$100,000 in rare emeralds and gold taken in brazen heist at mine in NC foothills

Busted glass and empty spots on the shelves mark where robbers took the best of what Emerald Hollow Mine had on display, the mine’s owner says.
Busted glass and empty spots on the shelves mark where robbers took the best of what Emerald Hollow Mine had on display, the mine’s owner says.

An emerald mine in the foothills of North Carolina was the scene of an old fashioned jewel heist over the weekend, and the thieves made off with an estimated $100,000 in rare precious gems and gold jewelry, the mine’s owner says.

The Alexander County Sheriff’s Office says the robbers broke into the Emerald Hollow Mine in Hiddenite sometime Saturday, and among their targets was the lapidary where gems are cut and polished for jewelry.

Both cut and uncut gems were taken, along with rings and necklaces valued from $10,000 to $15,000, mine owner Jason Martin told the Charlotte Observer.

Two safes and a series of display cases were also “wiped out,” with the most expensive loss being a $26,000 emerald pendant set with diamonds, he said.

“We had emeralds the size of quarters and they are gone,” Martin said. “Among the gems taken were rare examples of Hiddenite, a stone found no where else in the world.”

Hiddenite is a green gem named after William Earl Hidden, and inspired the name of the town of Hiddenite, according to Minerals.net. The Hiddenite area of Alexander County produces the world’s purest examples of the gem, according to the site. Hiddenite is about 60 miles northwest of Charlotte.

“Hiddenite is a very rare connoisseur gemstone, and good gems are remarkably valuable and increasingly difficult to come across,” Minerals.net says.

Martin says his biggest fear is that the unknowing thieves will pry out the rare gems and “throw them away,” because they believe only the gold settings are valuable.

“That is a bitter pill to swallow,” he says.

Emerald Hollow says it’s the only emerald mine in the world open to the public for prospecting. It also operates a licensed and regulated gem mine that is not open to the public.

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Martin says he bought the site in 1986 and has turned into into a popular tourist attraction, with 38,000 people a year showing up to find examples of Hiddenite or other gems.

The mine is open 361 days a year and tourists include groups from France and China, requiring translators on some tours, Martin said.

He believes the robbers were once visitors and “cased” the site, knowing exactly what to hit.

It could take the mine years to recover from the theft, he said, noting some of the items taken from display cases were rare and dated back decades.

“Considering the economic impact this mine has on the surrounding community, they didn’t just steal from us: They stole from the entire community,“ says Martin.

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Mark Price: 704-358-5149, @markprice_obs