March 27, 2012— -- Jamie Hill thought he found a new way to make money by opening up his aging emerald mine to amateurs at $25 a head, and watched as a pair of couples quickly came away with tens of thousands of dollars worth of gems.
Libby and Kevin Barrieault were the first to strike gold – or emerald – on a group trip to the North American Emerald Mine in Hiddenite, N.C., last Friday.
The next day, Terry Lofgren and her fiance John Kehoe found a pocket of emerald crystals.
Hill, known in the area as the "emerald man," insisted today that he has no regrets.
"We did lose quite a bit of money, but that's okay because it was the experience of a lifetime for these people and it alerted me to another location I should explore," Hill told ABCNews.com.
Hill's amateur diggers were thrilled.
The Barrieaults went to Hill's mine on the group trip with the Mountain Area Gem and Mineral Association. They had only been in the mine for five minutes before Kevin flipped over a rock to find a 50.5-carat emerald.
"My husband asked where we should start digging," Libby Barrieault said. "I said 'This looks like a good spot,' and turned around to get out our picks and shovels. Then he said 'What do you think we can do with this?' and flipped the emerald over to me," she said. "It was just one of those 'wow' moments."
Hill said the Barrieaults' crystal is worth upwards of $10,000.
The Lofgrens, who have been members of MAGMA for seven years, began digging the next day just a few feet from where the Barrieaults made their strike and found what Hill calls a pocket of crystals.
In that pocket, they discovered a 30-carat emerald, 240-carats worth of loose emeralds and about 160-carats of high quality matrix emeralds embedded in the rock.
"We hit the jackpot," Lofgren said. "It's so surreal…It's amazing to see so much green."
Hill said the Lofgrens' crystals could be worth $30-40,000 once they're cut and said they are ideal for cutting stones for jewelry.
The couples are trying to decide on what to do with their bonanzas, whether to keep them as jewelry or sell them.
The MAGMA trip was the first time anyone from the public was allowed in the mine in over 40 years.
Hill said he decided to let people into the mine because the economy was hurting his business and members of MAGMA had been very persistent.
"I haven't had a major find in a number of years," Hill said. "I figured, if you bring in a whole bunch of recreational miners in here and let them go loose, it's a great experience for them and they may just find something. It helps me too because it leads me to new locations. So it's win-win."