The NAEM Emerald

Origin of name

The abbreviation NAEM stands for the “North American Emerald Mine,” which obviously refers to the mine of origin of the enormous 1,869-carat elongated hexagonal emerald crystal, the largest ever emerald discovered in North America, in the year 2003. The North American Emerald Mine created history in 1998, when a significant pocket of gem-quality emeralds weighing a total of 3,300 carats was discovered for the first time in North America in this mine, by James K. Hill the owner of the mine, in whose 94-acre family property the open-pit mine was sunk. An 18.88-carat, pear-shaped, bluish-green emerald with excellent clarity, purity and transparency, cut from one of these rough stones, has set the record as the largest gem-quality emerald ever produced from a mine in North America, that is estimated to be worth over $1,000,000.

Characteristics of the gemstone

The “NAEM Emerald” is a 1,869-carat, hexagonal, elongated emerald crystal, which is the usual crystal habit of natural emeralds. The crystal has a dark green color and a length of 19.5 cm.  The crystal surface appears to be etched, and not smooth and brilliant like other emerald crystals. This appears to conform with the observations made by William E. Hidden in 1881, about peculiar features pertaining to emeralds uncovered from the emerald mines of Alexander county, as quoted in the book, “Gems in North Carolina” written by George Frederick Kunz, the renowned American mineralogist. The relevant section from this book reads as follows :- Some peculiar features pertaining to the emeralds and beryls from this region, are particularly noted by Mr. Hidden. “They appear,” he says, “as though filed across the prismatic faces. The basal plane is also often pitted with minute depressed hexagonal pyramids, that lie with their edges parallel to one another, and to the edge of the di-hexagonal prism. Rarely though crystals are found with perfectly smooth and brilliant faces. The emerald color is often focused on the surface and fades gradually to a colorless central core, which feature is of exceeding interest when the genesis of the mineral is considered. A similar etching or corrosion appears in beryls from Colorado, and those from Pala, California. A remarkable fact is that we have here a green beryl (emerald) and emerald green spodumene (hiddenite), and in the Pala, California, mine, we have lilac spodumene (kunzite) and pink beryls.”


The 1,869-carat “NAEM Emerald” is the largest ever emerald crystal discovered not only in North Carolina, but also in the whole of North America. See table below.

According to this table 9 emeralds were discovered in the NAEM mine and 11 emeralds in the Adams mine. Out of the  9 emeralds discovered in the NAEM mine, 5 emeralds were discovered only after 1998, the year of discovery of a significant quantity of gem-quality emeralds by James K. Hill, after operations began in the mine the same year. The other 4 emeralds discovered prior to 1998 were in the same general area, previously known as the Ritz mine operated by the American Gems Inc. before the sinking of the NAEM open-pit mine. Out of the 11 emeralds discovered in the Adams mine two were discovered in the 19th century, by William E. Hidden himself after he formed the Emerald and Hiddenite Mining Company. One was discovered in the early 20th century, in 1907, when the mine was worked by the American Gem Mining Syndicate. The remaining 8 emeralds from the Adams mine, were significantly, discovered in 1970s, between 1970 and 1977, and 6 of these emeralds were discovered in the same year in 1971. This was the period when the Adams mine and farm were open to prospectors.

Some of the largest emeralds discovered in North Carolina arranged in descending order of carat weights

