Montana’s many colored sapphires are mined in the famous placer gravels in the Sapphire Mountains near Philipsburg about 200 miles northwest of Yellowstone National Park. Most of the sapphires are found in the famed Rock Creek deposit, nicknamed "Gem Mountain." Gold miners discovered sapphires there in the 1890’s. Over a period of 110 years, several hundred million carats of gem-quality sapphire were mined from this site earning the description of “Rainbow Over Montana.”
How do visitors mine for sapphires?
Amateur prospectors pour dirt into a small, square metal tray with a mesh bottom. They then head over to the large water troughs. Swishing the tray back and forth, participants dissolve the dirt, washing it away down the water flow, leaving only the gravel. Washing the gravel gets any gems wet, making them sparkle in the daylight. Shake the metal tray, and any gems in the bunch move toward the center of the tray because they’re heavier than the gravel. (But just a heads up, that shaking is harder than it looks!) Any possible gems are moved to the side before the sifting begins again.
Once the prospector is finished, he or she brings their bounty over to the gem experts working onsite. These graders separate the stones into two groups: those of high enough quality to be cut, and those that are flawed.
Where can you go to hunt for sapphires?
Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine
At Gem Mountain, visitors get a chance to sift through buckets of sapphire gravel in the hopes of finding one of gem-quality. The activity is great for couples and families, offering a taste of anticipation and excitement about what might be in the next pan! After all, sapphires are one of the hardest natural minerals, second only to diamonds.
Gem Mountain also offers stone cutting onsite for additional fees. Or if you’d prefer, take your treasure home with you and have it cut by a vendor of your choice.
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Sapphire Gallery in Phillipsburg, Montana
You can also hunt for sapphires at the Sapphire Gallery, as featured on the Travel Channel. World-class gems of 1 to 2 carats and larger are often found and made into fine heirloom jewelry. Stop by the shop in Philipsburg, Montana, and get a bag of stones to sift through. At the gallery, you can do inside "mining" for natural Montana sapphires all year round.
Experience the thrill of finding your own blue sapphires. Find one pink sapphire and you'll want to find more! The folks at the Sapphire Gallery will evaluate your treasures for free right in the Gallery and help you turn them into tangible memories.
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