Frequently Asked Questions
Q. When you say they call can be sent in to be faceted that can be expensive because there are over 70 stones on that sheet! Is there some way we can know which ones would be best? About what percentage of these would be the quality to be worked on - are we talking the 10% range? or 70% range? We have some that have great coloring but are pretty small, and many of them look to be the greenish .5-.75 carat-ish type.
Would it be appropriate to tell Rocky that we would want just the top 5 or 10 faceted based on his experience? Or do we get a quote from him before he does the work? Can we have some polished without getting them faceted as well?
Also, my wife has 2 questions - Can we request specific work to be done on specific stones? We have one round, very clear sapphire that she would like to have polished and rounded (but not faceted) for a bezel setting. Also, regarding the larger red stone, is there a way we can tell here at home whether this is a garnet, a ruby, or a plum sapphire?
A. Rocky will only cut the clear, clean stones that will be a gem. You can pull out the cracked ones, by using a pen light or holding the stone to the edge of a lamp and rolling it in your fingers. You will be able to see everything in the stone. If the stone is cloudy, then heat treating will clean it up. Heat treating also costs-around $5 a carat. Rocky only charges about $10 a finished carat. You can ask for just the best to be faceted. You can also ask for a cabochon for rounding one. Be sure and label it in a separate package.
Q. I was very interested in your website and am interested in learning more. For years, i have had a desire to go digging for precious gems and would like to try for some in the big sky country. I'd like to stop buy to say Hi and purchase a few buckets/bags and look for the gems. I am also interested in digging, bucketing, and screening/ sifting on my own for 8 hours a day/ 4 days straight. I am going to make it my full time job to go out each day for 4 days straight. And start from sunrise to sunset. I was curious if you had any suggestions or ideas that may be beneficial for me? I am sure it could get tiring, but I am willing to dig into the ground. I could puchase my own screen and tools and go out on my own. But, What about the water for rinsing the stones. Do you think I would be ok if i had 2 large buckets of water and filled up a shallow pan? or, Could I perhaps use your water bins? Perhaps I could go out on a whole day tour with you? I'd like to really spend time and learn the process for digging for sapphires. I'd love to learn more as to what you have to offer. Do you have any suggestions or ideas for my "tentative 8-hour" a day tour? Looking forward to hearing from you
A. We do have a dig option here for $60. It includes a 3.5 gallon concentrate (equal to 35 buckets) plus you dig a 5 gallon bucket in the pit. Additional buckets can be dug for $10 each. My recommendation, considering you want to work long and hard to dig for sapphires, would be to pay the higher bucks and dig at the El Dorado. You basically hire Russ for a day to go with you. He charges $200 per person, per day, plus $20 per bucket to dig. Of course you would want to dig as many as you could. The last two guys that did this dig, dug 5 buckets between the two. It is packed like concrete in the virgin material. You can read the testimonials by Nick George on our website at www.sapphiremine.com. The cost is high, perhaps, but the area is super rich. It only takes one big sapphire to be worth thousands of dollars. You pack your buckets out and work them in the tubs of water at our rock shop. Nick George ended up shipping most of his to Florida so he could work it throughout the year. I would not waste time washing the gravel as you dig it. I would wait and wash it the following day. We do have shaker screens, shovels and buckets for you to use. We do not provide small tools, screw drivers, pri-bars, rock hammers or whisk brooms-as all of our small equipment have been buried or taken long ago. We are open 9-5, seven days a week. We do not allow working after hours, normally, as we get tired of the whole thing. However, at times, I have offered a noon to noon dig - for the purpose of allowing people to take advantage of the cool evenings and cool mornings and avoid the extreme heat of summer. No night digging-our dogs bark. This must be arranged in advance.
Q. What are the difference between the Monster Mine and the El Dorado Mines, are your chances to find any Sapphires any better in one than the other? If not, what is the difference in Price for?
