North Carolina’s emerald man hits pay dirt again

Almost three years ago, James King Hill found emeralds-big, green, gemmy emeralds-on his North Carolina property using a backhoe, pick, and shovel (see “Colombian-Quality Emeralds Found in the United States,” JCK, April 1999, p. 15.). On Friday, Jan. 11, using high-tech radar imaging equipment, he struck pay dirt again, finding two more very large emerald crystals.

According to Antoinette Matlins, gem expert and author of Colored Gemstones: The Antoinette Matlins Buying Guide, “The two exposed crystals are very large [the exposed areas are about 25 cts. and 100-plus cts.] with intensely rich color-real glow-in-the-dark green.”

The find has not gone unnoticed. Gem experts and mineralogists from all over the country are descending on the rural western North Carolina town of Hiddenite, where the mine is located. Among them are officials from the Smithsonian Institute and Cap Beasley, president of the American Gemological Laboratories, New York.

Hill made the discovery using “high-tech subterranean radar imaging,” Matlins says, explaining that this technology allows Hill to see geophysical plotting of potential emerald pockets, “invaluable information regarding where to dig.” The plotting of one small section of the mine site revealed more than 30 potential pockets.

“Using the plotting as a guide, they proceeded to open one pocket,” says Matlins. Hill found two fine, large emerald crystals right at the opening to the pocket. This particular pocket is mapped at 12 feet long. Incredibly, the new find was just 12 feet directly beneath where Hill had parked his backhoe two years ago when the North Carolina government ordered him to stop digging.

After Hill’s first big hit, he was rushed onto Oprah and written-up in “People” magazine. Then the government stepped in. “Mining activity was suspended by the state of North Carolina, when James began to expand his mine, and the status of his site was changed from `prospecting’ to `commercial mining,’ ” explains Matlins. Since then, Hill has slugged through mounds of regulatory paperwork, fees, and everyday expenses, trying to get the state’s approval for operating an emerald mine-obtaining the costly permits and preparing the site to meet ecological requirements.

The paperwork was completed and the permits granted just a few weeks ago, Hill said, and he’s been mining since then using the new equipment.

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