September 2016


Sapphires are a color variety of corundum, a crystalline form of aluminium oxide. Corundum is one of the hardest minerals, rating 9 on the Mohs scale. Corundum gems of most colors are called sapphires, except for red which is called Ruby. Multi-color sapphire earrings in 18kt yellow gold. Available from Valentin Magro

Montana Sapphire and Diamond brooch by JAR

Montana's Sapphires

The official nickname for Montana is "The Treasure State" because of its rich mineral reserves. The mountains of Montana have yielded gold and silver since the first substantial deposits were discovered in the mid 1800's. Montana is also home to one of the most valuable gemstones that can be found in the United States of America: sapphires. 

Montana Sapphires. Photo courtesy of Georgetown Lake

Sapphires were first discovered in Montana in 1865, in alluvium (a deposit of clay, silt, sand, and gravel left by flowing streams in a river valley) along the Missouri River by Ed "Sapphire" Collins. Collins sent the sapphires to Tiffany's in New York City, and to Amsterdam for evaluation. These stones however, had poor color and of overall low quality and little notice to them beyond giving Montana sapphires a poor reputation.

Corundum was later found at Dry Cottonwood Creek near Butte in 1889, Rock Creek near Philipsburg in 1892, and Quartz Gulch near Bozeman in 1894. Sapphires from these three sites are routinely heat-treated to enhance color. Millions of carats of sapphires have been mined from the Missouri River deposits, but since the 1990’s there has been little commercial activity. This is because of the high cost of recovery as well as environmental concerns. Production at Dry Cottonwood Creek has been sporadic and low-yielding. Other than Yogo, the majority of the sapphire producing areas Montana sapphire mines produce few blue sapphires and non-blue sapphires have low profit margins. The Rock Creek area (also known as Gem Mountain) is the most productive site in Montana (even moreso than the Yogo Gulch area). Rock Creek has produced over 190,000,000 carats of sapphires since 1906. 

Even with the mining difficulties and expenses, more gem-quality sapphires are produced in Montana than anywhere else in North America. The term "Yogo sapphire" is the preferred wording for gems found in the Yogo Gulch, whereas "Montana sapphire" generally refers to gems found in other Montana locations. The gemstones have made such an impact on the state that in 1969, the sapphire and agate were jointly declared Montana's two official state gemstones. The stones have also  influenced the naming of features including the mountains near Rock Creek Montana which are known as the Sapphire Mountains.

Yogo Sapphires

Yogo sapphires are sapphires that are only in Yogo Gulch, part of the Little Belt Mountains in Judith Basin County, Montana, United States. Yogo sapphires are typically a cornflower blue color which is attributed to trace amounts of iron and titanium. About two percent of Yogos are purple, due to trace amounts of chromium. A very small number of rubies have also been found at Yogo Gulch. 

0.43 carat, cornflower blue Yogo sapphire from Yogo Gulch, Montana. Photo by Pumpkinsky

0.37 carat, purple Yogo sapphire from Yogo Gulch, Montana. PHOTO BY PUMPKINSKY

Yogos are considered unique in that they are usually free of cavities and inclusions, have high uniform clarity, lack color zoning, and do not require heat treatment due to their uniformity. Yogo sapphires tend to be small, but very expensive. The roughs tend to be small and flat, making faceted Yogo sapphires heavier than 2 carats exceptionally rare. Approximately 10 percent of faceted stones from the Yogo area are over 1 carat. The largest recorded Yogo rough was found in 1910 and weighed 19 carats. The stone was faceted into an 8-carat gemstone. The largest faceted Yogo is 10.2-carat. The rarity of large rough Yogo sapphires means that prices for the gemstones begin rising sharply over the 0.5 carat mark. 

