic detail:

The saturated green of a crystal clear green mountain lake is the image of the most beautiful emeralds. Such a peaceful mountain lake magnetizes our gaze into its depths. As we sink into it we attain a world where, in the shimmer of a distant greenish light, fronds of weed cast shadows, rigid growths stretch their limbs like chandeliers... This green landscape has long been familiar to jewellers as 'garden' and fine gardens with delicate ornamental plants are highly prized.

The same man who wrote those words is also skilled in taking spectrographic readings from minute inclusions deep within a gemstone: that is testimony to the breadth of Gubelin's gemologic talent. As a gemologist myself, my experience with trapiche emeralds has caused me to seek all available knowledge that pertains to this alluring stone. The scientific descriptions and theories of formation of the trapiche are sustenance to one's intellect and are described below in this paper.

But the heart must find sustenance as well and for knowledge to be complete the intellect must be transcended and the poetic sensiblilties must be brought to bear in this study. Therefore I have enlisted the efforts of two poets, an American and a Colombian, to appreciate deeply the form, color and attraction of trapiche emeralds (common and world class) and to then write about the experience. The poets were asked to help explain how the trapiches were formed.

The two poets are Nancy Berg of Santa Monica, California, winner of the National Endowment of the Arts 1992 Poetry Fellowship as well as a writing Fellowship from Stanford University. She is currently chairperson of the California Poets in the Schools program. From Bogotá, Colombia the poet and writer Sergio Alvarez whose book, Poemas de Amor y Desamor has been recently published. His short stories have won national contests and have appeared in Dell Comic Books as well as Colombian television dramas and comedies.

The following viewpoint from geology and geochemistry was acquired from geologist Terry Ottoway of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada. Her theories on the formation of emeralds in the mining regions of Colombia take advantage of very recent geochemical analyses of samples taken from the mines. This work was published in it's complete form in Nature (Vol. 369 No. 6481, 16 June 1994).

- World emerald deposits are found in association with igneous host rocks whereas Colombian emerald deposits occur in organic-rich black shales, and their origin in the absence of igneous activity has been a persistent enigma. Recent evidence from Colombia indicates that hydrothermal brines transported evaporitic sulphate to structurally favorable sites, where it was thermochemically reduced. The sulphur generated in this process reacted with organic matter in the shales to release trapped chromium, vanadium and beryllium, which in turn enabled emerald formation.

Emerald bearing veins branch out from chemically altered zones of host shale called 'cenizero' (ash in Spanish) while the trapiche emeralds are found in the peripheral cenizero. The formation of the characteristic emerald core with six radiating emerald arms of the trapiches may suggest a change in the crystallization rate; (either from fast to slow or vice-versa), due perhaps to depletion of beryl atoms during formation.

What follows are two poems that have been inspired by the subjective experience of gazing into several fine trapiche emeralds. Rather than simply reading on, the author suggests changing speeds here in order to enter the poetic mood.

How the Star got into the Emerald

by Nancy Berg

Raw music was her gift

Beauty like the ache of language

A green twice as true

as all grassland swirls

stretched among sea

on her cloud-draped planet

He swore to make her the eye of God

Ezekiel's wheel

queen of the night in this arc of space

She says: I a stone and you a star

He says: I a glint and you a focus

She says: Stars so rarely enter us

She is stillness;

he wrenches a hole in the sky

Here this crystalline iris, open

Here the blaze as he falls to his life


by Sergio Alvarez

Estallo hacia dentro I explode inwardly

como un puño verde like a round green fist

buscando su ilusión seeking his vision

y destrozando and destroying

el alma negro de la noche the black web of the night

apretando la luz squeezing with my might

y alumbrando and bringing green light

estallo I explode

hacia dentro inwardly

aprendiendo que vivir remembering that to live

es soñar is to dream

fundirse to forge oneself

extasiarse find bliss

y un instante despues and one instant later

cristalizarse to crystallize

In the first poem I envision a star fallen in love with an emerald greener than the planet it resides on. The second poem brings images of masculine gods squeezing green light in their dirty fists, leaving the dark carbon lines of the trapiche's star.

It is obvious in the scientific explanation as well as the poems that the authors have chosen words carefully that convey much meaning. "A green twice as true as all grassland swirls" is certainly no less heavy with meaning as "depletion of beryl atoms during formation".

To believe these explanations of the formation of the trapiche, one must abandon modern objectivity and invoke a shaman-like subjectivity - a subjectivity like the Navajo one that portrays the earth moving on the back of a turtle. Those minds that can witness subjective viewpoints as well as the strict objective are truly rare.