A. The Spokane Bar Monster Mine is from our home base mine, right out the door. The haul distance is within gun shot. The El Dorado Monster Mine is our other mine, located down river 8 miles by boat but 40 miles by haul truck on a terrible and dangerous road. The haul fee is reflected in the price. Also the El Dorado is a fantastic sapphire bearing property and is known to have big sapphires. There are big sapphires found at both locations. There are just a bit different. There is more shale and calcium carbonate in the El Dorado. More colorful minerals, such as jade, olivine, serpentine and jasper and quartz in the Spokane Bar material.
Q. Has people (who bought the gravel thru the mail) had any luck finding valuable stones? How do we know this gravel hasn't already been "looked". I know this question sounds insulting but it is something everyone probably thinks about.
A. We have several products that we produce here at the Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine. The Spokane Bar Monster Mine and the El Dorado Bar Monster Mine are authentic material concentrated with heavy equipment in a trommel and jig. We concentrate approximately ten dump truck loads per day to sell in the mine office or through our website: www.sapphiremine.com. We do not look at it, as it is masses of material. We do offer two additional products, by popular demand, one is the Guaranteed Monster Mine, that we "guarantee" by adding random amounts of dark blue sapphires for the guarantee. The other package is the Guaranteed Enhanced Monster Mine, known as the "Party Pak". It is authentic material from the Spokane Bar mine with added sapphires plus 1/4 cup of, mostly small, garnet. The purpose is to entertain up to 25 people for two hours. Every scoop of gravel contains gems. Very often valuable sapphires are found in all our products, including the small tubs and sample bags. Even small sapphires, finishing one quarter carat or .25- for example, are worth $25. This is a very fun, entertaining and unique hobby that many people find facinating.
Q. Is it actually possible to find a sapphire of real monetary value? If the answer is yes, then how? After a stone is faceted and now is a piece of quality what would I do with it? How do I sell it, to whom? Should I really view going through the gravel as a hobby and not think of this as making any money? Could I have something of value and if so what do I do with it? My confusion is related to seeing faceted sapphires loose and they are of minimal value cost -wise. I mean I could purchase them because they really are not expensive, how would what I find, have faceted, be any different from these? So hobby only or possible to make money; and how?
A. Clean sapphires with good color can be worth $100 to $1000 per carat and more, finished. A good facetor helps and appraisals do the trick, as far as marketability. Large sapphires finished, one to four carat and bigger, can be up to $2,000-$5,000 a carat!! (the standard 4 C's-color, clarity, cut, and carat weight). One carat and above is the magic number for increased values. These are Montana sapphires, which has a different appeal than overseas sapphires, that you would normally see in every jewelry store. Most jewelers buy Thai sapphires, navy blue, or Indian rubies. Other parts of the world have unique stones, that can be highly prized, such as Burma or Ceylon blues. Other mines around the world produce mass quantities of sapphires, thus common. Montana sapphires are not that plentiful. A pint jar of rough sapphires is a major amount.
We could just mine for ourselves and sell the finished gems. Being remote, it has been difficult for us to make a living doing that. Instead, our market has been the gravel sales, letting the customer find the gems. Kinda nutty, but it worked for us.
There have been multiple business opportunities from people like yourselves selling the finished product. It is not easy finding a market. Jewelers are spoiled and cannot be approached, unless you get lucky. Ebay has seemed to work for some people, though we have not been successful at that. Boutiques or gift stores seem the best store front, but that can take forever, and you can't pay your house payment that way. The gems work well for trades. You basically have to create your own market, as with anything.
We have had good success with Rocky Mountain HT, Bev Tyson-whose coupon is on our website at www.sapphiremine.com. She is a professional cutter, and used to Montana, Missouri River Sapphires. Also had excellent results with our very large finished sapphires with AIG Appraisals in New York. The old issue of National Geographic, that we sell on our website for $5, has a lot of background information on sapphires from around the world.
Consider it a hobby, until your creative mind is inspired with great ideas to sell the sapphires!