The rarity of Yogo sapphires is also due to difficult mining conditions. Yogo sapphires were first discovered in alluvial (river streambed) deposits during gold mining operations downstream from the Yogo dike. Later the source was traced to igneous bedrock. Three other Montana locations also have alluvial sapphires (upper Missouri River, Rock Creek, and Dry Cottonwood Creek). The Yogo sapphires that are found in igneous rock are more difficult to acquire since the only way to extract them is through the difficult process of hard rock mining. This difficulty together with American labor costs makes their extraction fairly expensive. Because of the sporadic mining activity over the years, it is estimated that at least 28,000,000 carats of sapphires are still in the ground. 

Location of the Yogo mine area from a 1902 USGS topographic map

Yogo sapphires were not initially recognized or valued. Even so, Yogo sapphire mining has turned out to be very valuable. 

Yogo Gulch lies in a region originally inhabited by the Piegan Blackfeet people. Gold was first discovered at Yogo Creek in 1866, but the small numbers of early prospectors were driven off by local Native peoples. During the 1878 Gold Rush in 1878, approximately one thousand miners descended on Yogo Creek looking for gold. Miners noted that "Blue pebbles" along with small quantities of gold that were found. The mining camp at Yogo City followed the pattern of many gold towns of the era flourishing for a brief three years, and then the population dwindled to only a handful of people.
Yogo City was briefly known as Hoover City, named for Jake Hoover. who is credited as the discoverer of the Yogo Sapphires in 1894. Sapphire mining began in 1895 after Hoover sent a cigar box of “blue pebbles” he had collected to an assay office. The assay office then sent them via regular, uninsured mail to Tiffany's in New York City for appraisal by Dr. George Frederick Kunz, who pronounced them "the finest precious gemstones ever found in the United States". Tiffany's sent Hoover a check for $3,750 (approximately $106,700 which would be approximately in 2016) and a letter describing the blue pebbles as "sapphires of unusual quality".

Hoover purchased the original mother lode from a sheepherder, later selling it to other investors. This became the "English Mine", which operated and was profitable from 1899 until the 1920s. A second less profitable operation called the "American Mine" owned by a series of investors operated in the western section of the Yogo dike. The “American Mine was eventually bought out by the syndicate that owned the English Mine. In 1984, a third set of claims, known as the Vortex mine, opened.

Sapphire mine of Yogo District, Montana. Face of dike in open cuttings 1897. Photo from Geography of the Little Belt Mountains, Montana, by Walter Harvey Weed and Louise Valentine Pirsson, 1900, United States Geological Survey, Washington DC.

Sapphire mine of Yogo District, Montana. Mine shaft 1897. Photo from Geography of the Little Belt Mountains, Montana, by Walter Harvey Weed and Louise Valentine Pirsson, 1900, United States Geological Survey, Washington DC.

In the early 1980s, Intergem Limited, which controlled most of the Yogo sapphire mining at the time, marketed Yogo sapphires as the world's only guaranteed "untreated" sapphire. This innocent sounding marketing claim exposed the general public to a not talked about common practice that existed in the sapphire world, the enhancement of a sapphire’s color through heat treatment. It was estimated that approximately 90 - 95 percent of all the world's sapphires were heat-treated to enhance their natural color. Intergem eventually went out of business, but the stones continued to be sold. In 1994 Citibank (who had obtained a large stock of Yogos as a result of Intergem's collapse) sold a collection of the sapphires, that had been in a vault for nearly a decade, to a Montana jeweler. Today the major mines are inactive and any mining is largely done by hobby miners or rockhounds in the area.

Yogo Sapphires that are part of the Smithsonian Collection

Jewelry containing Yogos was given to First Ladies Florence Harding and Bess Truman. Montana sapphires, including Yogo sapphires, can be seen in various museum collections.

Detail of the Tiffany Iris Brooch by Paulding Farnham circa 1900, currently held by the Walters Art Museum

Sketch for the Tiffany Iris Brooch by Paulding Farnham. Farnham served as the chief designer and director of the jewelry division of Tiffany & Co. from 1893 until 1907 when he was replaced by Louis Comfort Tiffany. 

