Gemstones & Pearls Gemology
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
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
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.
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
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.