Montana Yogo sapphires are rare gems that are even more precious than gold. A story is told of a city called Yogo which existed in the 1880s. It had been deserted and become a ghost town. The reason is that people came to mine gold without any success. The city became one of the least productive gold mining sites in all of Montana. In 1895, Jake Hoover came to Yogo to mine for gold. He discovered that along with gold, some blue pebbles settled along the gravel bed during mining. He took them to an expert evaluator in New York.
These blue pebbles had been there all along but many miners ignored them and only concentrated on the gold. Gemologist Dr. George Kunz found that these pebbles were a rare form of sapphires. The stones are usually corn blue, a color that comes from having trace amounts of titanium and iron. In the Yogo valley, mining for the sapphires is not easy. It is estimated that at least 28 million carats of the sapphire are still underground. The miners’ success feats are usually sporadic and often non-profitable. The sapphires maintain a natural brilliance even under artificial light and they have been gifts to many a First Lady.
The term Yogo sapphire is preferred for the gems found in the Yogo Gulch. Those found from other locations of Montana are called Montana sapphires. Sapphires had long been mined in Montana since 1865 along the Missouri River. The most productive place for sapphires is the Rock Creek location. The site is so productive that it inspired the name Sapphire Mountains for the mountains that are nearby. The sapphire and the agate were co-designated as the state gemstones for Montana.
In the early 1980s, Intergem Limited started marketing the Montana Yogo sapphire as the only pure and untreated sapphire. This exposed a practice whereby about 98% of all gemstones were heat-treated to enhance their natural color. The company went out of business not long afterwards. However, they had paid their workers due in terms of sapphires and therefore the gems continued existing in the market through the 1990s. Citibank was the single largest beneficiary from the Yogo sapphires. They obtained a large stock of the gems and stored them in their vaults for decades. In 1994, they sold the collection to a Montana Jeweler. Mining in the Yogo Creek is currently a hobby activity as major mines are deserted.
The true meaning of the word Yogo is not clear. Because the sapphires were found in the Yogo Creek where the Piegan Blackfeet people lived, the word has been taken to mean romance’ or blue sky’. Corundum is the color variety which the Montana Yogo Sapphire lies. Corundum gems of most colors are called sapphires. However, red ones are called rubies. This is one of the hardest minerals on earth, and it has been rated 9 on Mohs scale. Yogo sapphires lack color zoning and they do not have cavities and inclusions making them most pure.
For cutters, the Yogo sapphires are the most easy to cut. This is because they maintain a perfect crystalline shape. This may be because they are found as primary constituent minerals in igneous bedrock as opposed to being sedimentary alluvial deposits. They also have a triangular pattern base which is not common in other sapphires that are mined in Montana. These gems are more pure than Asian Sapphires which are mostly color zoned and which have lots of clouding. The Yogos maintain their color brilliance even under artificial light. That is why they are highly priced and more precious than gold.
The sapphires tend to be small in size and very expensive. Rough Yogos tend to be flat and small and so it is not easy to find one that is more than 2 carat. The heaviest cut Yogo sapphire was found in 1910 and it weighed 19 carat. In 1923, a tremendous flash flood destroyed mining equipment at the site and also carried away tones of rough sapphires. After this the British declined putting up anymore capital to help in mining the sapphires. The mine was sold to different owners who opened up the mine for hobby collectors. To date, people make jewelry from the collections of the time.
For decades, rock hounds had been roaming the area without any control. However, in 1969, Chikara Kunisaki, a celery farmer in the area bought the mine. He gave home sites to the rock hounds and also offered them limited rights to mine at the site. His company was named Roncor and he formed what is now the Sapphire village. To date the families of the rock hounds live in the creek. The families have to this day maintained their hand mining rights and they search for the sapphires in the Yogo creek.
Roncor was unsuccessful in mining sapphires from the original American Mine. They put up the company for sale and it was purchased by a Colorado company called Intergem. The company mined millions of carats of the Montana Yogo sapphires during its operational years. They strip-mined the eastern portion of the dyke and made huge profits from this. However, they never fulfilled their purchase agreement with Roncor and so Roncor took complete ownership of the mine once again. Roncor retains control up to this day, even after attempts by Canadian company Pacific Cascade Sapphires and Amex Engineering attempted to take over the company.
Hand miners in the sapphire Village still exist. The mine is mostly inactive and devoid of mechanized mining activities. The Montana Yogo Sapphires are the most priced gems from Montana and beat gems from other sites in the world. This is why obtaining one will be a great investment as it will always rise in value. Its beauty is unmatched and about 2 percent of the sapphires can be purple in color. This is a beautiful sight to behold. The sapphires make for unique and very colorful jewelry that is priced and a great gift to anyone. First Ladies Florence Harding and Bess Truman were at one time given Yogo sapphires as gifts because of their rare value.