Mike found his first arrowhead at the age of five and began collecting them. This sparked his interest in artifacts, Native American culture, and the thrill of finding things. When he was seven years old he found his first quartz crystal and it changed his life. It was then that Mike heard his calling to be an explorer, a geologist! He started building a base for his career by studying on his own.
He read every geology book he could get his hands on until he got into NC State. When he started at NC State, the first two years of lessons about things he had already learned independently were a breeze. In 1972, Mike came to Hiddenite with the entire NC State Geology Department on a rockhounding field trip. In his junior year, they threw a huge curve ball by introducing plate tectonics to the collegiate curriculum for the first time. Some professors strongly agreed while others were in disbelief. To Mike, plate tectonics made a lot of sense.
Lessons in mineral dispersion came soon after; about different mineral deposits, how they associate density weight, the surrounding rock, and general identification. Being the lucky man he is, Mike just happened to be attending the Geological Institute of America in 1977, the only year that they would teach faceting. Later, he formed a geological firm with the Delaney twins.
In 1976, Watkins & Delaney assembled a crew set on investigating mineral deposits. Their first job was finding a source of uranium for the U.S Gypsum Corporation. Success came upon the discovery of the uranium deposit in Grants, New Mexico. The big discovery set the stage for promising and differing careers for all involved. Upon returning to Charlotte, Law Engineering bought out their Geological Firm.
Mike invested money in other businesses and found other work, but was dissatisfied. It was in 1985 that the very land Emerald Hollow Mine occupies today became available on a tax lien. Thus, came the birth of Hiddenite Gems Incorporated, founded by Mike and three other men. They started developing the land for sluicing and digging. In 1986, they disagreed about how to run the place and his partners suggested he buy them out of the company. A deal was made to buy the partners out which took about 10 years to fulfill.
On September 1st, 1986, Mike brought Dottie along to start the operation as a team. They lived in a tent on site for about a year and a half, even throughout the harsh winter. “It was very enjoyable at the time,” he says as he recalls the tent fondly at a size of 14x16 with a full-size bed, television, and heater.
In 1986, they had full ownership of H.G.I. The whole nine yards: stocks, deeds and such were signed over to Mike and Dottie. As time passed, they progressed to attend and succeed at many Tucson Gem & Mineral shows. They were buying a lot of minerals while the metaphysical market had started a “big play”.
In 1987, he started doing geological work, such as assisting in The United Nations effort to develop third world countries. He went to Pakistan, India, Brazil and Colombia to study emerald deposits. However, he was not permitted to enter Afghanistan. Mike soon became the first American to be kicked out of Pakistan by the U.S Government for crossing the border into Afghanistan during the Russian-Afghan conflict.
Upon his return, he started another successful business in Wilmington called Gems in the Sand. He sold it and the guy who bought it ended up losing the property as well as the merchandise. Mike returned to Hiddenite and has been here ever since. He was the 1979 winner of the International Cut of the Year award for his invention of the scissor cut, which remains the most popular facet ordered to date. This was only the beginning of a life of adventure, excitement, triumph and geological prowess.