S/NName of EmeraldYear of DiscoveryCarat WeightDimension in cmMine of OriginPresent Location
1NAEM Emerald20031,86919.5NAEMHouston Museum of Natural Science
2LKA Emerald19841,68611.4 x3.8NAEMLKA Collection
3Reitzler/Williams/HartwellTwin Emeralds19711,49310.5 x2.7AdamsNMNH, Smithsonian Institution
4Finger Emerald-Stephenson Emerald19691,4387.3 x5.4NAEMLKA Collection
5Hill Emerald20071,400NAEMNAEM Collection, Hiddenite, NC.
6Bolick/Arnold Cluster Emerald19711,377AdamsNMNH, Smithsonian Institution
7Hidden Emerald18811,27621.6AdamsStolen from AMNH, New York City
8Hidden Emerald18861,2707.0 X 4.1AdamsNMNH, Smithsonian Institution
9Baltzley Twin Emerald19701,215Adams
10Hill Emerald2006965NAEMHouston Museum of Natural Science
11Bolick Twin Emerald1971934.914.0 x 6.5 x 3.5AdamsHouston Museum of Natural Science
12Reitzler/William/HartwellTwin Emeralds1971900AdamsHouston Museum of Natural Science
13Empress Caroline1998858NAEMSoutheastern Emerald Consortium Collection
14Baltzley Twin Emerald1971817.5NAEM
15Wright Emerald19077505.1 x 3.8Adams
16Bolick Emerald1977722.7AdamsGrandfather Mountain Nature Museum, NC.
17Hill Twin Emeralds2006591NAEMNAEM Collection, Hiddenite, NC.
18Ormond Twin on Goethite19694678.9 x 1.4NAEM
19Reitzler/Williams/Hartwell Emerald1971450AdamsNorth Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh NC.
20Reitzler/Williams/Hartwell Cluster1971433AdamsAMNH, New York City


History of emerald mining in North Carolina

J. A. D. Stephenson’s pioneering mining activities

The history of mining in North Carolina can be traced back to J. A. D. Stephenson, a native of North Carolina and a respected and well-to-do merchant of Statesville, who pioneered mining activities in the state, at Alexander county, beginning around the year 1874. Stephenson solicited the co-operation of the farmers of the area in the search for minerals, Indian relics and other artifacts, with a promise of reward for success. His strategy proved to be a tremendous success, and within a short time he was able to build up an enormous collection of minerals and artifacts. Among the minerals collected were specimens of beryls such as aquamarine and emeralds. But, the emeralds were mostly pale green in  color, and did not have the rich green color of Colombian emeralds. Mr. Stephenson asked the farmers to look for the dark green emeralds  which were more valuable, and around 10 emeralds were discovered by the farmers within a period of about six years, but not one of them had the intense green color or transparency to be used as gems. Most of these specimens entered Mr. Stephenson’s collection of minerals. However, one single crystal discovered by Mr. John T. Humphreys had the color and transparency of a true emerald, and this crystal later entered the mineral collection of the New York State Museum at Albany.

William E. Hidden’s mining activities – Formation of the Emerald and Hiddenite Mining Company

Mr. Stephenson’s pioneering work in mining was followed by Mr William E. Hidden in July 1880. He first engaged men to dig several ditches at a selected site where farmers had encountered beryls while plowing. After about five weeks of hard work a “blind vein” or pocket was discovered at a depth of about 8 feet which yielded only a few emeralds, but substantial quantities of a new emerald-green mineral found in association with the emeralds, which was subsequently shown to be emerald-green spodumene by Dr, J. Lawrence Smith of Louisville, Kentucky, who gave the name “Hiddenite” to the newly discovered mineral, in honor of its founder Mr. William E. Hidden. The name “Hiddenite” was later adopted for the general location in Alexander county, where the new mineral was unearthed. Further excavation in the same area led to the discovery of eleven similar pockets in the same year, within an area of 40 square feet, all of which yielded emeralds in small quantities, and three pockets yielding in addition the new mineral “Hiddenite.” Besides these emerald pockets several other pockets were also discovered, which were actually expansions of quartz veins that traverse the gneiss rock, containing crystals of quartz, rutile, monazite,  and mica.

In the year 1881, a company known as the “Emerald and Hiddenite Mining Company” was formed by William E. Hidden, to prospect for emeralds and hiddenite in the property at Stony Point, and mining activities continued in the area until 1885, when it almost came to a standstill due to legal disputes pertaining to ownership of the property. Some of the significant finds of this mining activity were the 21.6 cm long, 1,276-carat “Hidden emerald crystal” discovered in 1881, and later acquired by the American Museum of Natural History, and two other elongated crystals of length 12.7 cm and 7.62 cm. The three crystals were part of a pocket of nine crystals having excellent color, and partially transparent, but somewhat flawed. In 1886, another enormous emerald crystal with dimensions of 4.1 cm x 7.0 cm and  weighing 1240 carats was discovered, which was later acquired by the NMNH of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

The value of the emeralds discovered from this deposit was relatively small, when compared with that of the large quantity of slender crystals of hiddenite recovered. During the eight-year period from 1880-1888, almost $154,000 worth of hiddenite gems were mined by the Emerald and Hiddenite Company.

