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