A moon rock won’t be the only spectacular stone on display at the Nature Research Center.
Coming to the museum’s new wing is a collection of rare emeralds unearthed in Alexander County, 160 miles west of Raleigh. The treasures include the “Carolina Emperor,” the largest cut emerald from North America, and three jumbo uncut stones. One weighs 1,225 carats, or more than half a pound.
North Carolina is the only place in North America with significant emerald deposits, but nuggets found here almost always end up in the hands of collectors, jewelers or museums outside the state.
This time, though, the precious stones, worth millions, were purchased and given to the museum by an anonymous donor. And that means North Carolinians will finally get a look at some stunning examples of the state’s official gemstone.
Museum Director Betsy Bennett said the benefactor “decided that the people of North Carolina should be able to see them and appreciate them in their own state museum.”
The “Carolina Emperor,” at 64.38 carats, was found in 2009 on the W.R. Adams farm in Alexander County. It is of similar size and cut to an emerald in a diamond-encrusted brooch that belonged to Catherine the Great, empress of Russia in the 18th century.
The big uncut crystals were found a year ago on the same property. They were extracted from a pocket about 20 feet deep in a hole that had been explored decades ago. The previous miners had gotten within a couple of inches of the emeralds and stopped digging.
The discovery of emeralds in North Carolina dates back to the 1880s when Thomas Edison sent geologist William Hidden to the state to look for material to be used in the light bulb. Instead, Hidden found some emeralds and a light green mineral that was later named hiddenite in his honor.
Jeff Schlottman, a mineral dealer from Winston-Salem, said the museum’s emeralds are extraordinary, particularly the largest one. It’s in the top 10 of North American emeralds that exceed 1,000 carats.
“I think this is a huge, great win for North Carolina and for the museum,” he said.