August 27, 2010

Dig-Dig #2: Sapphires in Montana

Google Maps link to Gem Mountain.

Arriving at Gem Mountain in the late afternoon, we set up camp and made a great big dinner of pork cutlets and a Beringer White Merlot. It is hard to go wrong making a bright, flavourful rosé from well-ripened grapes, but this is where Beringer shows real determination. We can recommend this wine if you like sugar and hate your tongue. The pork was excellent, however, and we fried up some extra for the next day's sandwiches, hoping to eat them from a gunny sack by the crick, or something equally rustic.

Aya could hardly sleep in anticipation of the next day's activities: pulling raw sapphires from the pure Montana dirt.

Here's how it works:

You buy a bucket of alluvial gravel.

Pour a manageable amount into your screen.

Take the screen of dirt to the washing trough, which is filled with warm Montana river water. One of those adjectives is not accurate.

Using the two washing techniques demonstrated by the Gem Mountain staff, get the small pebbles to the center and the larger ones to the outside edge in a circular pattern. Heavier sapphires will sink to the bottom.

Flip the screen over in one smooth motion.

There. There. There and there. At least four sapphires of different colours in this batch. Did you know that rubies are rare red sapphires?

Sunday afternoon at Gem Mountain.

We looked through seven buckets of gravel before taking our collection into the office to have them assayed. A total of 95.56 carats on the first day!

First the sapphires are sorted by size.

Those above a certain size and without flaws are considered "cuttable". Heat treating will enhance the colour.


The first day's cuttable sapphires, averaging almost one carat each.

We only went through three buckets of gravel in the morning of the second day but managed to find almost as many as the day before. Only one less cuttable gem and another eight that are "flawed but cuttable". We left them all to be heat treated and cut into whatever shape best suits each one. They'll show up in the mail in a few months after we have forgotten about them, bringing joy into a rainy winter's day.

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