The Conchita Butterfly Brooch

The Conchita Montana Sapphire Brooch. The Butterfly can be worn as a brooch or as a pendant.  It has boxes attached so that it can be incorporated into an elaborate neckpiece or strung with beads as well.

This magnificent butterfly brooch is made up of Montana Sapphires. The brooch demonstrates their wonderful range of color and a Yogo sapphire is prominently featured on the head of the butterfly.  The brooch was a collaboration by designer Paula Crevoshay and gem dealer Robert Kane of Fine Gems International. Fine Gems International has the world’s largest stock of Montana sapphire—thanks to its 2001 acquisition of the entire inventory of American Gem Corporation, mined at Rock Creek, Montana’s richest alluvial sapphire deposit, in the mid-1990's. Blue to green-blue are the most predominant colors in this large selection of sapphire. It was gifted to the Smithsonian Museum in 2007 and is part of the National Gem Collection at the Smithsonian.  The piece includes 333 sapphires weighing 27.97 carats and 98.48 grams of 18K gold.

An excerpt from Pauala Crevoshay talking about the Conchita Butterfly brooch's creation:

A year ago a Smithsonian spokesperson approached me asking if I would be willing to take an amazing collection of Montana sapphires that were so generously being bestowed to the Museum by Robert Kane of Fine Gems International and create a finished jewel for our nation’s Gem and Mineral collection so the many small stones could be preserved and beautifully displayed.
Without a moments hesitation I answered, “I would be honored.” The process unfolded like a flower with all its many stages.
First, there was the question of what these delicious, highly refractive sapphires would wish to become. I felt our National gem and mineral collection should have a marvelous image to symbolize our nation’s immeasurable natural beauty that the sapphires from Montana represent.   As I pondered the range of colors of Montana sapphires with their many primary and secondary hues, I decided I would like to honor my mother’s amazing spirit and her love of the butterfly. As a child living in the Deep South I would catch Monarch butterflies every season just to see their magnificence a little more closely (and then of course let them go).  My mother had raised me to believe that the butterfly symbolized the Holy Spirit, Resurrection and Creation itself.
I have named the butterfly “Conchita” as my mother has left the physical plane and her deep connection with nature, spirit and freedom touches all that I am or do.
The artistic vision and creativity that flows abundantly through me always seeks an anchor to balance that flow and channel it into the finished product. That is where the academic and scientific brilliance of Robert Kane enters. This blessed spirit focused the selection and fine tuning of the gemstones so that each one set was perfectly cut to classical proportions and were perfectly clean under high magnification.  His uncompromising integrity and commitment blending with my creativity and free spirited truth produced a jewel that will become part of our great nation’s heritage and a source of delight and learning for generations to come.
Paula Crevoshay
February, 2007

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Gemology 101: Two Jewelry Terms

Collet Setiing: A Collet setting (also called a bezel setting) is a ring or rim of metal, designed to encircle the girdle of a gemstone. The upper edge of the collet is then pressed over onto the stone to secure the gem in place. Collets may be plain or decoratively enhanced with carving, piercing or millegraining.

Navette: Navette is French for "little boat", because it resembles the hull of a sailboat. It is a term used to describe a gemstone or jewelry piece that is oval with a point at both ends. The alternate term for gemstones cut in this shape is marquise-cut. 

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Stories You Might Have Missed

July 2016


Features This Month:

Rough Ruby Crystal, Photo by GIA


The Graff Ruby sold  by Sothebys in 2014 for $8,600,410.00

The Graff Ruby sold  by Sothebys in 2014 for $8,600,410.00

The Sanskrit word for ruby is ratnaraj meaning "king of gemstones" and indeed the ruby has lived up to its name by being one of the most coveted gemstones in the world for the majority of recorded human history.
Ruby is the red colored variety of gem quality corundum (any other color of corundum is considered sapphire). Corundum is a crystalline form of aluminium oxide and one of the most durable minerals on earth.
The name ruby comes from the Latin word ruber meaning "red". The most valuable shade of red for rubies is what is called "pigeon-blood red", but rubies can be any shade of red (including purplish, orangy, or brownish). Star rubies may be almost pink in appearance.