Q. Do we come to your store and buy a bucket and sift through it there on site?
A. You can come buy sapphires, in our store, or buy sapphire gravel to sort outside on the tables, complete with wash tubs and screens for sorting. We help you identify minerals and gems and teach you how to do the washing. There is a dig option available. It is $60 and includes one 3.5 gallon concentrate plus a 5 gallon bucket of gravel you dig yourself out of the pit. We go with you to instruct about how to do the dig, the geology and history. Then we teach you the concentrating wash part. The dig takes about 3-4 hours total. Or you can just buy gravel and sort 1-2 hours. You can also buy material and take it with you. We also ship Monster Mine sapphire gravel concentrates to mine at home via UPS. All packages include shipping. Print our flyer under "Print Map and Flyers". Check out the FAQ's and Testimonials, plus Newsletters at www.sapphiremine.com.
Q. What are your hours of operation in the summer?
A. Our sapphire mine and rock shop are open daily 9-5 seven days a week.
Q. After I get my sapphire sand in what is the easiest and cheapest method to use to screen and look for them? Also after I have found them what is the next step - can I run them in a rock tumbler? or use a cutting tool?
A. You can use a kitchen sieve and wash a cup of gravel then spread it out on a glass pie dish. Put a light source underneath - flashlight or lamp or use a slide table. Once you find the sapphires - they are glassy in appearance- send them in to be faceted, using the coupon sent with your order. You can also print another one from our website under "Faceting Services" at www.sapphiremine.com A rock tumbler is great for the rocks, agates and minerals you find - however, it will decrease the value of the sapphires. Sapphires should be worth $100 per carat faceted versus .10 cents when tumbled.
Q. Hello, My Husband and I are new to the idea of mining. We were wondering how much is charged for Faceting once you find something in one of your bags or box's? Also, I was wondering what winter gravel is as compared to just the gravel?
A. The faceting prices are on the back of the coupon. They run about $7 a finished carat for sapphires. You can print another coupon from our site at www.sapphiremine.com under "Faceting Services". Scoll to the bottom of the page and print. The "Winter Garnet Gravel" is just garnet material from a different mine. We named it Winter a couple years ago when it was snowing and we were depressed. The sparkly garnets seemed to cheer us up. The other gravel is mined here at the Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine plus our other mine the Ed Dorado
Q. I am just wondering how I might be able to actually get the sapphires out of gravel? Do we require a rock crusher or some specialized equipment? Can I hit it with with a hammer? I am just asking because I would have absolutely no idea how to even look for or recognise a sapphire in gravel. Any tips would be very much appreciated.
A. There is a direction card clipped to the flyer. If lost, you can print one under "Print Flyers"-"Directions" at www.sapphiremine.com. It helps to wash a cup or so at a time using a kitchen strainer or screen. You can spread the gravel on a plate or better to use a clear glass pyrex pie dish with a light source underneath. The light will shine through the gems and not the rocks. You can either use a light table made for slides or use a flash light under the dish. You can also cut out an old metal coffee can, mount a light bulb in it, and put a piece of glass or a pie dish over it and pour some gravel in. Direct sunlight outside is also good to search for the sapphires. Gold nuggets can at times be found as well as unusual minerals such as topaz. The rocks in outdoor sunlight will appear in varied colors - green is often serpentine, dark green is olivine, at times jade can be found. Also found - jasper-reddish, lots of quartz, and agate-waxy. Shale will be sharp - not water-worn like most of the gravel. If you hit any of the sapphires with a hammer you will ruin them. Sapphires will often have a hexagonal crystal structure. A clear sapphire the size of a mustard seed can be about 1/3 to 1/2 carat and have a finished value of $20-$50 bucks. Clear and colorful sapphires larger than a pea can have a finished value of $100-$1000 bucks.Look under "Testimonials" on our website for photos sent in by other customers. Also FAQ for questions and answers at www.sapphiremine.com Knowing how valuable sapphires can be - you'll end up looking at every rock.
