Professional Jeweler Archive: Emerald City, NC

April 2002

Gemstones & Pearls/News

Emerald City, NC

Will emerald's green yield greenbacks for a North Carolina miner?

For the second time in two years, James Hill of Hiddenite, NC, has struck green – the unmistakable lush green of emeralds.

“These are glow-in-the-dark colors,” says Antoinette Matlins, a gem expert and author who flew to Hiddenite in January to witness Hill’s newest find. When she arrived, she examined two huge emerald crystals poking out of the cross-section of a pocket unearthed earlier that month. These crystals, as well as a pocket containing over 3,000 carats of emerald crystals found two years ago, compare favorably to emeralds from Colombia, Zambia or Brazil, she says.

How this will affect your showcase depends on whether production of high-quality gems is sustainable.

There’s Green in Them Thar Hills!

Hill is confident about the supply. “Underneath this area we’ve dug up and under this rock vault,” he says, gazing at a dome of gneiss (metamorphic rock), “is a honeycombed nest of pockets just riddled with green.”

Hill says investors have lined up to finance future exploration and mining, a welcome change for him. Before the discovery two years ago, Hill was pretty much on his own. His first major emerald find (Thanksgiving Day 1998) yielded what he called the Royal Family collection: the 7.85-ct. Carolina Prince, 3.37-ct. Carolina Princess and 18.88-ct. Carolina Queen. A few of the gems fetched more than twice the per-carat price for comparable stones at auction.

That’s when investors took notice. The U.S. government also took notice, putting Hill’s mining activities on hold for two years while he prepared the site to meet ecological requirements, developed a security team and obtained all necessary commercial mining licenses. He also dug into his pockets to pay off some $200,000 in debts.

During the two-year hiatus, Hill hired a subterranean radar imaging company to take computerized images of what lies beneath the gneiss dome. “While you can’t see the actual emeralds, you can see the pockets very clearly, and you can plot a three-dimensional grid to systematically uncover them. In this area here [he points to a small section of the dome], over 40 pockets were identified. We will know exactly where to go and find them.”

Most miners are circumspect about pockets – some are rich, most are disappointing. As if to underscore that point, a new mine alongside Hill’s property has apparently yielded nothing. “Even though hundreds of thousands of dollars have been poured into it,” Hill says.

But the eight pockets Hill discovered have yielded emeralds. And he say he’s only just begun. “Just imagine,” he says. “Here we have all-American gems that are free of conflict, free of association with drugs or terrorists, and gems I’ll make sure are free of treatment.”

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

James Hill, who is enchanted with the story of the Wizard of Oz, says his personal Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City is the yellow to orange mineral limonite found in conjunction with emeralds. Here, he holds the chunk of limonitic pocket material that led to the discovery of the two large emeralds and these smaller emerald crystals.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

The two emerald crystals were uncovered in January. They are an estimated 35 carats (left) and over 100 carats. Experts say the color of the crystals is excellent, though the crystal on the right has a thick concentration of color along its surface and somewhat weaker color inside.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2002 by Bond Communications