When it comes to precious rocks, Montanans have a soft spot for Yogo sapphires. Unique in their natural and consistent color and famous throughout the world, Yogos are formed in Montana’s Little Belt Mountains, and nowhere else.
“Little Blue Pebbles”
You might be familiar with these deep, clear blue stones, but you may not be familiar with their history. Swept up in the 1890s gold rush, a prospector named Jake Hoover discovered these Montana gems in the Little Belts while he was looking for gold. While Hoover’s partners discarded the “little blue pebbles”, Hoover found them to be quite interesting and gathered a large collection.
After he sent a matchbox box of the raw stones to Tiffany & Co. in New York, he learned he had discovered what experts deemed “superbly-colored, gem-quality sapphires.” Tiffany & Co. never returned the stones to Hoover, but they did write him a check for more money than he had made in the last five years of mining.
Ramping Up Production
The Yogo sapphire mine, as we know it today, is located in a small area in the center of the state. It passed from Hoover and his partners’ hands to a British company in 1896. The stakes were divided and renamed, creating two separate mines, the English Mine and the American Mine.
British miners pulled sapphires out of the ground and shipped them off to European sellers, where they were often marketed as “Oriental Sapphires.” The mine produced millions of carats of rough Yogo sapphires over the years to much acclaim. Meanwhile, the American Mine proved less successful, and by 1913, it had filed for bankruptcy.
World War I narrowed the marketplace for sapphires in Europe and a flash flood in 1923 destroyed much of the above-ground mining operations at the site. The British owners put the now recombined mine up for sale and, over the next 50 years, it passed through many hands.From One Owner to the Next
After passing through operators based in Colorado, Canada, and individual “rock hounds”, owner after owner looked for more stones.
It wasn’t until 1984 that four local residents made a unique discovery on a section previously thought to not contain Yogos. This area, now called the Vortex Mine, contains a 280-foot shaft deep into the soil, where miners discovered two different veins of stones. But profits came too slowly, and in 2004, the mine closed.
In 2008, renewed hope for Yogos came in the form of a new owner, Mike Roberts, whose family history in gold mining inspired him to take another crack at the Vortex Mine. He bored the mine shaft down to 400 feet and worked the mine until his untimely death in 2012.
New Owners Take the Reins
The mine was closed for over five years, and it wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that new hope came to the Vortex Mine. The Baide family of Bozeman, lifelong friends of Mike Roberts, secured their purchase of the mine and will start operations this spring
Multi-generation Montanans and owners of The Gem Gallery in Bozeman, the Baides are renowned for their in-depth knowledge of quality gems and goldsmithing. As the new owners and operators of the Vortex Mine, they have access to the largest and best selection of Yogos in the world. That means more stones for Montanans to enjoy and more opportunities for jewelers around the world to work with these unique gems.
Keep an eye out as the mine starts up operations after the snow melts this spring, and talk to the experts at The Gem Gallery about how you can make one of Montana’s natural wonders your own.
The Gem Gallery is located at 402 East Main Street in Bozeman, Montana. Call 406-587-9339 or stop by to learn more about Yogo sapphires!
The Gem Gallery is Bozeman’s premier custom jewelry and Montana Yogo Sapphire store. Founded in 1994 by Don Baide, we are located in historic and vibrant downtown Bozeman, Montana. We specialize in rare Montana Yogo Sapphires, custom designed jewelry and GIA certified Diamonds. Our talented in-house goldsmiths and designers can help you to visualize and create distinctive, one-of-a-kind jewelry that you will treasure and adore.
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