Back to talking about gemstones!! Explore the wonders of Montana Sapphire. Jonathan and Brecken discuss the early beginnings and the lore behind America’s finest gemstone.
Transcription of the podcast.
[00:00:00] Brecken: I don’t know, like what I do for Parlé, did I answer that okay?
[00:00:04] Jonathan: Yeah. I thought that was one of the best answers.
[00:00:06] Brecken: Oh, I just made up my title.
[00:00:11] Jonathan: Yeah, but you make fun of me and my title. You totally called me out. “I think on your business card, it says Vice President, I guess when you’re the owner, you can make up your own.” I was like, all right.
[00:00:40] Brecken: Welcome back to another episode of Gem Junkies. I’m Brecken,
[00:00:44] Jonathan: and I’m Jonathan,
[00:00:45] Brecken: and we are in the throngs of Tucson right now.
[00:00:48] Jonathan: Yeah.
[00:00:49] Brecken: So it’s super exciting. So we are at a AGTA right now. Super excited. If you are in Tucson, come on down to booth 417 in the AGTA gem hall, and you can come meet us.
[00:01:04] Jonathan: And we’ve got pins.
[00:01:05] Brecken: We’ve got swag! Yeah.
[00:01:08] So today we thought it would be super fun to talk about
[00:01:12] Jonathan: Montana Sapphire.
[00:01:14] Brecken: Montana Sapphire, which I’m crazy about it.
[00:01:16] Jonathan: Yeah, it’s awesome, and it’s very close to us. It’s only a four, four and a half hour drive.
[00:01:21] Brecken: It is, and it’s something that last year we decided to start carrying again.
[00:01:27] Jonathan: Right.
[00:01:28] Brecken: We used to carry it way back when. Mostly Yogo.
[00:01:31] Jonathan: Mostly Yogo, but now we’re more towards Rock Creek. So, 1865, that’s the original finding of sapphires in Montana by gold prospectors.
[00:01:44] Brecken: Right, they were going up the rivers trying to find gold and discovered gold and sapphires. A lot of the gold miners hated Sapphire because it would clog their sleuth box when they were trying to reclaim the gold. Out of the rivers. Yeah. And they just would throw it, they would just chuck it, chuck it, chuck it, chuck it. They didn’t know what it was. Yeah. And they thought, and then once they did discover what it was. They thought it wasn’t very valuable because it was pale color, right.
[00:02:16] Like pale in color. And so they just would chuck it away, throw it away and they’d get angry, it would clog all their equipment. And who knew.
[00:02:26] Jonathan: Those darn sapphires.
[00:02:28] Brecken: But it really, so the gold rush in Missouri happened 19 or 1870s to about 1890s is when a ton of gold was pulled out of the Missouri river in Montana.
[00:02:43] Jonathan: Yeah. Um, and then in the 1890s, there was a discovery in the Rock Creek area.
[00:02:52] Brecken: Mm-hmm .
[00:02:53] And so the funny thing is the gold rush sent, miners up every little river in Montana, trying to find gold and the Rock Creek find, they found absolutely no gold, but they found Sapphire and they found sapphires in all spectrum of colors.
[00:03:15] So yellows, greens, oranges, purples, blues, even red.
[00:03:21] Jonathan: Yeah, and the mining was really prevalent from about 1890 to the 1930s and they estimate there were 65 tons of Sapphire were recovered and it supplied the Swiss watchmakers until synthetics came about in the 1930s.
[00:03:41] Brecken: So it was sent by the ton to Switzerland. Used as for watch bearings.
[00:03:47] Jonathan: The first mention about Rock Creek and literature was mentioned in 1901 by George Kunz. And he had seen the gemstones in jewelry at the Paris expo that was made by Tiffany and Company in 1900. And he said, quote, “that it was of unusual brilliancy and at no other known locality has so great a variety of rich colors in corundum gems as in Rock Creek Sapphire.” And that’s the great thing about Rock Creek compared to the other sources in Montana is, it has a huge variety of colors. It has pinks and greens and yellows and oranges and blues.
