CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A North Carolina prospector has unearthed a high-quality, 88-carat emerald in a long-dormant mine that a gem expert said may yield one of the most significant emerald finds in North America.
James Hill, a 35-year-old prospector, has recovered about 3,000 carats of emeralds since December, including a 1,000-carat, medium-quality emerald in two pieces, from a crystalline cavity about 10 feet underground in Hiddenite, North Carolina, about 50 miles northwest of Charlotte.
"I could be on that vein for years, it's the mother lode, but I'm just in the tip of the iceberg," Hill said. "I'm not even 12 feet deep in a mountain of emerald, it's going to take me the rest of my life to bring all that out."
Working since late November with a hammer and chisel, Hill pulled the emerald from solid rock. He said he may eventually use a precision blast of dynamite to open the vein, avoiding shock waves that would break up the gems encased inside.
The 88-carat emerald was described as world-class, with a rare clarity and rich blue-green coloring that puts it in the top 1% of emeralds produced worldwide, Hill said. He is having the stone appraised for sale.
A cut and polished stone would be valued at $35,000 to $40,000 per carat, Hill said. But much of a stone's size is lost in the cutting process, making it difficult to estimate the value of an uncut stone.
Hill's family bought the land that contains the mine at auction three years ago. It had been dormant for years and at one time was a tourist attraction, with people paying $3 each to dig in the ground, Hill said.