He won’t disclose the value of the 33-carat emerald, pulled from the Colombian highlands, surrounded by diamonds and attached to a 14-carat gold chain.

His insurance company won’t let him.

Six figures? Oh, yes.

Seven? Maybe a little over.

He won’t give his Iowa hometown. And even his name -- Dallas Patterson -- will become suspect.

But with an armed university police officer standing by, a small but interested crowd gathering at Morrill Hall and the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” theme coming from a small boom box, Patterson will talk about emeralds.

The beauty of emeralds. The business of emeralds. The perils.

“The most dangerous part is getting them out of sight of bandits, government officials and getting them out of the country -- and then getting yourself out,” he said.

The semi-secretive and self-styled emerald explorer is in Lincoln this weekend for the annual Gem and Mineral Show, but he also put on a high-dollar show and tell Thursday at the University of Nebraska State Museum.

He’s not a gemologist. He majored in political science and history at Drake. But he roomed with a student from an affluent Colombian family that traded in coffee, racehorses and emerald mines, he said.

His former roommate recruited him in 1979 to help with the mines in Muzo, he said. “I tell everyone I took care of him in college, now he’s taking care of me.”

He was thrust into the business, but determined that was the best way to learn: Lose money in a transaction, and you’re not going to forget it.

He described a Colombia plagued by political corruption, poverty and greed. His company knows that some of its hundreds of miners might be inclined to pocket their discoveries to buy milk or flour, to feed their families.

“So we tell them if you find something, bring it to us and we’ll give you a bonus. We’re actually paying them twice. Here, we’d call it thievery; there, we call it the way business is done.”

He travels to the mines with Swisher Sweets for the men, bread for the women, candy for the kids. They call him Santa, and they protect him.

He was in the mine a few years ago when they uncovered the El Gigante, an estimated 220-carat emerald crystal emerging from a bed of shale and calcite. The highlight of his traveling show weighs more than seven pounds.

“It was brought out in a wheelbarrow. I covered it up pretty fast.”

It’s probably one of the largest specimens in the world, he said.

“In the emerald business, you say ‘one of.’ You can say that with certainty until someone shows you a bigger one.”

Patterson gives a handful of presentations -- and visits a handful of shows -- every year. He likes to teach people about emeralds -- their value, their rarity, the subjectivity of their quality. Unlike diamonds, there is no standard of grade.

And his audience Thursday was grateful. Delaney Tracy, 9, traveled two hours from Gibbon to see Patterson’s collection. She became interested when a family friend gave her a rock collection.

She asked questions: How much are they worth? How long have you done this? What’s your security like? What’s the biggest emerald? And she wrote his answers in her notebook so she can give her own presentation when she returns to school.

In gem and mineral circles, Patterson is a big deal, said Charles “Wooly” Wooldridge II of the Lincoln Gem and Mineral Club, who slipped and used Patterson’s real first name.

A celebrity.

Maybe even a rock star.

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Reach Peter Salter at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.




Peter Salter is a reporter.

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