“Sunrise Ruby,” untreated pigeon’s blood red-colored sold by Sotheby's

“Sunrise Ruby,” untreated pigeon’s blood red-colored sold by Sotheby's

Star Ruby and Diamond Ring by Cartier, sold by Sotheby's

Star Ruby and Diamond Ring by Cartier, sold by Sotheby's

Gemology 101: Asterism

Intersecting rutile needles (called “silk”) in sapphire. Photo by John I. Koivula. GIA (102014)

Intersecting rutile needles (called “silk”) in sapphire. Photo by John I. Koivula. GIA (102014)

Asterism is the name that was given to the phenomenon that causes gemstones to exhibit a star-like shape when cut into a cabochon. The optical phenomenon is displayed by some rubies, sapphires, and other gems (i.e. star garnet, star diopside, star spinel, etc.). The Star-effect or "asterism" is caused by the dense inclusions of tiny needlelike crystals of called rutile (also known as "silk"). The stars are caused by the light reflecting from needle-like inclusions of rutile which are aligned perpendicular to the rays of the star. Star gemstones are almost never transparent since rutile is always present in star gemstones.

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The Burmese Ruby Tiara

The Burmese Ruby Tiara worn by Queen Elizabeth

The Burmese Ruby Tiara worn by Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth II commissioned the tiara from Garrard in 1973. It was constructed using gems she already had on hand: 96 rubies which were a wedding present from the people of Burma and diamonds taken from another wedding present, the Nizam of Hyderabad Tiara. 
The tiara is designed to look like a wreath of roses. The roses are separated by rays of diamonds. The rubies are set in gold and the diamonds in silver.

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Not What it Seems: The Black Prince Ruby

The Black Prince's Ruby is one of the most famous members of the British Crown jewels, but despite its name, the stone is not a ruby.  The Black Prince's Ruby is actually a deep red un-faceted spinel. The stone, which has been in the possession of the British Royal Family since 1367, was named after Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales. It is one of the oldest of gems included in the Royal Collection of Crown Jewels and currently sits in the cross at the front of the Imperial State Crown, just above the Lesser Star of Africa (Cullinan II).

At an estimated weight of 170 carats and a length of almost 5 centimeters, the Black Prince's Ruby is the one of the world's largest uncut red spinel gemstones. The Black Prince's Ruby was polished into a bead-like shape which was drilled, strung and worn as a pendant and various other forms of jewelry prior to it being placed in the Imperial Crown. The drill hole has since been plugged with a smaller ruby.

Why was this spinel misidentified as a ruby? 

As with many other gemstones 'rubies' were historically a category of gemstones that would have included all red transparent gemstones. It wasn't until 1783 that spinel was differentiated from ruby. Spinel and ruby (corundum) can be distinguished based on its chemical properties and physical characteristics. 

Where did the Black Prince Ruby come from?

The Black Prince's Ruby was believed to have been mined in the 14th century somewhere from present-day Tajikistan, which was then known as Badakshan. The stone belonged to Prince Abu Sa'id of the Moorish Kingdom of Granada.  

During the mid 14th century the Moorish Kingdom of Granada was being attacked and placed once again under Castilian rule as a part of the Christian Reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. Abū Sa'īd's rule was confronted by that of Peter of Castile, also known as Don Pedro the Cruel. According to historical accounts, Abū Sa'īd wanted to surrender to Don Pedro. Don Pedro welcomed him to Seville. When Abū Sa'īd met with Don Pedro, Don Pedro had Abū Saī'd's servants killed and it is believed that he may have personally stabbed Sa'īd to death himself. It is said that when Don Pedro searched Sa'īd's corpse, the spinel was found and added to Don Pedro's possessions.

