Today in Smithsonian History: August 27, 1984

The Mackay Emerald. (Photo by Chip Clark)

The 167.97 carat Mackay Emerald. (Photo by Chip Clark)

August 27, 1984 A 168-carat emerald, the bequest of Anna Case Mackay to the Smithsonian Institution National Gem Collection, is placed on permanent display in the National Museum of Natural History.

The stunning Mackay Emerald was mined in Muzo, Colombia. The finest emeralds are found in the region around Muzo and Chivor, Colombia. These green gems were used by indigenous peoples for at least 1,000 years before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century. Although spurred primarily by their passion for gold and silver, the Spanish quickly recognized the potential of the exquisite green crystals and took control of the mines. Emeralds became popular among European royalty and were shipped from the New World by the boatload. The great richness of the Colombian mines led to a glut of emeralds in Europe, triggering a brisk trade of the gemstones to the Middle East and India. The Mogul rulers in India were especially fond of emeralds and encouraged a vast gem cutting and jewelry industry. Many finished pieces were traded back to Europe. The Mackay Emerald is the largest cut emerald in the National Gem Collection and is set in a pendant of diamonds and platinum designed by Cartier, Inc. The Art Deco style necklace was a wedding gift in 1931 from Clarence Mackay to his wife, Anna Case, a prima donna of the New York Metropolitan Opera from 1909 to 1920. The emerald weighs 167.97 carats and is set in platinum with 35 emeralds and 2,191 colorless round brilliant and step cut diamonds.

Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives

Posted: 27 August 2017
About the Author:

The Torch relies on contributions from the entire Smithsonian community.