The emerald mining area of Colombia is largely made up of small artisanal mines staffed by locals. Over the last decade several multinationals have begun to invest in the area and now a number of the larger mines are in foreign hands.
Unlike mining for gold or even diamonds, where it is far simpler to calculate your odds of success emerald mining is far more happenstance. Modern technology has aided traditional methods in recent years but emerald mining remains riskier than many of its other mineral counterparts.
Another reason that makes emerald mining more labour intensive is the fact the using or over using dynamite in the mines can result in a large percentage of emeralds recovered being damaged in the process. This means work often must be done by hand making the process a laborious long winded affair.
Artisanal mines have traditionally operated on the basis that miners get to keep a share of whatever is found, with locals allowed to sift through the processed pay dirt to see if anything has been missed. Stories abound of people who have made their fortune in the mines of Muzo, but many people also dig for years and find nothing.
Because of geology of a mine is unique to the mine itself different mines yield stones of different character, the Muzo mine is known to produce large crystals of a pure green colour, a trait it shares with the nearby Cunas mine. Emeralds from Coscuez are known for their yellow hue, while in the eastern emerald belt some distance away the mine at Chivor is known for its brilliant crystal which give its stones exceptional brilliance.