[00:04:26] Brecken: Most start out their life pale in color
[00:04:29] Jonathan: pale or green
[00:04:29] Brecken: Or green. And that is why heat treatment is so important for the Rock Creek sapphires. It intensifies the colors and it removes the cloudiness and silk in the gemstones.
[00:04:40] Jonathan: Yeah. So about 30% can stay in their natural color of pink, blue, blue-green, and green. And about 70% of it needs is green or slightly brownish and that’s what gets heat treated. So the great thing about Rock Creek is it has quite a bit larger Sapphire crystals and they range [00:05:00] from two millimeters in size up to about one inch, which would be around 30 carats. So they produce some quite large pieces. And that’s kind of up to about, I think about 20 carats.
[00:05:15] All right. Okay. So Rock Creek was mined by. It was mine since the 19 hundreds, early 19 hundreds. All the way up till the 1930s and then in the 1930s. And it was all done by hydraulics. And so they didn’t have equipment. So the hydraulics, they basically get a big pond of water going. And then they’d flush that water down and through a big hose until it had enough pressure. And so they were only able to mine the very narrow bottom of each of these gullies. And so they missed tons of sapphires.
[00:05:51] Brecken: As evident by the large supply, we’re seeing come out of Rock Creek right now.
[00:05:55] Jonathan: So in 2014, Potentate bought 90% of the Rock Creek area
[00:06:01] Brecken: 3000 acres.
[00:06:04] Jonathan: It’s a huge, huge amount. So not only Rock Creek, but also Eureka Gulch. And so now Potentate is mining that and that’s where all this new material is coming from.
[00:06:14] Brecken: And I think this is the first time in the history of the Rock Creek mining area, that one company has owned so much land and been able to make it really commercially viable.
[00:06:27] Jonathan: Yeah. And their goal is to be the largest gem producer in all of America, of the United States.
[00:06:36] Brecken: I was reading a little bit about it and their whole thing is that mining in Rock Creek, the sapphires occur near the surface. So it’s not like a deep underground mine. So it makes mining costs much lower. So they’re able to go in there and I mean, mining in the US is not an easy thing to do. There’s tons of rules and regulations that are put in place in the US to keep people safe. Everything like that, which adds to the cost of mining. So to be able to viably mine, Sapphire in the US is exciting. And it’s because they’re close to the surface of the ground. They don’t have to tunnel.
[00:07:19] Jonathan: And Potentate also is working really hard to be environmentally friendly. So they do, they use all recycled water. So they don’t use any of the creeks or streams in Montana.
[00:07:29] They actually use, they have their own ponds.
[00:07:32] Brecken: Keep the waterways clean,
[00:07:34] Jonathan: keep the waterways clean and then any ground that they disturb. They’re fully reestablishing it. And then also old disturbed ground, like back from the 1890s clear through the 1930s, all that disturbed ground. They’re actually reestablishing that as well.
[00:07:51] Brecken: Oh, so they’re going back and cleaning up.
[00:07:53] Jonathan: So they’re cleaning everything up. So it’s a really, it’s a really great company to be associated with.
[00:07:57] Brecken: That’s cool. And they’re a Canadian company.
[00:07:59] Jonathan: Yeah. Yeah. Potentate’s owned by a Canadian company that also has mine, diamonds and gold and
[00:08:06] Brecken: wow. Now Montana Sapphire, and there is very little waste of the gemstones that they find. Most of them are marketable. So 12 about 12% they leave as fancy colors as they’re found. And then, after heating about 80% of the sapphires become a what you would call a “market desirable” color.
[00:08:28] So something someone desires to own. Color that’s not, you know,
[00:08:33] Jonathan: and it’s all a documented chain of custody. So they’re using a selected group of Sapphire cutters and polishers with reputable jewelry manufacturers like us. So there’s just a small, they’re trying to keep a small group because they don’t want any funny business being done to the Sapphire.
