Green beryl. 3.5 x 3 x 2 cm. Habach Valley in Salzburg, Austria. 1874.
This emerald crystal was a gift from Salzburg to the imperial and royal mineralogical cabinet in the year 1874. It is one of the largest and finest specimens from the world-famous deposit in the Habach Valley.
Emeralds betray their origin: in natural emeralds the ratio of oxygen isotopes is like a fingerprint pointing to a geological deposit. Thanks to analysis of oxygen isotopes, we can tell that the emerald in the Holy Crown of France probably came from the Habach Valley. Scientists are also attempting to reconstruct the ancient trade routes for emeralds with the help of oxygen isotope analysis. Besides Egyptian deposits, the Habach Valley played an important role as a historically significant deposit.
The earliest written reference to the occurrence of emeralds in the Alps is a letter from Anna de’ Medici, Archduchess of Further Austria, dating from the year 1669. The first definitive mention of this site stems from a description of “previously known minerals in the principality and archbishopric of Salzburg” dating from the year 1797: “Emerald, silex smaragdus, has previously been found only in the Habach Valley in Pinzgau …”
In about 1860 the Vienna jeweller Samuel Goldschmidt started mining emeralds there commercially, driving three tunnels into the emerald-bearing mica schist. The wall painting by Carl Hasch (Hall III) shows the Leckbachrinne mine at an altitude of 2,400 meters above sea level. However, the inaccessibility of the site, coupled with the limited quantity and quality of the finds, soon made commercial mining of this deposit unprofitable. The site became a paradise for mineral collectors, and during the summer months until the 1970s was reminiscent of the Alaska at the time of the gold rush. Even today, the emeralds in the Habach Valley are Austria’s best known gemstone deposit.