Sapphire mining in the Philipsburg, Montana area dates back approximately 120 years. Although Montana is home to four major sapphire deposits, the Philipsburg Rock Creek deposit has been the largest producer by far, producing four times more sapphire than all the other Montana deposits combined.
Sapphires were first discovered in the Rock Creek drainage by gold prospectors in 1892. Shortly after, David Jankower, owner of several Philipsburg, MT, area sapphire mining claims; along with Auguste B. Ewing, Paul A. Fusz, Moses Rumsey, and Charles D. McLure, worked together to purchase and develop mining claims, build water flumes, and maintain lapidary and stone cutting facilities. American Gem Mining Syndicate incorporated in August, 1901. In 1903, the company purchased the sapphire claims from the men in order to supply the company's Swiss watch factory in Geneva, Switzerland. A smaller amount of sapphires were used in industrial bearings and jewelry. In 1912, a 30 mile long flume was built to provide water for hydraulic mining of the sapphires. American Gem mined sapphires commercially until 1926, when natural sapphires for industrial use began to be replaced by artificial sapphires. The company sold the property in 1936 and ceased its legal existence in August of 1941.
Gem Mountain Mine, previously American Gem Mining Syndicate, reports producing over 44 tons of rough sapphire. In comparison, the second richest area, the Missouri River gravel bars, have only produced 11 tons of rough sapphire. The Rock Creek "Gem Mountain" deposit has produced every known color of sapphire and some colors found nowhere else. The most common colors are blue to "Coke-bottle" green but they range in every color of the rainbow.
Heat treating of sapphires is a common practice and can improve the color and clarity of most pale colored stones from this area. A fine Montana sapphire has a brilliance and color that can compete with any gem around.
Robert Kane, working with designer Paula Crevoshay, helped showcase these fine sapphires when he donated the Conchita Sapphire Butterfly to the Smithsonian Musuem. This beautiful piece was constructed of 333 exquisite Montana sapphires in rich 18K gold, truly a one of a kind.
When you visit Philipsburg, Montana, you will also have an opportunity to mine your own Montana sapphires and see these beautiful stones in their natural state. Several shops in Philipsburg offer Montana sapphire gravel or other gemstone gravel available for sale, as well as the facilities for you to mine your own Montana sapphires.