TUCSON — After a cancellation in 2021, the Tucson Gem Show returned to Arizona from February 10-13, 2022. The show, presented by the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), featured some of the most impressive loose gemstones and elevated jewelry designs from producers and designers based around the globe.

montana sapphires rock creek astynax

This Rock Creek sapphire is greenish-blue, which is a typical color for this deposit. Photo by Astynax. Public domain.

One key takeaway from the gem show is that an unusually high number of dealers showcased loose Montana sapphires. “The general demand for Montana sapphires is hot, and it was our best-selling gemstone the first day of the show,” says Jonathan Farnsworth. Farnsworth is the President of Parlè, which handles Montana sapphires – specifically, those originating from the Potentate Mine – at all levels of the supply chain including cutting, polishing, treating, and ultimately selling the gemstones.

Montana sapphires are found in the state of Montana primarily from four sources: Yogo Gulch, Dry Cottonwood Creek, Rock Creek, and the Missouri River. The rough product being mined comes in a wide variety of colors. Perhaps the most famous hues of Montana sapphires are deep cornflower blues, greenish blues and greenish yellows. These are the stones which were on display at the Tucson Gem Show this year. 

montant sapphire display

Display of Montana Sapphires from Parlè at AGTA./Emily Frontiere

Paul Dragone, president of Boston Gems, Inc., another exhibitor at AGTA, also had an impressive display of Montana sapphires. “The recent high demand for Montana sapphires in America, specifically, may be partly attributed to the fact that they are a domestic product. In short, Americans like to buy American,” he says. 

Buyers may encounter different prices for similar Montana sapphires depending on whether the rough was processed domestically or abroad. Montana sapphires processed fully within the USA often are accompanied by a slightly higher price tag. This discrepancy may be due to higher wages paid to American workers. However, Dragone said that many consumers are willing to pay a bit more to be sure that their stones were processed according to the highest ethical standards. “Our goal at Boston Gems is to be fully transparent about where and how the gems were fashioned and how they are priced,” says Dragone.

Large and significant rough – often considered anything over four carats, or measuring 6.5mm or larger in diameter – are usually processed in the USA. However, stones that size are relatively rare. Typically, the majority of the rough coming out of Montana is smaller and is sent abroad, primarily to Sri Lanka, to be cut, polished, and (if necessary) treated. “Larger, more impressive, rough is processed in the USA while smaller crystals are sent abroad,” said Margit Thorndal of Madagascar Imports Ltd. 

Montana sapphire rough crystals are often quite shallow which can influence how stones are cut. However, Farnsworth has observed that cushion and hexagonal outlines are currently quite popular. This is fortuitous as both of those cuts are, by nature, flat and are great options for naturally thinner crystals. 

Having dealt with the gems for a long time, Ms. Thorndal feels that many designers have suddenly “discovered” the unique beauty of these sapphires in just the last few years. Fortunately, the demand for Montana sapphires is matched by its availability. Farnsworth estimates that his company processes six to seven pounds of the material every quarter, most of it through Sri Lanka.