Montana Sapphires aren’t only beautiful—surfacing from deposits in a spectrum of pretty, cloudy colors made transparent and more intense through heating (in over 95% of cases). They’re also an ideal gemstone for these complicated times.
The gem has one of the “cleanest” chain of custodies in gemstone mining. The region most Montana sapphires are mined from is monitored closely by both the local government and ecological groups because it’s home to an important endangered species: the bull trout. The dominant Montana Sapphire mine, Potentate Mining, digs near Philipsburg, Mont., in the Sapphire Mountains along the protected Rock Creek, a world-class fly-fishing trout stream containing the protected trout.
“It’s the cleanest type of mining in the world anywhere because of the stringent oversight there,” explains Jeff Hapeman, owner of West Chester, Pa.-based Earth’s Treasury, the largest supplier of Montana sapphires in the U.S. “The water they use is all recycled and filtered and at the end of the mining process, it’s drinking-grade water—it has to be, because it can’t impact the trout.”
Hapeman says sales of Montana sapphires have been steadily climbing every year—growth he credits to the sapphires’ innate allure (wowza, they are beautiful), the movement of colored stones into the mainstream that’s happened over the past decade, and to “the transparency we can provide with Montana sapphires.” He explains, “I think it’s of great interest to younger people buying gems today. And I think a lot of people are more comfortable [with the gem] knowing it’s mined in the U.S. with America’s good regulations around labor.”
Brecken Farnsworth, co-owner of Pocatello, Idaho-based gemstone jewelry brand Parlé Gems, says Montana sapphires currently make up 15% of the company’s net sales in finished jewelry and loose gemstones, “which is amazing for such a relatively new gemstone for us,” she notes. The brand’s built an entire collection around Rock Creek Montana sapphires accented by dazzling diamonds.
“I love the fact that Rock Creek Montana Sapphires are mined with great care to the impact on the environment,” she Farnsworth says. “There are regulations in place that allow them to mine a few acres at a time. Once they are complete, they must reclaim the land before moving on to the next area. This maintains the natural beauty of the location, and it’s so beautiful there!”
But its eco-friendly origins aren’t the only element of Montana sapphires Farnsworth admires. “I love that no two Montana sapphires are alike. They are fabulously unique, each with their own individual color and zoning. Putting together a matching set can be a challenge, and I think with Montana sapphires you just need to embrace the fact that they are so unique. The crystal structure of the gemstone really lends itself to less traditional cutting shapes as well, like hexagon, shield, and trapezoid.”
Farnsworth and her team work daily to supply jewelry stores and independent designers with the gem. “Typically, the calls are for loose gemstones for engagement rings which often lead to custom jobs for us or the designers we work with. Our retail partners also carry our line of finished jewelry which has allowed them to showcase Montana sapphire in their stores, we have seen great sell through in this category as well.”
Kimberly Collins, president of the American Gem Trade Association and founder of Kimberly Collins Colored Gems, agrees that the gem is enjoying a sharp rise in popularity. “Requests for Montana sapphires are 1,000% more in demand now than they have been before,” she says. “People just love them.”
Eve Streicker, founder of Norfolk, Va.-based fine jewelry collection Original Eve also maintains an ever-expanding collection of Montana sapphire pieces, mainly engagement and wedding bands.
She says she gravitates to the gem “because of the wide range of rich colors and unique cuts they come in.” Additionally, “It’s clear to me that lapidaries favor the gem and enjoy cutting the stone in unusual cuts that bring out their liveliness. Montana sapphires are unique in that they, like water, shift hue, saturation, and feeling in different light.”
Streicker’s also seen uptick in requests for pieces featuring the gemstone, which comes in gorgeous shades of blues, teals, greens, pinks, yellows, and oranges. “As Montana’s have grown in availability and presence in the independent designer community, I have noticed more people are requesting them specifically. More often than a direct ask for Montana sapphires, however, is someone who’s so in love with an unusual or specific shade of blue or green that can really only be satisfied with the incredible peacocks, teals, and bicolor blues of Montana Sapphires.”
She adds, “I also find clients who prioritize sustainability and ethical sourcing are very attracted to Montana sapphires. The fact that they are local to the U.S.–from a place where so many have adventured—and mined with fair pay, using practices that respect the land, are major selling points.”
Top photo: Montana sapphires from Parlé