Production of gem quality emeralds in North Carolina

It has been estimated that around 60,000 carats of emeralds had been produced  in the Hiddenite district, the main emerald producing district in North Carolina, from the year 1875 when emeralds were first discovered in North Carolina by J. A. D. Stephenson, up to the year 2007. During this period 20,000 carats of the new mineral – a variety of green spodumene – known as Hiddenite was also discovered from this district. While most of the emeralds produced were significantly large single crystals, aggregate crystals  and twin crystals, which were preserved as such and are lying in several museums across the United States and also Europe, a few emerald crystals were good quality gemstones, which were faceted and polished into one or more quality faceted emeralds that could stand on an equal footing with the best of Colombian emeralds produced in the Muzo or Chivor mines.

Prior to 1998 the discovery of such gem-quality emeralds were few and far between, but after the discovery of emeralds in the North American Emerald Mines by James K. Hill Jr, in 1998, the frequency of occurrence of gem quality emeralds in North Carolina has also increased, so much so that James K. Hill is confident that an alternative to Colombian emeralds, free of conflicts, free of association with drugs or terrorists as well as free of treatment has at last been discovered. In fact most of these North Carolinian emeralds are pure with good clarity and transparency, free of inclusions, cracks and fissures, and therefore does not require the usual oil or epoxy treatment to which emeralds from other sources are usually subjected to. The 18.85-carat Carolina Queen emerald, the largest gem-quality faceted emerald produced in North America is a good example of such an emerald, and is estimated to be worth $1,000,000.

The following is a table of the largest faceted emeralds produced in North Carolina, arranged in descending order of carat weights.

Largest faceted emeralds produced in North Carolina arranged in descending order of carat weights

S/NName of EmeraldCarat WeightYear of discoveryMine of OriginName of discoverer
1Carolina Queen *18.881998NAEMHill
2June Culp Zeitner15.471974Rist/NAEMPhilbeck
4Carolina Duchess8.851995Hill
8Carolina Prince *7.851998NAEMHill
13Heart of Carolina3.401998NAEMHill
14Carolina Princess3.371998NAEMHill
15Marie Emerald-Z22.681974NAEMPhilbeck

N.B. – The symbols * X, Y, and Z in the above table represent the common origin of emeralds from the same rough stone. All emeralds in the above table were discovered in the NAEM mines except the “Carolina Duchess” which was discovered from a nearby mine.

1) Carolina Queen  and Carolina Prince Emeralds

The 18.88-carat, pear-shaped “Carolina Queen Emerald” and the 7.85-carat, cushion-shaped “Carolina Prince Emerald” were cut from the same 71-carat rough emerald crystal, which was part of the 3,300-carat pocket of emeralds discovered by James K. Hill in 1998, from a shallow pit-mine only 12 feet deep at the site of the North American Emerald Mines (NAEM).

© R. Gregory Jewelers

The North American Emerald Mines (NAEM) is situated on a 94-acre parcel of land, which was previously part of a larger 200-acre land that was known as the Rist/Ellis mines, and opened in March 1969 as a prospect-for-fee mine. From 1971 to 1982 the mine was operated by the American Gems Inc. headed by William Diehl Baltzley. In 1982, LKA International Inc. of Gig Harbor, Washington, acquired the mine from American Gems Inc. and after initial feasibility studies that lasted until 1988, decided that the property did no meet LKA-5 criteria for additional investment and sold the property in early 1990 to a South Carolina firm. Later in the year 1995, a 94-acre tract of land from the original acreage of 200 acres, which included the old Rist mine was acquired by Sulphur Springs Properties LLC. from whom the ownership passed to the Hill and Duncan families.

It was on this family land that James K. Hill made his first significant emerald discovery of 3,300 carats in a single pocket in 1998, from a rather shallow open-pit mine only about 12 feet deep, that put North Carolina back on the Emerald Map of the World, and created international interest. in the North Carolina deposits.