Discovery of the Crabtree Mountain pegmatite vein

In July, 1894, an entirely new locality that yielded true emeralds was discovered by Mr. J. L. Eorison and Mr. D. A. Bowman, pioneers miners of mica, in the western part of North Carolina, 14 miles from Mitchell’s Peak, Mitchell County. The site that was discovered at an elevation of 5,000 feet, on Big Crabtree Mountain, was a pegmatite vein five feet wide, and well defined walls of mica-schist. Besides quartz and feldspar, this pegmatite vein contained a variety of minerals such as white, yellow and pale-green beryls, dark-green emeralds, garnets and black tourmaline. The emeralds which were perfect hexagonal prisms with well terminated basal planes, were small, 1 to 10 mm wide and 5 to 25 mm long, having good color and promise as gem-material, with a striking resemblance to the Norwegian emeralds from Arendal. This property was worked extensively in 1906, by the American Gem and Pearl Company of New York, producing some perfectly transparent crystals of emerald, that were processed into fairly good quality gemstones.

Exploitation of the Adam’s Mine from 1907 to 1980

The Emerald and Hiddenite Mine assumed different names at different times such as the Warren mine, the Turner mine, the Hiddenite mine and finally the Adams mine. In 1907-1908, the Adam’s mine was worked by an American Gem Mining Syndicate. A significant emerald found during this period was the 750-carat “Wright Emerald” crystal with dimensions of 5.1 x 3.8 cm.

During the period 1926-27, the Adam’s mine was worked by the Hiddenite Mining Company and in 1926 $73,000 worth of Hiddenite crystals were produced. From the year 1954 to 1980, the Adam’s mine and farm was opened to prospectors, and it is during this period that several significant discoveries of emerald crystals were made. Among these discoveries were the 1,215-carat Baltzley Twin discovered in 1970, 1,493-carat Reitzler/William/Hartwell twin emeralds discovered in 1971, the 1,377-carat Bolick/Arnold Cluster discovered in 1971, the 934.9-carat Bolick Twin crystals discovered in 1971 etc.

Discovery of gem-quality emeralds by James K. Hill in 1998

The first gem-quality emerald which could stand on an equal footing with any Colombian emerald, was discovered by Wayne Anthony in 1969, and was cut from a 59-carat rough crystal. The finished stone was a 13.14-carat, emerald-cut gemstone, and was known as the “Carolina Emerald.” The stone that was said to be one of the finest cut-emeralds ever to be produced in North America, and was acquired by Tiffany’s of New York, came to be known as the “Tiffany Emerald,” and was valued at $100,000 in 1970. Since then no gem-quality emeralds of any significance was produced in North Carolina, until in 1998 when James K. Hill of Hiddenite, announced the discovery of a pocket of gem-quality emeralds, weighing 3,300 carats in an open pit-mine only about 12 feet deep, sunk in the 94-acre property belonging to his family. Out of the 3,300-carat cache of emeralds a 71-carat emerald looked very promising, and was sold to a syndicate of 12 investors headed by Rick Gregory of R. Gregory Jewelers, NC, who got the rough stone cut and processed into two exceptional quality emeralds, one, a pear-shaped 18.88-carat emerald known as the “Carolina Queen Emerald,” and the other a cushion-cut 7.85-carat emerald, known as the “Carolina Prince Emerald.” The 7.85-carat “Carolina Prince Emerald” was sold for $500,000 by Windsor Jewelers in 1999. According to the Smithsonian, the “Carolina Prince Emerald” was at that time the most expensive gem sold, that was found in North America. The 18.88-carat “Carolina Queen Emerald” which surpasses the “Carolina Prince” in weight, purity, clarity, transparency, color and beauty is said to be the largest and finest cut-emerald ever produced in North America, and an estimate of $1,000,000 has been placed on it by R. Gregory Jewelers, but is as yet unsold. The value of the “Carolina Queen Emerald” in comparison with the value obtained for the much smaller “Carolina Prince Emerald” is undoubtedly much more than its estimated value of $1,000,000.

