Montana Sapphires | Image Courtesy of Fine Gems International, © Robert E. Kane

What are Montana Sapphires?

Montana sapphires are gorgeous, durable gems that come in an incredibly wide range of colors, including multi-colored wonders and a few shades rarely seen in sapphires from elsewhere. From steely blue to teal blue, from dusty pink to magenta, from golden yellow to vivid orange, Montana sapphires typically occur in shades that are less vibrant than crayon colors, but are  rich and appealing to far more people than the standard cobalt blue that most people associate with sapphires. They can be used in any number of potential jewelry settings from necklaces to rings and more.
Most importantly, Montana sapphires are mined in the US, making them a top-level fair trade gemstone, which fits in perfectly with Alara’s mission and vision of being earth-conscious and ethical.

Let’s learn a bit more about Montana sapphires by diving into where they’re mined, their history, how they get their unique color, and what makes them so special.

Where Are Montana Sapphires Mined?

As you may have guessed from their name, Montana sapphires are mined in the U.S. state of Montana, and therefore are real gems as opposed to created ones. They primarily originate from the western half of the state appearing along the Missouri River, Dry Cottonwood Creek, Rock Creek, the Eldorado Bar, and the Yogo Gulch.

Montana sapphires are mined from historical alluvial sources. This means that the rivers near which Montana sapphires are found were previously far bigger rivers, and therefore the Montana sapphires tumbling down those rivers ended up “filtering out” most of the seriously included crystals, because they would break in the process of river-tumbling. As the rivers receded, the Montana sapphires were then found along the banks of the rivers. This type of mining is basically about filtering the sapphires out of similarly-sized river bank gravels.

Yogo sapphires, on the other hand, are hard-rock mined, meaning crystals are removed from small veins trapped in hard rock–a far more laborious process.

The History Of Montana Sapphires

Montana sapphires were originally discovered by gold prospectors in the early 1860s, but their value wasn’t realized until later. In fact, many gold prospectors regularly discarded these stones as they were assumed to be completely worthless.

The official “discovery” of Montana sapphires is credited to Ed Collins, a prospector who correctly identified the previously-discarded crystals as sapphire. He shipped samples to Tiffany & Co and M. Fox & Co, both in New York, for the purposes of positive identification and to have them cut into faceted gems. George Kunz, the renowned gemologist at the time for Tiffany’s, determined that the gems were some of the finest, most precious sapphires ever discovered in the United States. Kunz credited Collins with their discovery, and pinned a date of 1865 to that discovery.

The response of the jewelry industry was far from robust…mainly because the domestic cutting industry in the US was underdeveloped. Since Europe was decades ahead in the gemstone cutting arena, it was determined that the real profit to be rendered from Montana sapphires was going to be realized by whoever bought the rough stones, then cut and marketed the finished gems.

Eventually, almost two decades later, it was determined that these tiny stones were, in fact, some of the first gem-quality sapphires to ever be discovered in the continental United States.  They are still being ethically mined in Montana to this day.

How Do Montana Sapphires Get Their Color?

Montana sapphires are known for having high-clarity hues that consist not only of traditional blue sapphires, but also those ranging from shades of teal to seafoam green, lavender to deep violet, light to vivid pink, lemon to golden yellow, peach to vibrant orange, as well as gray to colorless. And while many of these sapphire colors can be found elsewhere in the world, they are found far less frequently, and Montana is the only place where the rich blue-green Yogo Gulch sapphires can be found.

99% of all colored gemstones are treated in some kind of way to enhance their color. Montana sapphires are no different, as they are commonly heat treated. There are, however, unheated Montana sapphires available, and we at Alara consider them one of our specialities, as we have developed the relationships with the appropriate sources in order to have “first pick” of their rare Montana sapphire beauties.

What’s So Special About Montana Sapphires?

Perhaps the most noticeable special thing about Montana sapphires is their unique coloring. These sapphires can range from being the palest, watercolor-like shades to the richest, most vibrant colors known today.

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They are also known for having fascinating multi-color combinations that run the range from an “egg yolk” of deep yellow inside a lighter yellow stone, to having a “fringe” of one shade of a hue on the outside of another shade or intensity. It takes expert cutting to bring out these unique bi- or even tri-color combinations so they show their full beauty.

They further have a strong, earthy essence that makes them highly desirable among nature lovers as their shades mimic the rich greens of the forest and the complex blues of the oceans and rivers.

The brilliance of these stones also makes them highly desirable in engagement rings and other jewelry, and their hardness level on the Mohs scale proves that their durability is second only to that of diamonds. This means that your Montana sapphire will last for years and years to come, unlike semi-precious gemstone options.

Are Montana Sapphires Valuable?

loose-montana-sapphire-crystalsMontana sapphires tend to have values very similar to those of sapphires from elsewhere in the world that have similar size, color, and clarity. As mentioned previously, there are colors of Montana sapphires that don’t tend to be found in sapphires from other sources–in which case the Montana sapphire might be less than one from elsewhere. Overall, however, Montana sapphire values tend to hover around pricing of similar non-Montana sapphires.

Montana sapphires are priced lower than similarly-sized diamonds in almost all cases, unless the sapphire in question is unheated and possesses exceptionally saturated color, or the diamond in question is very, very low in quality–in which case it wouldn’t typically be mounted in jewelry.

On balance, a Montana sapphire can be a more wallet-friendly, yet appropriately durable choice for an engagement ring center stone–and therefore a wonderful alternative to a diamond ring.

Are Montana Sapphires Rare?

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Unlike quartz or lab grown gems, fine gemstones such as sapphire, in qualities usable in jewelry, are really quite rare. That said, the increasing popularity of Montana sapphires (due to both their ethical production and unusual colors) means that they are being used by more and more designers throughout the US and beyond.

That said, as a Montana jeweler, Alara gets first crack! Alara has a vast collection of Montana sapphires (including especially unique specimens, colors, and shapes), and access to suppliers that do not sell outside of the state of Montana. So, while it might feel that Montana sapphires are not rare when you visit Alara, we can assure you, that in the world of durable colored gemstones, they are indeed rare overall. 

Key Takeaways on Montana Sapphires

Montana sapphires are gorgeous gems that are naturally sourced in the United States. Their unique brilliance, hardness, and colors make them highly desirable among engagement rings and other jewelry, especially for lovers of nature and those who appreciate soft, watercolor gems and more vibrant rich colors that can’t be found anywhere else.

If you’re interested in jewelry sets with Montana sapphires, you’ve come to exactly the right place. Our collection features many jewels from Montana including a collection of sapphire jewelry that’s sure to fit your preferences. We have so many Montana sapphires for sale, it is hard to put them all online. If you are looking for something that you’re not seeing, Contact us today. You can also schedule a Free Professional Sapphire Consultation with us. Scroll to Exploration and Education to book.


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