Among the 3,330 carats of emeralds was a 71-carat exceptional rough-stone which was purchased by a syndicate of 12 investors headed by Rick Gregory, the president of R. Gregory Jewelers of North Carolina. The syndicate got the rough stone cut into the 18.88-carat, pear-shaped “Carolina Queen Emerald” and the 7.85-carat cushion-shaped “Carolina Prince Emerald.” Both emeralds are exceptional in quality, with good  intense green color, clarity and transparency, free of inclusions, cracks and fissures, and most important of all free of any form of treatment, such as oil or epoxy treatment, that is usually required for emeralds from other sources. With all these exceptional qualities in an emerald – which are normally tolerated by the international gem trade in spite of their frequent inclusions and treatment – there is little wonder that the “Carolina Prince Emerald” sold in 1999 for $500,000 which is equivalent to about $64,000 per carat. According to the Smithsonian Institution, the “Carolina Prince Emerald” is the most expensive gemstone sold to date, that was found in North America. The “Carolina Queen Emerald” which is  as yet unsold and surpasses the “Carolina Prince Emerald’ in terms of quality, by extension should sell for at least $64,000 X 18.88, which works out to $1,200,000. In fact the estimate placed on the “Carolina Queen Emerald” by R. Gregory Jewelers is over $ 1,000,000, but current estimates of the value of exceptional quality emeralds might give it a valuation approaching $2,000,000.

Please click here for more information on the “Carolina Queen and Carolina Prince Emeralds”

2) June Culp Zeitner Emerald

The June Culp Zeitner Emerald is a kite-shaped, dark-green emerald with good clarity and transparency, and weighing 15.46 carats, cut from a rough emerald crystal weighing 142.25 carats. The exceptional quality emerald free of any form of treatment, is set as the centerpiece of a gold necklace set with diamonds.

The June Culp Zeitner Emerald is a kite-shaped, dark-green emerald with good clarity and transparency

Photo from North Carolina

The rough 142.25-carat emerald crystal was discovered in 1974 in the 200-acre Rist/Ellis mine, which was owned and operated by the American Gems Inc. from 1971 to 1982. American Gems Inc. initially attempted to mine portions of the parcel of land commercially, but finally opened the deposits as a fee-to-dig operation. It was during the operation of the mine as a fee-to-dig mine in 1974, that A. Clyde Philbeck of Hickory, North Carolina, discovered the 142.45-carat rough emerald crystal. The emerald was actually discovered in a single vein pocket that contained 3,507 carats of emerald crystals. Another 63.3-carat crystal was also found in this same pocket by Philbeck, which was subsequently cut into three faceted emeralds.

3) Carolina/Tiffany Emerald

The “Carolina Emerald” aka the “Tiffany Emerald” is a 13.14-carat, emerald-cut, dark-green emerald with good clarity and transparency, considered to be one of the finest cut emeralds in existence in the year 1970.

The "Carolina Emerald" aka the "Tiffany Emerald" is a 13.14-carat, emerald-cut, dark-green emerald

©LKA International

The “Carolina Emerald” was cut from a 59-carat rough emerald crystal that was discovered in 1969 from the Rist/Ellis mines  by Wayne Anthony of Lincolnton, North Carolina. This was the year the Rist mines were finally opened for exploration as a prospect-for-fee mine in March 1969, even though the first emeralds from this area were discovered 92 years earlier in 1877, during the time of J. A. D. Stephenson and William E. Hidden. Wayne Anthony was a private prospector who paid a fee for prospecting emeralds on the site. The stone was cut into a 13.14-carat emerald-cut gemstone, and was given the name “Carolina Emerald” by its owner. Subsequently, Tiffany’s of New York purchased the emerald, and it came to be known as the “Tiffany Emerald.” Tiffany’s set the value of the emerald at $100,000 in 1970. The emerald is still part of Tiffany’s Collection, and its present value is estimated to be around $500,000.

4) Carolina Duchess Emerald

The 8.85-carat “Carolina Duchess Emerald” which is set in a gold and diamond ring, was discovered by James K. Hill in 1995, the same year his family acquired the 94-acre tract of land, that was previously part of a larger parcel of land, 200 acres in extent, known as the Rist/Ellis mine. However, the “Carolina Duchess Emerald” was discovered not on this 94-acre plot of land, but in a nearby property, most probably in a portion of the remaining 106 acres of land, that presently constitute the Ellis mine. Around this time James K. Hill was actually studying the history of mineral exploitation in North Carolina, particularly in respect of the five known emerald deposits in the state, three of which were situated in the Hiddenite district, in Alexander County in North Carolina. It is said that James K. Hill was gifted with a sixth sense that enabled him to locate a hidden treasure. The discovery of the massive 298-pound smoky topaz crystal, known as the “Carolina Crystal” from a pasture in Hiddenite, using only a screw driver, and the location of the open-pit mine in 1998, that discovered the 3,300-carat pocket of emeralds are attributed to his rare natural gift. But, it appears that James K. Hill himself was reluctant to use his so-called natural gift, when he sought the services of experts to carryout subterranean radar imaging to find out what lies beneath a gneiss dome on his site. It is not known whether James K. Hill depended on his sixth sense to discover the “Carolina Duchess Emerald.”