Q. I read a testimonial mentioning a Light Box for sorting. Can you please send info on buying, building, proper use of such.
A. You can buy a light table from Logan Electric Specialty Mgf. Co in Chicago, IL, 60622, model 920. Pricey though. Try Walmart or a photo shop for a slide table for photographs. We use light tables to help pick out the sapphires. Light will shine through the sapphires and garnets but not the rocks. You could miss gold nuggets on a light table, however.
Q. What is the process you go through to get the sapphire gravel?
A. The material has to be processed. The gravel dug from the Spokane Bar is 20 feet deep. We must remove 15 plus feet of overburden then dig the remaining gravel down as deep into the bedrock as possible. Then we haul it out of the pit with dump trucks and stockpile the gravel. Our trommel is started, pumping water over 100 feet up from the lake. The gravel gets sorted through the trommel, taking out the boulders, sand and sizing the material. It then goes into another machine, called a jig. That machine separates the gravel by specific gravity. The heavy material is then hauled into the office and sacked. (We try to dry it first) It is quite a process. You would not want just raw material as you must process through ten dump truck loads to get any sapphires. I wish they were more plentiful but that is why they are valuable.
Hand digging is another matter. It still takes a lot of work to loosen the gravel (like digging into concrete), screen it - sorting out the boulders and sand, and then concentrating it by hand using double meshed screens in tubs of water. It is a slow process and again, not as rich as you would hope. The old saying "you can be an inch from a million dollars or a million inches from a dollar" applies. It only takes one good sapphire to make it pay, however, not like gold - which takes one level teaspoon to make an ounce (lots of flakes and specks).
Q. When we use the coupon provided for gem cutting, do the gem cutters only cut round stones or do they look at the gem and cut to get the most of the stone? ie. ending up with ovals or other shapes? Once, several years back with another mining company in the area, I sent a 3 carat stone to be cut and it ended up being .75 carat round! THe cutter only did rounds apparently. I didn't think cutting stones used up that much material.
A. Faceting will take away 2/3rd of the stone plus more if the stone has fractures or flaws that should be ground away. A three carat rough piece ideally will yield a one carat finished gem. Gem cutters grind to the proper shape for the best light refraction for a finished gemstone. Most rough stones have flaws. If there is any way to get a clean stone, I will grind as many of the flaws out as possible to yield a more valuable, finished gem. Most cutters will cut for yield. An oblong shaped stone would be best suited for an emerald cut or oval. The people that do the cutting want to make as much money as possible and they will cut for shape as that will save weight. They get paid for the finished weight.
Q. Are the "flakes" of "gold" in my Garnet Gravel real or fools?
A. There can be gold in the garnet gravel. Gold is heavy and a gold colored metal. The flakes you are seeing are probably mica. If you can cut it in half with your fingernail - it is mica. Both mica and pyrite are shiny and brassy. Gold does not shine
Q. How do you tell the difference between a garnet and a red sapphire?
A. The red stones are probably garnet. There are about 8 varieties of garnet. Rubies can also be found - but they will have a hexagonal shape.
Q. I really enjoy screening my gems, but need to know how to pick out which ones to send out to be faceted. We have found several clear sapphires, as well as a couple of larger sapphires that don't appear to be clear, but how would we know if the center area is more clear?
A. You can put your sapphires at the edge of a light and roll them around in your fingers. You should be able to see all the fractures and inclusions. Some of those can be ground away and still have a salvageable gem. I just leave it up to the cutters. They are masters at getting the gem quality stone
Q. I saw on your website that the stones can be heat treated, can you give me your feeling on this?
A. Heat treating can definitely improve the color and clean up the impurities. If the stone is hazy it will definitely help. I don't do all of them - only a special few. I prefer the natural. However, the treated sapphires sell faster as most people want the deeper color
Q. we pay by the carload, for the stones found, per person? Do we need to rent buckets and shovels or may we bring our own?
