The Bahia Emerald – Panthers, Hurricanes, Criminals and Lawsuits
As a Sydney jeweller who designs custom engagement and wedding rings, I know that there is no amount of time too great to spend on getting every detail of your ring just right, to get the final product looking exactly as you had imagined it.
Another thing I have learned over the years is that the precious gemstones that adorn your rings are more than just beautiful artefacts. They are also the bearers of their own unique history, and many have been, or will be, passed through families and generations.
But just occasionally, I hear of a precious stone that has collected stories that are so far-fetched and captivating that it reads like a paperback thriller or work of fiction – and that’s certainly the case with the Bahia Emerald.
From The Jungle
The Bahia emerald is a forest green stone of incredible beauty, so it is fitting that it was found in one of the most dense and most impenetrable forests in the world. Originating in the Amazon, it was entrusted to a group of pack mules to carry. Oh, I forgot to mention, the stone which contains the emerald crystals which make up the Bahia emerald weighs over 350 kilograms, which is why it needed such an effort to carry it!
But the journey was treacherous, with bandits and the wildlife stalking the stone. In a story worthy of Hollywood, the convoy was attacked by a pair of black panthers. The men carrying the stone were seriously injured, and had to be carried out of the jungle by a crudely fashioned stretcher made from improvised materials.
To the States
Once the stone finally emerged safely from the jungles of South America it moved from Sao Paulo in Brazil to San Jose in California. It didn’t reside there long, however, with the owners getting nervous and arranging for it to be stored in a special jeweller’s vault in New Orleans.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, that was mere weeks before the most devastating storm in the United States’ history, Hurricane Katrina, laid waste to large swathes of New Orleans. The flood banks protecting the city broke and much of the area was submerged.
The Bahia Emerald laid under the floodwaters for two months, safely encapsulated in the vault. After that underwater adventure the owners had it brought back to San Jose.
But this is where the natural disasters that befell the emerald were replaced by human made ones. At some point after being retrieved from New Orleans, the stone made its way to the vault in a lawyers office. Armed guards were hired until it was transferred to a private vault in California, before once again being smuggled by car, in secret, to another private vault in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It was at this point that convicted fraudster Bernie Madoff became involved. While the details are sketchy, the founder of the infamous ponzi scheme which illegally defrauded thousands of investors of their hard earned money was directly implicated in a transaction involving the emerald.
Whether this was an attempt to launder some of that money or transfer his assets to a tangible item, the only clear detail is that the arrangement was worth almost $200 million US Dollars.
Once again, fate intervened, with Madoff arrested by the FBI just two days before the contract was set to be executed. That was not the last time the emerald was implicated with criminals, with a well-known criminal cartel originating in Colombia involved.
Again, with a plot line worthy of a Hollywood western, there was reportedly a gun battle on the lonely Nevada plains. The emerald was reported as stolen soon after, before being found by the authorities pursuing it just before Christmas 2008.
Once in the possession of the authorities, the complaint reporting the incredibly valuable stone was withdrawn. That was how a stone, valued by some at some $400 million, has come to be without an owner.
The custody battle is currently being played out in the court system, with international, criminal and contract law all being entangled in the whole affair.
Even National Geographic has joined the international interest surrounding the emerald, with an hour-long documentary called Shades of Green due to premiere soon detailing the whole turbulent history of the stone.
While it’s unlikely that any stone that we find for your custom made engagement ring will have quite the same rocky road as the Bahia emerald, it does highlight that these precious stones have their own stories and histories. When you make an appointment to meet with me [link to contact page] in my studio we can find out which stone and setting will be the one that you will build your story around.
Passed Copyscape 2 Dec 2014