The circumstances surrounding the discovery of the “Carolina Duchess Emerald” are not known, and so are some other important information such as the weight of the original rough crystal, the final shape of the emerald after faceting, the estimated value of the finished emerald and the present location of the emerald.

5) Emeralds – X1 – X4

The 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th positions in the above table are occupied by emeralds X1 – X4. This simply means that the four emeralds weighing 8.05, 8.01, 7.89 and 5.86 carats, respectively occupying the 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th positions, originated from the same rough crystal, which weighed 84 carats, and was discovered by James K. Hill in the year 2003, after he resumed exploitation in the NAEM mine, following a suspension of mining activities for two years, in order to conform to all federal government imposed regulations. Out of the four cut-emeralds produced from the 84-carat rough crystal, X2 is said to be of exceptional quality, with good color, clarity and transparency. Estimates of the value of the stone are not known.

6) Emeralds Y1 – Y3

Emeralds Y1, Y2 and Y3 occupying the 10th, 12th and 16th positions on the table respectfully weigh 3.92, 3.52 and 2.02 carats, and originated from the same 30.3-carat parent emerald crystal, which was discovered in 1974 by A. Clyde Philbeck of Hickory, North Carolina. Like the “June Culp Zeitner Emerald” which was also discovered in 1974, by Clyde Philbeck, the 30.3-carat parent emerald that yielded 3 cut-emeralds, was also discovered, when the 200-acre Rist/Ellis mine was operated by the American Gems Inc. as a fee-to-dig mine. It appears that the 30.3-carat parent emerald, together with the 142.25-carat rough “June Culp Zeitner Emerald”  were part of the single vein pocket that contained 3,507 carats of emerald crystals, discovered by the fee-paying emerald prospector Clyde Philbeck in 1974.

7) Emeralds Z1 – Z3

The 3.67-carat Z1 emerald, 2.68-carat Z2 emerald (aka the Marie Emerald) and the 1.43-crat Z3 emerald occupying respectively the 11th, 15th and 17th positions were all derived from the same parent emerald crystal weighing 63.3 carats, discovered by the private fee-paying emerald prospector, Clyde Philbeck of Hickory, North Carolina, who discovered a single vein pocket in 1974, in the 200-acre Rist/Ellis mine, that contained 3,507 carats of emerald crystals. It is believed that the 142.25-carat rough emerald that yielded the “June Culp Zeitner Emerald,” the 30.3-carat rough emerald that yielded the cut emeralds Y1 to Y3 and the 63.3-carat rough emerald that yielded the cut emeralds Z1 to Z3, were all part of the pocket of 3,507 carats of emeralds discovered by Philbeck in 1974.

The 2.68-carat “Marie Emerald” is an exceptional emerald set in a gold and diamond necklace, that was featured on the cover of the May 1982 issue of the Lapidary Journal.

8) “Heart of Carolina” and “Carolina Princess” Emeralds

The 3.40-carat “Heart of Carolina Emerald” and the 3.37-carat “Carolina Princess Emerald” discovered in the NAEM mine in 1998, originated from rough crystals that was part of the “haul” found in “Aladdin’s Cave” by James K. Hill in 1988. “Aladdin’s Cave” that consisted of 3 close spaced vein pockets contained 3,300 carats of emerald crystals. This enormous pocket of emeralds produced the 858-carat uncut “Empress Caroline Emerald” and the Royal Collection of emeralds, that consisted of the 18.8-carat Carolina Queen Emerald, the 7.85-carat “Carolina Prince Emerald” and the 3.37-carat “Carolina Princess Emerald.” Besides this the pocket of emeralds also produced the 3.40-carat “Heart of Carolina Emerald.” All the cut emeralds were of exceptional quality with good color, clarity and transparency and free of any treatment.

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Back to Famous Gemstones

Related :-

1) The Carolina Queen Emerald

2) Naem Emerald

3) Significant Emeralds Discovered in North Carolina

References :-

1.Hiddenite Treasures – Professional Jewelers Magazine, October 1999.   
2.North Carolina Emeralds –  
3.North Carolina Emeralds – NAEM Emerald Mine,  
4.North Carolina Emeralds – Adams Emerald Mine,
5.Gems in North Carolina – Chapter VI – Kunz   
6.Emerald City North Carolina – Professional Jewelers Magazine, April 2002.  
7.The Mineral Industry of North Carolina – U.S. Geological Survey and the North Carolina Geological Survey. 8. Emerald Crystal Pockets of the Hiddenite District, Alexander County, North Carolina – Wade Edward Speer 2008.

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