Famous Emeralds in the Crown of the Andes

The “Crown of the Andes” is an exceptional piece with an extraordinary story.

After the Spanish invaded the New World, waves of disease rolled across the Americas. So, in 1590, when the residents of the mountain city of Popayán, Colombia heard of a devastating plague of smallpox, many were terrified and wished to flee. However, the city’s Catholic priests convinced most to stay and instead pray to the Virgin Mary. As it turned out, smallpox never reached the city. The priests and the populace attributed this to the Virgin’s protection, and the Bishop suggested that the residents offer thanks for her protection.

The citizens donated gold and emeralds, two valuable and locally abundant resources. A team of 24 goldsmiths worked for six years on the crown. Supposedly, the largest of the emeralds came from the palanquin of Atahualpa, the last emperor of the Incas. Although Atahualpa did possess a vast wealth of gold and emeralds, whether this 45-ct emerald was truly “Atahualpa’s emerald” isn’t known.

Upon completion, the crown and its famous emeralds became a focal point in the city’s Holy Week celebrations. Every year, the Bishop of Popayán would place the…