The North American Emerald Mine

The North American Emerald Mine was established by James K. Hill, the president and CEO of the mine, in 1992, with the intention of beginning small scale mining operations on the 94-acre land belonging to his family, after he had made a detailed study of the mineral history of the Hiddenite area. Hill was convinced that there were emeralds in the land belonging to his family, and sunk an open pit-mine at a particular spot on his property in 1998. The area where the mine was sunk was selected purely by intuition, and it is said that Hill has been naturally gifted with a sixth sense that enables him to pinpoint and locate hidden treasures. His intuition paid off, when barely had he gone 12 feet deep, he discovered an emerald vein that led him to a pocket of emeralds 3,300 carats in weight, which surprisingly turned out to be of the  highest color intensity ever discovered for emeralds in North Carolina, equal in rank to the best of Colombian emeralds. After the discovery in 1998, Hill continued his exploration and more gem-quality emeralds were unearthed during the next two years, and some of these emeralds fetched more than twice the per carat price for comparable stones at auctions. Shocked by the high prices achieved by Hill’s emeralds at auctions, several investors expressed interest  in financing future exploratory activities. However, the Government stepped in, and suspended all mining activities, until the site conformed to all ecological requirements, and Hill had obtained all required licenses and increased security for the site.

Mining activities were suspended for almost two years until all conditions stipulated by the government were met. During this period of inactivity Hill engaged in further research on his site, by seeking the service of experts to carryout subterranean radar imaging, to find out what lies beneath a gneiss dome on the site. The procedure identified at least 40 different potential emerald-bearing pockets. When mining resumed after two years, in the year 2002, Hill went in search of these pockets, and discovered eight of them, all of which yielded emeralds.

Discovery of the “NAEM Emerald”

The discovery of the “NAEM Emerald” was reported in an article published in January 2004, in the prestigious “Mining Engineering” magazine. According to this article the largest emerald ever discovered in North America, was unearthed in Hiddenite, NC, in December 2003. The crystal weighing  1,869 carats was found on the property owned by the North American Emerald Mines (NAEM) Company. The cavity in which the emerald was found also contained crystals of quartz, pyrite, muscovite, rutile, calcite and other minerals.

James K. Hill, president of NAEM, said that this crystal was larger than the one previously considered the largest. That emerald which weighed 1,686 carats was also uncovered in the same property in the 1980s before NAEM acquired it. The pocket that contained the enormous emerald was one out of the 40 pockets that were identified by underground radar imaging in 2002. The cavity that was 5′ x 12′ was not fully uncovered and its depth was fully unknown. The 1,869-carat crystal was found about a foot inside of the entrance to the cavity or pocket. Three other pieces of high quality emeralds, weighing 1,300 carats, 400 carats and 100 carats, were also found at the same depth.

According to the table above further mining activities at the NAEM mine after 2003, had uncovered several other significant emeralds such as the 591-carat Hill Twin Emeralds discoverd in 2006 and added to the NAEM Collection of Emeralds, the 965-carat “Hill Emerald ” discovered in 2006, and acquired by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the 1,400-carat “Hill Emerald” discovered in 2007 added to the NAEM Collection of Emeralds.

Present Location of the Naem Emerald

The Naem Emerald was acquired by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where it is displayed today in the mineral gallery of the Museum at Houston, Texas.

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1.Hiddenite Treasures – Professional Jewelers Magazine, October 1999.   
2.North Carolina Emeralds –  
3.North Carolina Emeralds – NAEM Emerald Mine
4.History of the Carolina Queen –  
5.The Hiddenite Emeralds – 
6.North Carolina Emeralds – Adams Emerald Mine –
7.Gems in North Carolina – Chapter VI – Kunz   
8.Emerald City North Carolina – Professional Jewelers Magazine, April 2002.  
9.The Mineral Industry of North Carolina – U.S. Geological Survey and the North Carolina Geological Survey.
10.Mining Engineering – January 2004                                                              11.Emerald Crystal Pockets of the Hiddenite District, Alexander County, NC -Wade Edward Speer. 2008.

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