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The Colorful Adventures of the Bahia Emerald

The Bahia Emerald
The Bahia Emerald

The 341 kg Bahia Emerald is one of the largest pieces of rough emerald in the world and was unearthed from a mine in Bahia, Brazil, in 2001. It is a hunk of host rock composed of around nine crystals. One of the nine crystals of the Bahia Emerald is said to be among the largest single emerald crystals ever discovered. The value of the Bahia Emerald is estimated at an incredible $372 million.

Some say that the Emerald is cursed, since it seems to have been beset with troubles since its discovery. The spectacular emerald crystals even inspired a National Geographic documentary called, "The 400 Million Dollar Emerald". The fantastic, and possibly somewhat fictitious story of the Bahia Emerald begins in the Brazilian rainforest where it was allegedly transported from the mine by mules. However, as the story goes, before the Emerald could make it out of the trees, the mules were attacked by panthers, forcing the miners to carry the heavy rock and its valuable beryl crystals on a makeshift stretcher.

The Emerald attracted the attention of American entrepreneur, Tony Thomas, who was interested in using the Emerald as collateral for loans and traveled to view the emerald along with mining consultant, Ken Conetto. According to Thomas, at a private home in São Paolo where the Emerald was stored under a piece of tarpaulin, a verbal agreement was made for him to purchase the stone from Conetto and the two Brazilians who found it; Ruy Saraiva Filho and Elson Alves. This is where the story of the Bahia Emerald begins to get a little hazy, since the others claim that it was not sold.

A Close-Up of One of the Bahia Emerald Crystals
A Close-Up of One of the Bahia Emerald Crystals

Four years later, the Emerald was flown to California; some say that it was smuggled out of Brazil. It then traveled to New Orleans to be viewed by a buyer. The Emerald's arrival in New Orleans coincided with the devastating storm, Hurricane Katrina, during which the Emerald was stuck in a vault underwater. The Emerald was later reported stolen from a warehouse in Los Angeles and turned up in a Las Vegas vault in 2008, from which it was seized by the LA County sheriff, where it remains during court proceedings to establish its rightful owner. One of the claimants once advertised the Emerald on eBay at the price of $75 million and there are rumors that the gigantic piece of gem rough was involved in a Bernie Madoff deal shortly before he was arrested for fraud. As if this is not enough, the Bahia Emerald was apparently almost acquired by mafia gangs in deals that nearly concluded in a spray of bullets.

Approximately eight different parties have claimed ownership of the Bahia Emerald over the years. Among those who have stated ownership of the Emerald are Tony Thomas, Ken Conetto, Kit Morrison and Larry Biegler. In May 2015, an LA judge made a tentative ruling in favor of Kit Morrison's group. However, just after Morrison expected to gain possession of the Emerald, the Brazilian government has also made a claim to the Bahia Emerald, stating that the mining and export of it was not legally permitted and that the rightful home of the gem is Brazil, since it is part of Brazilian heritage and a national treasure.

While the battle for its ownership continued, the Bahia Emerald remained under lock and key, where its beauty went unappreciated for many years, all the while, its story attracting attention. Perhaps one day soon, this remarkable boulder of emerald crystals will be brought to light and shared with gem lovers all over the world.

  • First Published: April-04-2016
  • Last Updated: June-07-2018
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    Reproduction (text or graphics) without the express written consent of GemSelect.com (SETT Company Ltd.) is strictly prohibited.
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