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The Story of the Sacred Emerald Buddha

Sacred Emerald Buddha Carving
Sacred Emerald Buddha - Owned by J. Bergman

The Sacred Emerald Buddha is one of the world's most notable natural emerald carvings. The emerald carving was completed relatively recently; in 2006, and many say it may have been made in honor of Afghanistan's fallen standing Buddhas of Bamiyan which were destroyed in 2001 by Taliban extremists. The Sacred Emerald Buddha is often confused with the highly revered Buddha statue known as the 'Emerald Buddha' located in Wat Phra Keo in the Grand Palace of Bangkok, Thailand. The Emerald Buddha of Wat Phra Keo has a longer history; according to legend, it has been around since 43 BC and it is one of Thailand's most respected treasures.

The Emerald Buddha is thought to be made of green jasper, while the Sacred Emerald Buddha (notably much smaller in size) is actually made of natural emerald (beryl). The record-breaking carving was sculpted from an exceptionally large 3,600-carat emerald crystal, which was discovered in Africa in 1994. Though its exact origin is uncertain, it's believed to have been mined from either Zambia or Madagascar. After its discovery, the large emerald crystal was exported to Thailand in September 1994, in search of a buyer. The large emerald stone ended up in the hands of a privately owned Thailand-based company, founded by Jeffery Bergman, a very well-known and respected gemstone specialist from America. Most envisioned cutting the large emerald down into smaller pieces to be faceted, but Jeffery decided to preserve its bulk weight and maximize the emerald's potential as a single piece.

Emerald Buddha of Thailand
The Emerald Buddha of the Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

After months of negotiation, upon finally acquiring the stone, the emerald's new owner spent almost a year considering the most suitable design for such a rare and special gem. Influenced by Thailand's remarkable Buddhist culture, as well as the overall shape of the emerald, it was finally decided that it would be sculpted into a standing Buddha. This particular standing posture is known in Thai language as 'Phra ham yath', and it is representative of Lord Buddha's belief in the importance of making peace. The symbolism has great meaning and holds a special place in the hearts of many Thais. After the final form was decided, a search for a master gem carver began.

The sculpting and carving of such a phenomenal stone would require someone with great skill. Most of the best gemstone carvers were known to come from Europe, but most had little or no experience in carving images of Lord Buddha. Therefore, the owner of the emerald decided to find a sculptor in Asia, where the carving of jadeite Buddha ornaments has been mastered over centuries. Although Burma (Myanmar) and China were both very well-known for their jadeite Buddha artists, the honor was given to Mr. Aung Nyein, a 36 year old Burmese carver who had been living and working in Thailand for over 15 years. Aung was considered a master of his art among colleagues and in the wider community, and had been sculpting Buddhas for over 20 years.

Tiger's Eye Gem Carving
Thai Tiger's Eye Carving

Before Aung Nyein began to work on the emerald, he spent several weeks methodologically studying every detail of the material that he was to transform. Once his plan for design was put into motion, it took about one week to meticulously grind enough material away to reach a point at which a visible outline of the Buddha image could be discerned. Soon, he brought out more and more minute details until he realized what he had originally envisioned. Once the sculpture was completed, it took several weeks just to polish the remaining emerald crystal to maximize its brilliance and glossy luster.

In February of 2006, the Sacred Emerald Buddha sculpture was completed and deemed a masterpiece. The finished product was sent to both GIT (Gemological Institute of Thailand) and GRS (Gem Research Swiss Lab) for independent gemological reports. Finally, the emerald carving was certified at 2,620 carats. It is believed to be one of the largest emerald carvings in the world, perhaps second only to an 86,000 carat emerald carving owned by Gleim the Jeweler of Pala Alto. However, the Sacred Emerald Buddha was carved from high quality gem-grade material, while the monstrous 86,000-carat mountain-themed carving was produced from mostly opaque emerald.

  • First Published: September-29-2014
  • Last Updated: September-30-2014
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