Treasure trove of emeralds donated to N.C. Museum in Raleigh

Posted on July 25, 2012 by Brad Bilsten | 0 Comments

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh unveiled dazzling treasures found from deep under the Alexander County soil worth millions : a collection of rare and remarkably large emeralds including a 64.38 carat 'Carolina Emperor' emerald.  The emerald is the state’s official gemstone, and North Carolina is the only place on this continent where significant emerald deposits are found - most emeralds come from Colombia in South America.


The donation of four emeralds were given to the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh by an anonymous donor, presumably a North Carolinian, who specifies that the gemstones stay in the county.  They will be displayed in the Nature Research Center, the museum’s new wing that will open in April. The emeralds were found in Alexander County, 60 miles northwest of Charlotte.

Here’s a description of the uncut emeralds:

1. 1,225 carats. 10.1 cm, or nearly 4 inches, long and 1.65 inches thick was found in 2011.

2. 685.5 carats. 9.9 cm long also found in 2011.

3. 591.5 carats. 9.1 cm long also found in 2011.

4. 64.38 carats. The “Carolina Emperor" is the largest cut emerald from North America was found in 2009. It mimics the cut and size of an emerald that belonged to Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia in the 18th century.  Her diamond and emerald brooch sold for $1.65 million at auction in 2010.

The background to finding North Carolina emeralds:

That’s a long way from the Adams farm, a 100-acre tract in Alexander County, where Terry Ledford, a lifelong gem hunter, found them. Ledford mines the area in partnership with W.R. Adams, whose family owns the property. It’s a painstaking process that may take years to yield a major find.

Ledford looks for clues – bits of mica and quartz – when picking a spot to dig. He goes at least 3 feet down, below the topsoil, to look for veins of minerals. Then he follows the veins deeper as they widen, hoping to hit a pocket where emeralds, hiddenite and other minerals might lurk.

There, he abandons all metal tools so as not to scratch anything valuable. He uses wooden tools, mostly bamboo and occasionally chopsticks.  In 2009, he located a big nugget of something that became the “Carolina Emperor.”

“It was so dark. I said to myself, there’s no way that could be what I think it is,” he said. “The more I dug around it, the bigger it got.”

Eventually, he extracted it. He hollered up to Adams, who is in his 90s, sitting at the top of a hill nearby.  “I said, ‘Get ready, I’ve got something that’s going to change our lives, I think.’ ”  They ran it up to the house, where they scrubbed away clay with a toothbrush. It gleamed like a 7-Up bottle.

Last year, Ledford continued to dig on the property in an old hole long abandoned. Close to 20 feet down, he hit the mother lode: three gigantic emeralds. The first was so large, he didn’t think it was an emerald, until he held it up to the sunlight.




Information and photograph courtesy of The Charlotte Observer, March 16, 2012 

Posted in Alexander County, Carolina Emperor, emerald, N.C. Museum, North Carolina, Raleigh

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