[00:08:51] Just natural and light heat treatment and they do all the heat treating themselves. So they’re doing all of that and then selling the rough after it’s heat treated.
[00:09:00] Brecken: I am super obsessed with it. I’m wearing some right now.
[00:09:02] Jonathan: Yeah. It’s beautiful.
[00:09:03] Brecken: We just finished a group of jewelry. And when I saw the set, I was like, “Hmm, I need that. I have to have that.”
[00:09:12] So the twins like it, I was talking to Olivia this morning and she said, “Mom, what’s in your necklace.”
[00:09:18] And I said, “Well, that’s a Montana Sapphire” and she said “Is that different than Sapphire?”
[00:09:23] I said, “No, it’s the same thing as Sapphire. It just comes from Montana.”
[00:09:28] And she said, “Oh, where’s Montana.”
[00:09:30] And I said, “Well, it comes from about four hours away.” And she’s not following any of this, but she likes it too.
[00:09:37] Jonathan: And then there is another mining area in the Rock Creek area. And it’s the Gem Mountain Mine.
[00:09:46] Brecken: It’s the 10% that Potentate doesn’t own
[00:09:49] Jonathan: but it’s really cool. You can actually go there as just a consumer and you can even make a reservation on their website. Gemmountainmines.com I believe. And you can make a reservation for you and your family to go up there and they bring down sapphire rich gravel in buckets, and you can buy the buckets and then they teach you how to actually sort.
[00:10:10] Brecken: So you’re not really digging it out of the ground, which no would be totally unsafe.
[00:10:14] Jonathan: but you still have to do all of the sorting and safety. And people have found some really, really big sapphires. And if you go on either GIA’s website or Gem Mountain’s website, you can see a couple of videos that talk-
[00:10:26] Brecken: We’re taking a field trip this summer.
[00:10:28] Jonathan: We have to, when it’s warm, for sure.
[00:10:30] Brecken: Cause it’s not warm right now, but, and I mean, they don’t mine in the winter, do they?
[00:10:35] Jonathan: No, no. It’s open from labor day through Memorial day.
[00:10:41] Brecken: Okay. Yeah. So we’ll hit it up this summer. Take a little road trip with the twinies. They can go find their own Montana sapphires.
[00:10:48] Jonathan: So then probably the most well known
[00:10:52] Brecken: Sapphire from Montana would have to be Yogo. Yeah.
[00:10:55] Jonathan: Which was first discovered in 1895 by,
[00:10:59] Brecken: by another gold prospector,
[00:11:00] Jonathan: Jake Hoover.
[00:11:03] Brecken: He and two other gentlemen formed a mining company. They were going to mine gold and raised about $40,000 to get this up and running.
[00:11:14] And in three years, with this mining company, they found $700 in gold. So I’m gonna guess they weren’t that successful gold miners, but what they also found were some blue pebbles and a lot of other miners in the area just discarded them. Just kind of threw them off to the side.
[00:11:33] Jonathan: And so of Hoover’s partners, Hoover was the only one that collected them, and he kept collecting them and putting them in a cigar box. And eventually he took that cigar box and didn’t know what these bluestones were and he sent it to Tiffany and Company. And that’s when George F Kunz figured out that it was sapphire.
[00:11:49] Brecken: Yeah. And George Kunz said that it was one of the finest precious gemstone ever found in the United States. And that’s because Yogo, Sapphire is pretty free of inclusions.
[00:12:02] Jonathan: It’s very clean
[00:12:03] Brecken: and a beautiful blue color. Without any need of heat treatment
[00:12:07] Jonathan: and it ranges from a beautiful cornflower blue, which is what it’s most well known for, but it does range in color from cornflower blue, all the way to a deep violet.
[00:12:16] Brecken: Yeah. So do you know how much he sold that box of Sapphire that he collected that little cigar box?
