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October 1999

Gemstones & Pearls Gemology

Hiddenite Treasures

U.S. emeralds a natural for U.S. retailers

An emerald discovery in Hiddenite, NC, producing unenhanced gems and "American provenance" may be just what the industry needs to restore consumer confidence and boost sales. Both fell dramatically following reports of extensive treatments in the past
few years.

Located in the rolling foothills of the Appalachians, Hiddenite has long been associated with a wide range of gemstones, including emerald, ruby, sapphire and the rare gem hiddenite – the deep– green sister of the lilac– pink gem known as kunzite, named in honor of well– known gemologist George Frederick Kunz.

In the late 19th century, inventor Thomas Edison sent Kunz and professor William Hidden to the area to seek platinum for his light bulb filaments. They didn't find platinum, but Hidden discovered the gem that was then named in his honor (as was the town). All told, Hidden and Kunz found 63 different gems and minerals. They called the fault line running through the area "the most complex geological zone in the world." Since then, the area has attracted several mining companies and thousands of rockhounds. Yet no one hit pay– dirt.

Though several nice emeralds were found over the years, most were too pale or opaque to have jewelry value. So when James K. Hill, president and CEO of North American Emerald Mines, announced his recent discovery of a vein yielding large, gem– quality emeralds, it was hard to believe. But a trip to Hiddenite can turn skepticism into excitement.

Emeralds "Unhidden"
Of the 94– acre parcel owned by Hill's family, only about one acre is worked now, an open pit gradually descending to 12 feet. Working without sophisticated equipment, Hill's operation has mined more than 3,000 carats, and he says the best is yet to be found at greater depths.

Most of the material ranges from a pleasing pastel to medium green – being marketed as "Appalachian Spring" – with good transparency. It's fairly clean and bright, especially notable because there is no oil or epoxy resin.

Two fairly large specimens, 70 carats and 180 carats, exhibit exceptional color resulting from chromium, the same coloring agent in the famed emeralds of Colombia; the color of
the 70– ct. is comparable to Colombia's best. While not as clean as the lighter material, both of the large crystals contain bright areas that could yield clean gems of vivid color and notable size. Several cutters have estimated the 70– ct. crystal will yield two gems each weighing over 10 carats.

To date, Hill's largest find is a dark green crystal weighing over 850 carats that he named "The Jolly Green Giant." However, the color is not as fine as other specimens, nor is the transparency as good.

Showcased in Jewelry
North American Emerald Mines has created an 18k gold jewelry line using bright, clean pastel emeralds. All of the emeralds will be marketed as "natural and unenhanced" and will be accompanied by certificates of origin and confirming laboratory reports.

The polished emeralds compare favorably with many of the treated emeralds in jewelers' showcases, and they're not enhanced.

At the rarer end of the spectrum, the potential for important gems worthy of great jewelers and collectors is hard to predict at this time. But the 70– ct. specimen may yield such a stone in the hands of the right cutter.

Hill expected production to increase over the summer and fall as added manpower and equipment enabled him to expand mining over 12 acres. If Hill's predictions about quality and quantity are accurate, North Carolina may emerge as an important emerald source. "Natural" North Carolina emeralds may become gems for which many jewelers and consumers yearn – and a much needed tonic for healthier emerald sales.

  • North American Emerald Mines Inc., Hiddenite, NC; (704) 632– 0370.


by Antoinette Matlins, P.G.

Antoinette Matlins is a gemologist, author and frequent speaker at industry events. She is based in Woodstock, VT.

A collection of privately owned jewelry features a necklace pendant holding a 15.65– ct. kite– shaped emerald from Hiddenite, NC. Also shown are several rough specimens, including a 70– ct. emerald in the center of the crystal arrangement. Gems and jewelry are courtesy of James K. Hill, president and CEO of North American Emerald Mines, Hiddenite, NC. Because emeralds are difficult to photograph, all photos for this story have been color corrected to match the true color.
James K. Hill's most astounding discovery at Hiddenite: a 70– ct. deep– green emerald crystal that's expected to yield two faceted gems.
The emerald mines at Hiddenite also yield some unusually shaped emerald crystals. Courtesy of North American Emerald Mines, Hiddenite, NC.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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