A. We advertise the gravel we sell in the office on our flyer which ranges between $25 and $75. We do have sample bags for $5 which is about a screenfull. Our dig option can be shared with the family. It is $60 total and includes one large concentrate plus digging a five gallon bucket in the mine. We provide screens and shovels - some buckets. It is wise to bring your own bucket in case you want to take material home. Also a screwdriver for digging into cracks and crevices if you do the dig. Tweezers are helpful - we do sell them for $3 in the shop
Q. I am curious about the value of the faceted sapphires - what do you sell them for in your shop?
A. The value of the sapphires ranges from $100 a carat up to $1000 a carat. A half carat (.50) would be $50 as there are 100 points in a carat. Stones that finish over a carat can double in price or more. The four "C's" apply - color, carat weight, cut and clarity, as far as values go
Q. Regarding the E-Monster Mine...is there any difference in source or quality of gravel, or is the price difference based on the coupon for faceting?
A. You can read about the different Monster Mines in my October 2003 and November 2003 newsletter at www.sapphiremine.com and click on "Newsletters". The E-Eldorado Monster Mine costs more due to the haul fees-40 miles on a bad road with big haul trucks. The El Dorado is new mining property we acquired last October. It is similar material. So far - I have noticed the El Dorado sapphires seem to be bigger. The Spokane Bar Monster Mine material seems to have more colors. El Dorado has a bit more debris- such as twigs and roots - as the gravel is only four feet deep compared to Spokane Bar - of 30 feet. Lots of people try both and compare. You can view some comments about the differences under "Testimonials"
Q. I need to know how to pay you with a personal check....?.
A. Personal checks and money orders can be mailed to: Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine/5360 Castles Road/Helena, MT 59602. We also take credit cards, debit cards, phone orders at 1-877-diggems, or on-line orders at www.sapphiremine.com The faceting coupon is a totally separate issue. You will need that to get your gems faceted at a very reasonable rate
Q. I'm getting ready to have the first sapphires faceted and have some questions about heat treatment. Most of the stones are quite pretty in their natural state and we will not want to heat them. But some of the duller colors (very pale greens, blues and almost clear) might be prettier heated. So...should this be done before or after faceting? Approximately what does it cost? And can you send me contact info for someone who does heat treatment?
A. I would recommend heat treating prior to faceting. Once treated the cutter will be able to orient the color better. If you wait until after the stone is cut - it can still clean out the silk but often the stone will need to be repolished - or recut and then loose some weight. Elliott Sher, the facetor listed on our website, also will heat treat if you ask him. It is under the "Faceting" link at www.sapphiremine.com.
Q. My question is I live in Missouri, 64601 zip, what is the cost of shipping or is it included? Also I want to order a bag that has not been touched by anyone just gravel shoveled up and stuck in a bag. What package is that. I assume you dont premine anything and all are virgin dirt. One more question I live by the Missouri River are there any preciuos stone deposits in my area? Wont some of your sapphires and stones wash down here eventually. I would like to try to find some on my own.
A. All of our sapphire gravel packages include UPS shipping costs. The authentic, screened and concentrated through a big machine, untouched - is the regular Spokane Bar Monster Mine for $95 or the Eldorado Bar Monster Mine for $120. The other two packages are spiked (Guaranteed Monster Mine) or the Party Pak (guaranteed and enhanced with 1/4 cup of garnets-small-for entertaining guests). Sapphires are four times heavier than water and not only sink to the bottom of the river, but have managed to adhere to the bedrock and have cemented into tight packed gravel layers. There has been some down river movement in tumultuous flood times, but only up to a twenty mile stretch. There are a couple good locator booklets called Western Gem Hunters Atlas, Eastern Gem Hunters Atlas and a Coast to Coast Gem Hunters Atlas. We order them every summer.
Q.Can you recommend a place to stay?