[00:12:22] Jonathan: Oh, I’ve heard the number before
[00:12:23] Brecken: he sold it for $3,750, which is. Five times what he made from gold mining.
[00:12:30] Jonathan: But still doesn’t recoup the $40,000 that he,
[00:12:34] Brecken: No, so he, of course they scrap the gold mine and they start just mining Sapphire and Hoover in a few years, decided Sapphire mining wasn’t for him. He sold it to his partners. He sold his share to his partners for about $5,000. And then two months later they were sold again, the partners sold out to a British company for a hundred thousand dollars.
[00:13:01] This guy didn’t have good luck. $40,000 in a mining investment. And he made $700 from gold. And then, so it just wasn’t his day, but he did discover it. So yeah.
[00:13:12] Jonathan: Yeah. So, and so they owned eight of the 14 stakes in the Yogo Gulch area. And so it sold to a British company, Johnson Walker and Tolhurst, and that became known as the English Mine, and then six other stakes that were bought out that were claimed.
[00:13:29] Brecken: Hoover actually deemed them unfit for mining, right?
[00:13:33] Jonathan: Yeah. because they were steep and Cliffy. And so that became the American mine and so millions of carats were mined out of the British mine and very little out of the American mine.
[00:13:44] Brecken: Yeah. So the british were actually very successful in mining the Yogo sapphires.
[00:13:49] Jonathan: Millions of carats.
[00:13:50] Brecken: Millions and millions of carats. And it is actually considered the most successful endeavor ever in Yogo Sapphire mining. Unfortunately for Americans, it was all shipped to London. And then sold in Europe, but it wasn’t sold as American Sapphire. It was sold as “Orient Sapphire.”
[00:14:10] Jonathan: Right. Because it was worth more.
[00:14:12] Brecken: That’s because that name made it worth more, even though it wasn’t true. The Americans were not so successful because like Jonathan said rugged cliffs…
[00:14:23] Jonathan: Well, and they didn’t really know what they were doing because eventually the mines combined in 1913 and they sold the American mine
[00:14:29] Brecken: well, the american mine went bankrupt.
[00:14:31] Jonathan: Well, but then they sold it for $80,000. And then the English mine found over $80,000 in sapphires in the first year. Just cleaning up their old tailings. Not even mining. Just cleaning up tailings. So they obviously didn’t know what they were doing.
[00:14:46] Brecken: No, they recouped the cost of purchase in one year, just going through the tailings before they even actually had to invest in mining
[00:14:54] Jonathan: And then 13 million carats were mined in the early 1900s with the [00:15:00] two mines combined that was used for jewelry, watches, and then the ones that weren’t good for jewelry or watches were sold for abrasives for steel. And it’s kind of interesting that this was one of the few mines that was allowed to keep operating during World War II during shortages of fuel and steel because of the fact that the,
[00:15:20] Brecken: it was deemed necessary for the War effort, for the abrasives.
[00:15:24] Jonathan: So it’s kind of cool.
[00:15:25] Brecken: They used all that to cut through metal and then,
[00:15:28] Jonathan: No, actually that was World War I not II.
[00:15:30] Brecken: Yeah World War I
[00:15:31] Jonathan: Sorry, World War I, and then a flash flood destroyed the whole mining area 1923.
[00:15:36] Brecken: Yeah. It’s kinda sad story in 1922, you really see the expansion of synthetic sapphires into the market. And that’s when they start using synthetics for watch bearings and abrasives. They don’t need natural stones anymore. And the cost of the natural stones is so much higher. So that means now all of the Yogo Sapphire its only value is as a gemstone.
[00:16:02] And then in 1923, like Jonathan was saying, there was a flash flood that came through and it destroyed all of the above ground mining structures. So it washed everything away. And the British company that owned it just. Said, you know,
[00:16:17] Jonathan: “we’re done.”
[00:16:18] Brecken: “We’re done.” there’s, it’s, you know, not gonna be profitable anymore because it’s only for gemstones and jewelry and there’s really no use.