In 1366, Don Pedro's illegitimate brother, Henry of Trastámara, revolted against Don Pedro. Don Pedro made an alliance with the Black Prince, the son of Edward III of England in an attempt to thwart the revolt. After the revolt was successfully put down the Black Prince demanded the ruby in exchange for his aid. It is thought that Don Pedro was reluctantly obligated to turn the stone over and the Black Prince took the Ruby back to England.

The Ruby resurfaces again in 1415 when Henry V of England wore a gem-encrusted helmet that included the Black Prince's Ruby during his battle in France. In the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415, the French Duke of Alençon struck Henry on the head with a battleaxe, and Henry nearly lost the helmet, along with his life. The battle was won by Henry's forces and the Black Prince's Ruby was saved. The gemstone was worn into battle once again by Richard III who wore the stone on his helmet at the Battle of Bosworth, where he died.

The Ruby as part of the British Crown Jewels

The 1512 inventory of Henry VIII's posessions mentions "a great balas ruby" set in the Tudor Crown. This is believed to be the Black Prince Ruby. It remained there until the time of Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century, when (excepting of the Coronation Chair and several other items) Cromwell had the principal symbols of the king's power disassembled and sold, while the gold was melted down and made into coins. The fate of the Black Prince's Ruby, during that time in England is not clear, but it came back into the monarchy's posession in 1660 when Charles II and the monarchy was restored. In 1838 Queen Victoria was crowned with a new Imperial State Crown made by Rundell and Bridge. The crown contained 3,093 gems, including the spinel at the front. This crown was remade in 1937 into the current, lighter, crown and a small plaque was placed on the reverse of the gemstone that commemorates the crown's history.

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Designer Spotlight


This month's designer spotlight falls on Paul Morelli. 
The Fine Jewelry House of Paul Morelli was born from a culturally vibrant and artistic family tradition of theatre and handmade costumes. Founded in the early 20th century, in what was then the Philadelphia Theatre District, the Morellis became the premier company across the country for hand made, high quality and one-of-a-kind theatre garments.
In the late 70’s, Paul Morelli, followed his passion for art, intricate detail, fine jewels and metallurgy and transformed the family operation into a fine jewelry business. The Fine Jewelry House of Paul Morelli still operates in the same building where the Morelli family’s artistic roots took hold.
Today the House of Paul Morelli, under creative director Paul Morelli, designs and creates a unique and broad range of luxury fine jewelry from made-to-order, to timeless classics, to signature pieces reflecting current influences.
Under Paul’s discerning eye for detail, pieces continue to be brought to life through collaborative expertise in handcraftmanship and modern technology by teams of craftsmen at the House of Morelli. The Morelli family maintains control over the production of every piece of jewelry, ensuring that each piece meets the family's exacting standards and only then is certified with the Paul Morelli name.

What makes Paul Morelli's Jewelry Special?

SINGLE PEBBLE NECKLACE (SUMMER VERSION) A warm-toned strand of textured, diamond-encrusted and gemstone-set gold evokes pebbles awash on the seashore.

I don't think that it is a stretch to say that there is a lot of jewelry out there that, while gorgeous, looks like it's been cloned. When faced with this sea of identical imagery finding designers that are doing things differently is like breathing a breath of fresh air, Paul Morelli is one of these designers. The jewelry is bright and full of life, while also reflecting the care and the consideration for quality that goes in to every piece. Creativity and a passion for design will leave you wanting more. 

Inspired by Joseph-Louis Lagrange, an Italian Enlightenment Era mathematician and astronomer, who developed the mathematical equations used in pave diamond settings as well as the asymmetrical stone settings in this collection.

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As always, please feel free to send me any questions or comments via email. And, if you haven't already, be sure to join the daily conversation on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr! 

- Kathleen

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