The Sacred Emerald Buddha is one of the largest carved emeralds in the world, sculptured and presented to the world in the year 2006, by its owners Primagem, a Thailand-based company, founded by an American gemstone dealer Jeffrey Bergman. The origin of the name Sacred Emerald Buddha is self explanatory, as the sculpture in emerald represents the figure of Lord Buddha, the enlightened one, venerated by millions of Buddhists around the world, in the standing posture, known in the Thai Language as "Harm Yhard" which according to tradition symbolizes his admonition to his family members to stop quarrelling among themselves.
Thailand is also the home of another internationally renowned "Emerald Buddha" which perhaps may be the most revered Buddha Image in the world, that was believed to bring legitimacy and prosperity to anyone who possessed it, and thus became the symbol and source of power of the monarchy in the Indochina region particularly in Thailand, and Laos. The Emerald Buddha had provided legitimacy and protection to the kings of the Chakri dynasty, the rulers of modern Thailand. Today the sacred emerald Buddha the object of veneration of the entire Thai nation, is housed in the temple complex of Wat Phra Kaeo (the temple of the emerald Buddha), which is part of the Thai Grand Palace, built in 1782 by King Rama I, who founded the new capital city of Bangkok. The sacred emerald Buddha previously thought to be made of emerald, and later jade, is now known to be actually made up of green jasper, and represents the Buddha in the sitting posture, widely known as the "Lotus Position" in which the legs are crossed, and measures 48.3 cm across the lap, and 66 cm high from base to top.
The finished emerald sculpture that weighed 2,620 carats was carved from a much larger natural emerald crystal that weighed 3,600 carats and discovered in one of the emerald producing countries of Africa in the year 1994. The country of origin in Africa is disputed, but could be anyone of the following emerald producing countries :- Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa, Madagascar or Mozambique. Out of these the most significant producers of emeralds are Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe emeralds are generally smaller in size, less than 0.5 carat, but larger stones are heavily flawed. Zambian emeralds are larger, with good clarity, but much darker with a distinct bluish-cast like the emeralds produced in the Chivor mines of Colombia. The "Sacred Emerald Buddha" too has a distinct bluish-cast, and thus Zambia might be the possible source of the enormous emerald crystal.
Zambia, which is the 3rd largest source of emeralds in the world after Colombia and Brazil, is the most probable source of the 3,600-carat emerald crystal from which the 2,620-carat Sacred Emerald Buddha was sculptured. The discovery of other larger crystals in Zambia, including the world's largest emerald ever discovered seem to lend credence to this belief.
The largest emerald crystal hitherto discovered in the world was found in the Mbuva-Chibolele mine located in Zambia, and operated by Gemfield Resources PLC, a company based in the United Kingdom. The emerald which is a 10cm long hexagonal crystal, the natural crystal habit in which emeralds occur in nature, weighs a whopping 10,050 carats equivalent to 2.01 kg, and was found about 40 meters below the surface in a wall of pegmatite, in this open-pit mine.
The discovery of this enormous crystal in Zambia, lends support to the belief that the 3.600-carat emerald crystal from which the Sacred Emerald Buddha was sculptured might also originated from the emerald mines of Zambia.
Emeralds have been discovered in Zambia in the Miku mine, the Kafubu mine, the Kamakanga mine, Kagem mine and the Mbuva-Chibolele mine. These emeralds have the following characteristics :-
1) They have deep green colors with a bluish cast similar to emeralds from Chivor in Colombia, but the bluish hue is greater than the Chivor emeralds. The green color of Zambian emeralds is caused by chromium but the bluish hue is attributed to a higher concentration of vanadium.
2) They have excellent clarity having less inclusions. Zambian emeralds have redefined the notion that the best emeralds are invariably included.
3) The crystals have fewer stress fissures or fractures radiating through the stones, and therefore routine treatment with fillers carried out on emeralds from other sources do not become necessary for Zambian emeralds.
4) The presence of fewer inclusions and fractures make Zambian emeralds less brittle than other emeralds.
5) Solid inclusions found in Zambian emeralds are apatite, hematite, magnetite, dravite, mica, orange-red rutile and chrysoberyl.
6) The specific gravity of Zambian emeralds is 2.75 and the refractive index is 1.583 for the extraordinary ray and 1.590 for the ordinary ray.