[00:16:26] Jonathan: And then it sold and sold and sold and sold and sold
[00:16:30] Brecken: and sold.
[00:16:31] Jonathan: And, and so a bunch of people have tried and nobody really has ever been able to reestablish that Yogo mine.
[00:16:38] Brecken: It’s almost sad that all of the stones went over to Europe and weren’t sold as Yogos. I mean, they are, they are truly beautiful. They’re, they’re free of zoning. So you don’t see a lot of color zoning in them.
[00:16:55] Jonathan: They’re just beautiful blue.
[00:16:56] Brecken: They are. The one thing is they’re pretty shallow.
[00:17:00] Jonathan: And small.
[00:17:02] Brecken: And they’re, they’re usually so small most of them they say are
[00:17:05] Jonathan: under a carat
[00:17:06] Brecken: Yeah, a 10th of a carat, generally. We have it and we sell it, but mostly as clusters, melee, as little pieces of melee.
[00:17:14] Jonathan: Beautiful, beautiful clusters.
[00:17:16] Brecken: But they’re saying that in the early days in Yogo, the veins, the Sapphire veins were 20 feet wide.
[00:17:27] Jonathan: Wow.
[00:17:27] Brecken: Yeah. And now they’re eight inches to 10 inches wide.
[00:17:32] Jonathan: Geez.
[00:17:32] Brecken: Yeah. So you can see how and they’re very deep in the ground. So this is tunnel mining. This is very deep in the ground now. And it’s really not like I was saying earlier. What makes the Rock Creek so successful is that it’s shallow. It’s close to the surface, which makes it more economically viable. Where Yogo really isn’t.
[00:17:56] Jonathan: Pit mining versus tunnel mining. There’s a huge difference in cost.
[00:18:00] Brecken: Yeah. And there are, I mean, there are a few people that own claims at Yogo now, and that are mining it, but it’s really just a it’s few and far between very few and far between, and you don’t get much material out of it. It’s not something that not everyone can have a Yogo Sapphire.
[00:18:18] You know? And so most of it is sold exclusively in Montana.
[00:18:23] Jonathan: So, uh, there’s been some really cool studies and videos done both by Potentate and by GIA. So we’ll post some links to those on our blog. So you can check those out so that you can kind of see what this country looks like. It’s really beautiful country up in Montana.
[00:18:39] Um, it’s kind of halfway between Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. So it’s kind of halfway in the middle and it’s just, it’s really beautiful and it’s really interesting videos and they’re well done. So, uh, we’ll, we’ll post some links to that so that you can check those out.
[00:18:53] Brecken: And I’m just excited about, you know, the opportunity to sell gemstones American gemstones from four hours away.
[00:19:01] Jonathan: Yeah, it’s really cool.
[00:19:03] Brecken: And the color’s cool. I think I can say my favorite color in the Montana is probably the most prevalent, which is like a blue-green,
[00:19:14] Jonathan: the teal.
[00:19:14] Brecken: Yeah, kind of bi-color almost look where you see some blue, some green loving it. Obsessed. I need a 20 ct one. It’s not gonna happen. Jonathan’s telling me never. Maybe I’ll mine it this summer,
[00:19:32] Jonathan: Maybe
[00:19:33] Brecken: All right. Well, I wanna thank you guys so much for tuning into another episode of gem junkies. I’m Brecken
[00:19:39] Jonathan: and I’m Jonathan.
[00:19:40] Brecken: And if you are in Tucson, come see us
[00:19:42] Jonathan: Booth 417.
[00:19:43] Brecken: Yep. Booth 417 at the, a AGTA gem fair. And, if not, well, we’ll see around somewhere else and you can see what we do in our real life.
[00:19:55] Jonathan: On Facebook or Instagram at Parlé Gems
[00:19:59] Brecken: at Parlé Gems. All right guys. See you later.
[00:20:01] Jonathan: Bye.