A. You can contact the state commerce department 1-800-visitmt or go to their link on our site at www.sapphiremine.com and request an accomodations guide and travel brochures. Helena, the state capitol, is a ten mile drive. Also check Helena Chamber of Commerce (1-406-442-4120). You have choices of motels, bed and breakfast, forest service cabins (US government in the phone book-1-406-449-5490) or campgrounds within 3 miles of the sapphire mine (state-Devil's Elbow, Clark's Bay; federal-Vigilante Campground, private-Lincoln Road RV, Helena Campground or Kim's Marina).
Q. I read that the mine opens on April 1st, what's the best time of the year to go?
A. The Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine is open year around but the digging is no fun if the ground is still frozen. April can be iffy - so call for weather updates. You can see local temperature and forecasts on the local newspaper: www.helenair.com. Heaven in Montana starts after the 4th of July and continues through September. View photos of the mine (winter months vs. summer) under "Newsletters" or order sapphire gravel to mine at home at www.sapphiremine.com.
Q. I was wondering what sizes you were getting from your different mines and what is the difference between the bags?
A. You can look at our products at www.sapphiremine.com. You can order on line or call me at 1-877-dig gems. (344-4367) Current prices (subject to change) for the regular Spokane Bar Monster Mine (our home base) - $95 includes shipping. El Dorado is $120. El Dorado is our mine that is 18 miles away on a bad road. It costs more to get it here-though tends to have bigger sapphires at times. El Dorado usually has more hematite (iron) and shale. Spokane Bar gravel is more colorful with different minerals-serpentine (green), quartz, agate, jasper. The Guaranteed $120 is from Spokane Bar material though added sapphires for the guarantee. Party Pak is also from Spokane Bar but added sapphires and 1/4 cup small garnets (occasional big garnets too). This pak is designed to entertain up to 20 people for two hours of fun-$150 (great for reunions and parties). The Monster Mine bags often include a monthly special. This month (April 08) a 2-3 mm faceted sapphire through April 15th. We have lots of other items for sale including screens, gem pickup tools and gem kits. Read about recent finds in each newsletter on our website - www.sapphiremine.com.
Q. Can you tell me if there is anything else that I might find besides the sapphires and garnets or rubys that would be worth keeping? Also how can I identify the different stones?
A. Sapphires are glassy, tint of color, have sides on them and are heavy. Read the big direction card for more clues. Rubies are very rare so probably you found garnets. There are red or orange melded jaspers, green pale serpentine, darker green jade, waxy white or brown agates, blazay white, off-white, yellow quartz that will turn white in your hand. Sapphires will still appear glassy in your hand. Hematite is black, blobby, sometimes seed pod fossils or cubes, single or group cubes that look like raspberries. Mostly you have pretty rocks that can be used for crafts.
The clear sapphires and garnets can be faceted and have values ranging from $25 to $100 for medium grade. Better sapphires finishing over one carat can double in value and at times be in the thousands. Like that potential!
Q. Could you please explain the differences between the Montana Super Sapphire Concentrate, El Dorado Monster Mine, the Spokane Bar Monster Mine reg. ; Guaranteed Spokane Bar Monster Mine, the Party Pak, Enhanced; the Mini and Mini Mine. I couldn’t “mine” out the differences and I would appreciate more details before I could spend this kind of money. Potentially, I could be buying a bag of sand for $100, correct? Please help me “screen” out the differences so I know what I would be buying. Thanks so much!
A. I am out of the Super Sapphire Concentrate. When available, it is from old Gem Mountain, mined 20 years ago.
The El Dorado Monster Mine is our other property, located 18 miles from our main site. The sapphires tend to be larger and overall, it is a richer mine. The Spokane Bar Monster Mine bag is mined right here at the main site, where we live. The Spokane gravel has more minerals-moonstone, jasper, jade, serpentine, quartz - the sapphires can be more colorful-sometimes pinks, lavenders. If you are worried about only a "bag of sand" (not here), we do sell two additional products - the Guaranteed Monster Mine and the Party Pack. Both are mined at the Spokane Bar but we have added sapphires and garnets for the "guarantee". The Party Pack is designed to entertain a group of up to twenty people for a couple hours of fun.