The Republic of Zambia is a landlocked country in south-central Africa, which until independence in 1964 was known as Northern Rhodesia. The country is blessed with abundant mineral resources and mining is the main industrial activity. Zambia is the world's leading producer and exporter of copper and cobalt, which are mined along its northern border with the Democratic Republic of Congo around Kitwe and Ndola in the so-called copper-belt. Most of the emerald-producing mines in Zambia are also situated closer to the copper-belt region. The Miku emerald mine is situated about 56 km south-west of Kitwe, and the Kafubu emerald mines south-east of the Miku mine. The first discovery of Beryls in the Kafubu area was made by the Rhodesian Congo Border Concession Company, at the Miku locality in 1928, during the British colonial period. However quality-wise the stones uncovered initially did not seem to be encouraging, yet sporadic exploration work continued by companies like Rhokana and Rio Tinto, during the 1940s and 1950s. After independence in 1964, the claim was passed to Miku Enterprises Ltd. which was subsequently taken over by the government-owned company Mindeco Limited in 1971. Detailed geological surveys and mapping of the Kafubu area, by the Geological Survey Department had verified the Miku deposits, and since the 1970s, the Kafubu area became a significant producer of good-quality emeralds with great economic potential. Additional deposits were discovered in the area such as Kamakanga, Pirala, Mitondo, and others, followed by large scale illegal mining, leading the government to declare the area as a restricted zone.
In the 1980s a new government-controlled agency, known as the Reserved Mineral Agency stepped in, and acquired the prospecting rights for the major deposits and their surroundings. Kagem Mining Ltd. the company that operated the Kagem emerald mines, in which the Reserved Mineral Agency had a 55% stake, the remaining 45% being owned by an Israeli-based company, was assigned the task of exploration and mining in he Kafubu area on behalf of the state, with the participation of other private companies. Mechanized mining methods were introduced by the company in the Kagem, Kamakanga and Grizzly mines.
The emerald deposits of Zambia are of contact-metamorphic origin, as a result of interactions between intruding granitic pegmatites and/or hydrothermal quartz, or feldspar or mica veins, with pre-existing mafic or ultramafic rocks, the fluids providing the beryllium and the rocks providing the chromium that gives the green color to the emeralds.
The discovery of Zambian emeralds has completely changed the perception of the qualities of emeralds. Previously the presence of inclusions in emeralds known as "jardin" was considered to be a characteristic feature of all natural emeralds, and gemstones without these inclusions were suspected to be synthetic. But, the discovery of Zambian emeralds has shown that clean emeralds with the minimum of inclusions do occur in nature, in substantial quantities, given the fact that the Zambian deposits are the 2nd or 3rd largest emerald deposit in the world. This has led to consumers demanding emeralds that are almost as clean as other gems. Secondly, the presence of cracks and fissures in emeralds was considered to be commonplace and the treatment of emeralds with oils and other fillers to cover such deficiencies was accepted both by the trade and the consumers. But, the discovery of Zambian emeralds without any cracks and fissures have dispensed with the need for oil treatment, and today consumers are demanding for emeralds that are untreated. Thirdly, the presence of cracks and fissures make emeralds brittle, and are therefore cut only in one particular style that reduces the strain on the stones while cutting and polishing, known as the "emerald-cut," specially invented for this purpose. But, the Zambian emeralds are much harder and less brittle than other emeralds due to the absence of inclusions, and are therefore cut in a variety of shapes as any other gemstone, giving the consumers a wide spectrum of cut and shapes to choose from. Fourthly, the bluish-green color of Zambian emeralds compares very well with the color of emeralds produced in the Chivor mines of Colombia, but the presence of a hint of grey, probably caused by vanadium, is the only disadvantage in the Zambian emeralds, that may depreciate its value in comparison to the best Colombian emeralds.
Established gem and jewelry dealers initially resisted the new emeralds entry into the market, and even suspected that they were synthetic. Later they were more accommodative and considered them as cheap alternatives to the highly-priced Colombian emeralds. Their reaction to the new product is perfectly understandable as their minds were conditioned to accepting standards that were set at least five centuries ago. Thus the presentation of a product that does not meet these traditional standards was highly unacceptable. It was only the Israeli gem and jewelry dealers who stood by the new product and promoted it in the gem and jewelry markets, as they were deeply involved in prospecting for the emeralds with the Zambian government, mainly in the Kagem mines, and later processing them in Israel. In 1989, Tiffany's accepted the Zambians emeralds as a fitting competitor to the Colombian emeralds and began advertising the product as genuine emeralds. Today, the Zambian emeralds have captured a large share of the market for mainstream emeralds, as emeralds from other sources find it difficult to meet the quality standards of the Zambian emerald.
