As a teenager from New Jersey, Manuel Marcial de Gomar had a chance encounter with emerald miner Russ Anderton on a plane and made a sharp turn toward Colombia’s dangerous mountain trails. Now 81 and about to auction off his greatest finds, he reveals secrets of how to unearth the precious gems at high altitude, how to stay safe, and the benefits of a left-hand draw.
Manuel Marcial de Gomar
You can join the online auction of the Manuel Marcial de Gomar Collection (Instagram here) this Tuesday at 7pm ET. Watch for bargains, as there are no reserve prices on most of these rare gems. Our thanks to Carl Schutze and the Marcial de Gomar family, as well as to our friends at Guernsey’s, home of storied and sublime auctions. Jerry Garcia’s guitar in Brooklyn next month, anyone?
I had been in the dumps as to what I should do and where I should go.
On the G.I. Bill having served during the Korean war, I got my commercial pilot’s license and was ready to fly for Avianca Airlines, the leading airline in Colombia. Then this opportunity came when I sat with Russ Anderton, who was headed for Chivor mine.
All of a sudden, something that I knew absolutely nothing about came into my life. And it just captured my imagination, having that pick in your hand and never knowing that the next stroke of that pick might well be a million dollars or a Cadillac.
To hunt emeralds, the main thing is developing an awareness that there is a guiding hand in life. Water flows downhill, it has no choice. Fire burns in the right conditions, it has no choice. And so on. So what I think is that there is a greater power, which holds a pattern for one’s life if one simply opens oneself to that guidance and follows it. In other words, when the doors open, walk through it, darn it. Don’t just hesitate or doubt, but go and see what happens.
It was dangerous to be in the mountains of Colombia, it was a man to man thing. There was a saying: the law is to be respected but not obeyed. I applied to the government for a permit to carry a gun. The only way you could buy a gun in those days was from the Ministry of War, but they only sold Smith & Wessons or Colts that had six bullets. So on one of my trips up to Miami, I bought myself a Luger, which had nine bullets. I always carried that Luger under my left shoulder, just showed the butt of the Luger handle. That was enough to defuse any situation between myself and somebody who wanted to steal from me. They always knew that I had nine bullets to their six.
I never had to use it. When I knew that there were people who were dangerous on the trail, I would make sure they were always to my left because I believed in a left-hand draw. They always carried their revolvers on the right hand of the belt side of their hip, and that was always much more laborious to draw. I knew I could always come out on top.
Emeralds are extremely rare, geologically speaking.
Very few of them occur in the earth. The qualities of the jungles of Colombia and the fiery lightning discharges that are common to those areas, and the whole surrounding of the geology, the rocks and everything, all of these qualities form part of the emerald.
Forget the gold, forget the diamonds. The emerald is a romance that never ends. That emerald should reach in and just rip your heart out in your desire to possess it. It should be that beautiful. And that’s of course what Colombians call fiebre verde, green fever. The fire, the green fire in the emerald should really grab your heart.
Many people have gone searching for emeralds and never found any. I had to learn some of the basics of where they were. It’s just a matter of a little bit of logic. Among the first emeralds that I ever recovered, I used a very unusual mining practice that’s extremely complicated. And I don’t know whether I should reveal it to you, but I guess I will.
I was in the kitchen looking at the ladies there who were preparing a meal. They had slit the gullet of a chicken open, and I saw it had little emeralds in it, tiny crystals. They usually peck stones, so part of what is in their gullet helps them to digest whatever else they eat. The next day I decided to follow the chickens and see where they were pecking and walking and eating.
I followed the chickens for probably about four blocks to a stream off the Batatas River. And sure enough, I saw this beautiful vein of emeralds in the carbon shale.
So that’s one of the great secrets of emerald mining. Look for the chickens, where they’re pecking. That find happened to be below one of the finest emerald mines that has ever been recovered in Colombia. That was Vega de San Juan, the Gachala mine. And that was found by accident, too. A guy was cutting trees down and sliding them down the mountainside, and one huge tree hit a pile of rocks and uncovered this magnificent emerald vein.
There are a lot of these smaller things that seem inconsequential that can lead you to a big find.
If you’re looking at a mounting and it has diamonds and gold and everything around it, you should be paying for the emerald.
You would never want to buy an emerald if you can’t see a garden, as it is called in the trade. You want to make sure there’s a garden visible to the naked eye. Emeralds always have an inclusion, which is not to be confused with a flaw. A visible inclusion inside the stone is, so to speak, its guarantee of genuineness. Liquids, solids, and gasses form the emerald, give it its color and its brilliance. The inclusion is the signature of the creator.
I have been very, very fortunate. But I had to pay my dues at the same time. You know, sometimes I would go three or four months without finding anything at the mine. And then lo and behold, the next day there would be a huge downpour of rain, and as the sun came out again, there were little emerald crystals glistening all over.
Green fever is not a phony emotion. It’s a very real thing.