Validity depends only on how the explanation fits into our culture's current paradigm. In another place or another time the poet's vision might be the only explanation for the formation of the trapiche and the scientific one would be non-existent or perhaps studied in solitude by rebellious outcasts.

In the conclusion of his essay 'On the Sense of Beauty in Natural Sciences' Werner Heisenberg makes it clear that even in the 'hard' science of physics there is a place for subjectivity; indeed it is the subjectivity that is sensitive to discovering Truth:

"Certainly, rational thought and precise measurement belong to the work of the natural scientist just as a hammer and chisel belong to the sculptor. But in both cases they are instruments and not the inspiration". Bay area poet and writer Susan Griffin (Eros in My Life 1996) feels that in modern society the status of poets should not be inferior to the status of scientists. Poetic metaphor is just as important a way of seeing reality as scientific metaphor. "You could say that in a certain sense poetic metaphor is more precise than seientific metaphor because poetic metaphor includes the mysterious. And it is often more real too because so often you, the reader, can see the poet seeing. Heisenberg's Principle, a late development in science was early in poetry." (from Poetry Flash Apr.-May 1996 'Twice Beautiful').

The immeasurable qualities of a gem: beauty, allure and timelessness, have been shown to require something more than just standard gemology to validate them. Poetry is offered as a means to go beyond the boundaries of objectivity and approach that timelessness. Gemologists who have mastered their professions are encouraged to turn their attention to poetry for a new level of validation and appreciation of gems.

The Gemological Institute of America maintains a rightful place in their course material for the romance and lore of colored stones. Perhaps in the future the standard gemological laboratory will have not only gemologists creating certificates for the validation of the objective qualities of a gem (R.I., Specific Gravity etc.) but also have poets on hand for validating the subjective aspects as well.

From Stones in the Sky

by Pablo Neruda

When everything was high,



the emerald cold waited there,

the emerald stare:

it was an eye:

it watched

and was the center of the sky,

center of empty space:

the emerald


unique, hard, immensely green

as if it were an eye

of the ocean,

fixed stare of water,

drop of God,

victory of the cold

green tower.


Trapiche emeralds are a rare form of emerald found occasionally in certain emerald mines in Colombia. The name trapiche (commonly pronounced tra-peesh in English, tra-pee-chay in Spanish) comes from a grinding wheel used to process sugarcane in Colombia. According to the most readily available information, the only known mines are Muzo, Peñas Blancas, and Coscuez which are located within a span of about 30 km (20 miles) along the Rio Carare. Trapiche emeralds are green as all emeralds are, but black carbon rays radiate out in a six pointed radial spoke pattern from a center core and colorless beryl or black carbon often surrounds the green emerald areas. The center core may be in a hexagonal shape and contain emerald (green beryl) or colorless beryl or it may not form at all.

Every aspect of the trapiche emerald varies greatly from specimen to specimen. This includes the core shape, alignment of the spoke pattern, green emerald portion and its surrounding material. Often the overall crystal shape is irregular with only the core and sometimes green emerald portion forming the regular hexagonal shape associated with beryl crystals but most often even this is irregular. The green emerald portion may also form in a six-leafed pinwheel or flower pattern when the carbon or other foreign material forms in larger concentrations between the prisms of the green emerald crystal.

Trapiche emeralds are highly valued for jewelry because of their rarity and unique characteristics. But it would be extremely unusual to find a trapiche emerald that is faceted. Trapiches are generally cut to shape or sliced and then cabochoned. Some cabochoned slices can be very irregularly shaped, but skilled jewelers can create very unique one of a kind pieces.


Gubelin E.J., Koivula T.I (1986) Photoatlas of Inclusions in Gemstones, ABC Edition, Zurich.

Webster R. (1983) Gems: Their Sources, Descriptions and Identification, 4th ed. Revised by B. ~ Anderson, Butterworth and Co., London.

Barriga Villaba. en Esmeraldas de Colombia, Banco de la Republica, Bogota, Colombia.

Sinkankas J. (1981) Emerald and Other Beryls. Chilton Book Co., Radnor, PA.

Rader, Melvin M. Ed. (1935) A Modern Book of Esthetics, Henry Holt & Co., New York

Subriamanian, A.V., (1988) The Aesthetics of Wonder, Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi

Osborne, Harold, (1968) Aesthetics in the Modern World, Weybright and Talley, New York

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