The 3,600-carat emerald crystal discovered in Africa, eventually reached Thailand, the hub of the gem and jewelry trade in southeast Asia, by September 1994, in search of a suitable buyer. Several dealers saw the massive emerald and were impressed by its size and quality, and offered to buy the gemstone with a view of cutting it into smaller pieces, and producing several processed emeralds. However, one dealer who saw the stone realized that it was a special crystal, and wanted to maximize its potential, by preserving it as a single piece. He went after the stone and after several months of intense negotiations was successful in beating his competitors and acquiring the stone for himself. He studied the crystal for a long time and finally decided that the best way to bring out the full potential of the stone was by carving it into a desirable shape. After almost an year long quest for the best subject matter for the carving, during which many suggestions were considered and rejected, it was finally decided after taking into consideration the shape of the crystal, and the present destination of the crystal, Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, that the best subject matter for the carving would be a standing Buddha image. Then followed a period of research studying the different postures of the standing Buddha, and finally the standing Buddha posture known as the "Harm Yhard", which signifies Lord Buddha's admonition to family members to stop quarreling among themselves, was chosen.
The next step was to look out for an experienced gemstone carver who could transform the gemstone into the selected subject matter. It was realized that the potential sculptor should not only have the dexterity to carry out the task, but also have previous experience in carving Buddha images. Thus it became necessary to search within the Asian sub-region where carving of Buddha statutes in different media such as granite, jadeite, sapphire and other material had been practiced over the centuries. There were many experienced jadeite Buddha image carvers in China and Burma, two ancient sources of Jadeite in the world, but both locations seem to have complicated security issues. Eventually it was decided that the best solution would be to look for an experienced jadeite Buddha carver in Thailand itself. The owners of the emerald made an extensive search covering all the jadeite carving factories, situated in the different gemstone processing centers of the country such as Chanthaburi, Mae Sai, Chiang Mai, and Mae Sot, and finally chose two of the most experienced jadeite carvers, whose abilities were further tested by making them carve prototype images in jadeite and low grade aquamarine, which belongs to the same class of minerals called beryl. Finally, it was decided to entrust the task of carving the Buddha image, to 36-year old Aung Nyein, a Burmese national who had been living in Thailand for almost 16 years, and a master carver with over 20 years experience in carving jadeite Buddha images.
Aung Nyein set about his assignment with great enthusiasm and dedication after several weeks of intensive study of the emerald crystal under high intensity lights, taking measurements, and drawing sketches. After more than a week of sculpturing, that involved measuring, marking, cutting and grinding, a distinct Buddha image began to take shape from the rough green crystal. The sculpturing continued until the finer details of the statute were brought out one by one, which was indeed a tedious and time-consuming job. Having finished the sculpturing with maximum perfection up to the minutest of details, the next formidable task was the polishing of the rough statute, in order to bring out its brilliance. The polishing started with extra fine sandpaper then medium-grade diamond powder and finally the finest-grade diamond powder, which resulted in a high-gloss finish on the surface of the image. Aung completed his assignment in February 2006, and the finished product was indeed a masterpiece in sculpturing with perfect and well proportioned artistic features and aesthetic beauty. Primagem the proud owners of this artistic masterpiece then obtained independent laboratory certification for the product, from the Gemological Institute of Thailand (GIT) and Gem Research SwissLab (GRS). The completed "Sacred Emerald Buddha" image had a weight of 2,620 carats.
Primagem, the Thailand-based gem and jewelry company, located in the heart of Bangkok's wholesale gem district, was founded around four decades ago, by Jeffery Bergman, an American gemstone dealer. Jeffery Bergman has over 37 years experience in mining, cutting, wholesaling and retailing of gemstones and fine jewelry. He cut his first gemstone at the age of 14 years, and his chosen career that spanned over four decades, has taken him to over 50 countries around the world, in search of the valuable treasures mother earth has to offer. His articles have been published in several renowned gem and jewelry periodicals around the world, and he has been interviewed on several occasions by renowned TV channels like BBC, CNN, ABC and NBC. He has also been quoted by well known periodicals such as the Time magazine, USA today, the National Geographic magazine, and Gems & Geology magazine. Jeffery Bergman had also been invited on several occasions as guest speaker at gemological association conferences, and gem lab seminars, and is undoubtedly a foremost authority on gemology and mineralogy in the World today.
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1) Sacred Emerald Buddha - by Jeffery Bergman.
1.Web article on the Sacred Emerald Buddha - by Jeffery Bergman.
2The New Mexico Facetor, Lets Talk Gemstones, Emerald - by Edna B. Anthony.
3.Emerald Mineralization in the Kafubu Area in Zambia - Bulletin of Geoscience, Vol. 79, No.1, 2004. Czech Geological Survey.
4.Website of Primagem, Bangkok, Thailand.
5.The origin and significance of the Emerald Buddha - Eric Roeder - A Journal of the Southeast Asian Studies Student Association. Vol. 3, 1999.
Dr Shihaan Larif
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