Remarkable Gem Collection Donated to North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

What do Colombia, Zambia, Afghanistan, Brazil and a rural community in North Carolina all have in common? They’re all famous sources of gem-quality emeralds. Believe it or not, the town of Hiddenite, N.C., is the source of four remarkable emeralds that an anonymous benefactor has donated to the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. The collection will be housed in the museum’s new wing, the $56 million Nature Research Center that opens next month.

Carolina Emperor weighs 64.38 carats

The gemstone collection includes the “Carolina Emperor,” a 64.38 carat gem-quality masterpiece that was meticulously cut from a 310-carat crystal. It is considered the largest cut emerald originating from North America and is nearly identical in cut and size to an emerald that belonged to Catherine the Great, empress of Russia in the 18th century, according to

Carolina Emperor was cut from this 310-carat crystal.

The other Hiddenite emeralds to be featured at the museum remain uncut and weigh in at a remarkable 1,225 carats, 685 carats and 591 carats, respectively. Each of these was mined in 2011.

The emeralds were discoverd by Terry Ledford, a lifelong gem hunter, on the Adams farm in Alexander County. In 2009, he unearthed the crystal 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,’” Ledford said. “The more I dug around it, the bigger it got.”

Ledford added that when he scrubbed away the clay with a toothbrush, the crystal “gleamed up like a 7Up bottle.”

Last year, Ledford returned to the Adams property to dig in an old hole that had been long abandoned. Close to 20 feet down, he hit the mother lode: three gigantic emeralds all larger than 590 carats. The first was so large, he didn’t think it was an emerald.

North Carolina is the only place on the North American continent where significant emerald deposits are found, according to the Associated Press. This may explain why emerald is North Carolina’s official state gemstone. The rural community of Hiddenite happens to be named for a paler stone that resembles emerald.

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