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Are North Carolina Rubies Worth Anything?

by Madonna

Rubies, known for their rich red color and rarity, have been prized for centuries. When people think of high-quality rubies, they often imagine stones from Burma (Myanmar) or Thailand. However, the United States, specifically North Carolina, is also a source of these precious gems. The question arises: are North Carolina rubies worth anything? This article delves into the value, history, and characteristics of North Carolina rubies, providing a comprehensive analysis to answer this intriguing question.

A Brief History of North Carolina Rubies

North Carolina has a rich history of gem mining. The state is home to a variety of gemstones, including emeralds, sapphires, and of course, rubies. The first significant discovery of rubies in North Carolina dates back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gem hunters and miners flocked to the state, drawn by the promise of finding valuable stones.


One of the most notable locations for ruby mining in North Carolina is the Cowee Valley, near Franklin. This area, known for its gem-rich soil, has been a hotspot for ruby and sapphire mining for over a century. Today, it remains a popular destination for amateur gem hunters and professional geologists alike.


Geological Formation and Characteristics

Geological Context

Rubies in North Carolina are typically found in alluvial deposits, which are loose soils or sediments. These deposits are formed by the weathering of ruby-bearing rocks over millions of years. The rubies are often associated with other minerals, such as sapphires, garnets, and spinels.


Physical Properties

North Carolina rubies share many characteristics with their counterparts from other regions. They are composed of corundum, an aluminum oxide mineral. The red color of rubies is due to the presence of chromium. North Carolina rubies can range in color from light pinkish-red to deep blood-red, with the latter being the most prized.

Unique Features

One distinguishing feature of North Carolina rubies is their inclusions, which are tiny imperfections within the stone. These inclusions can affect the clarity and overall value of the ruby. However, some inclusions are unique to North Carolina rubies, making them identifiable to trained gemologists. These inclusions can include needle-like rutile inclusions, known as silk, and other mineral inclusions that can create asterism, a star-like effect seen in some cabochon-cut rubies.

Mining Techniques and Locations

Traditional Mining Methods

Historically, ruby mining in North Carolina was a labor-intensive process. Miners used hand tools to dig through soil and sediment, searching for signs of gemstones. Sluicing, a method that uses running water to separate gems from soil, was also common. These traditional methods are still in use today, particularly by hobbyists and small-scale miners.

Modern Mining Techniques

In recent years, more advanced techniques have been employed to increase the efficiency and yield of ruby mining. Mechanical excavators and other heavy machinery are now used to dig deeper into the earth, reaching deposits that were previously inaccessible. Despite these advancements, the unpredictable nature of gem deposits means that mining remains a challenging and often uncertain endeavor.

Key Mining Locations

Several key locations in North Carolina are known for their ruby deposits. The Cowee Valley, as mentioned earlier, is perhaps the most famous. Other notable sites include the Mason’s Ruby and Sapphire Mine, Cherokee Ruby and Sapphire Mine, and Sheffield Mine. These locations not only offer the opportunity to find rubies but also provide educational experiences for visitors interested in gemology.

Evaluating the Value of North Carolina Rubies

Factors Influencing Value

The value of a ruby is determined by several factors, including color, clarity, cut, and carat weight. North Carolina rubies are no exception. The most valuable rubies exhibit a deep, vibrant red color, often referred to as “pigeon’s blood” red. Clarity is also crucial; the fewer the inclusions, the higher the value. However, some inclusions can enhance the stone’s beauty by creating unique visual effects.

Comparison with Other Rubies

When compared to rubies from other renowned locations, such as Burma or Thailand, North Carolina rubies often fall short in terms of size and color saturation. Burmese rubies, for example, are known for their intense red color and exceptional clarity. That said, North Carolina rubies still hold significant value, particularly to collectors and enthusiasts who appreciate their unique characteristics and provenance.

Market Trends

The market for rubies is influenced by global trends in the gemstone industry. In recent years, there has been an increasing demand for ethically sourced gemstones. North Carolina rubies, being mined within the United States, often come with the assurance of ethical mining practices, which can enhance their appeal to certain buyers. Additionally, the rise of the artisanal and small-scale mining sector has brought renewed attention to gemstones from lesser-known sources, including North Carolina.

Famous North Carolina Rubies

Several notable North Carolina rubies have made headlines over the years. One such stone is the “Big Red,” a ruby weighing over 350 carats, discovered in the Cowee Valley. While not all North Carolina rubies are of such impressive size, the discovery of these significant stones highlights the potential value and allure of rubies from this region.

The Appeal of North Carolina Rubies


For gem collectors, North Carolina rubies represent a unique and region-specific addition to their collections. The stones’ distinctive inclusions and the history of gem mining in the area add to their allure. Collectors often seek out these rubies not only for their beauty but also for their historical and geological significance.

Jewelry and Design

North Carolina rubies are also sought after by jewelry designers and artisans. The stones’ unique characteristics make them ideal for one-of-a-kind pieces. Jewelry featuring North Carolina rubies can range from simple, elegant designs to elaborate, custom creations. The stones’ provenance adds an element of storytelling to the jewelry, making each piece unique.

Educational and Recreational Opportunities

The popularity of ruby hunting in North Carolina has also led to a thriving tourism industry. Visitors to the state’s gem mines can experience the thrill of searching for their own rubies, learning about the geological processes that create these gemstones, and even having their finds cut and polished. This hands-on experience enhances the appeal of North Carolina rubies, making them more than just gemstones but also mementos of a unique adventure.

See Also: Where Do Natural Rubies Come From?

Challenges and Future Prospects

Environmental Impact

As with any form of mining, ruby extraction in North Carolina has environmental implications. Responsible mining practices are essential to minimize the impact on local ecosystems. Efforts are being made to promote sustainable mining techniques that protect the environment while still allowing for the extraction of valuable gemstones.

Economic Viability

The economic viability of ruby mining in North Carolina is another challenge. While there are certainly valuable stones to be found, the unpredictable nature of gem deposits means that mining can be a risky business. For many miners, particularly small-scale operations, the cost of extraction can outweigh the potential rewards. However, the continued interest in and demand for North Carolina rubies suggests that there is still potential for profitable mining ventures.

Technological Advances

Advances in technology may also play a role in the future of ruby mining in North Carolina. Improved geological surveying techniques could help miners locate ruby deposits more accurately, reducing the risks and costs associated with extraction. Additionally, new methods of gemstone enhancement and treatment could increase the value of North Carolina rubies, making them more competitive in the global market.


In conclusion, North Carolina rubies are indeed worth something. While they may not always match the size and color intensity of rubies from other renowned sources, they possess unique characteristics and a rich history that make them valuable in their own right. Factors such as ethical mining practices, the appeal of region-specific gemstones, and the opportunities for educational and recreational experiences all contribute to their worth.

For collectors, jewelry designers, and gem enthusiasts, North Carolina rubies offer a unique and intriguing option. Their value is not solely determined by market price but also by their story, provenance, and the experience of finding and owning a piece of North Carolina’s geological heritage. As the gemstone market continues to evolve, North Carolina rubies are likely to maintain and even increase their appeal, proving that these American treasures are indeed worth something significant.


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