Gem News International Gems & Gemology, Summer 2015, Vol. 51, No. 2

Update on Rock Creek Sapphire Deposit

Gem Mountain mining site
Figure 1. Excavators and a washing plant on Gem Mountain process gravel for sapphire recovery. Photo by Warren Boyd.

Recently, Montana-based Potentate Mining LLC secured approximately 3,000 acres of sapphire-bearing ground covering the famous Rock Creek sapphire district near Philipsburg, Montana. Since the discovery of these sapphire deposits in the 1890s, this is the first time that one company has consolidated such a large land position, encompassing the old alluvial sites as well as the area on the hills in between these old workings (figure 1). Potentate has assembled a team of highly experienced placer miners, geologists, mining engineers, and heavy equipment operators to recover and process the sapphires from this mine.

The Rock Creek district sapphire deposits occur in debris flow, colluvium, and secondary alluvial deposits (figure 2). Although the bedrock for these deposits has not yet been defined, Potentate plans further geological mapping and geophysical surveys in the near future to uncover these sources.

Sapphire-rich colluvium
Figure 2. A trench on Gem Mountain showing the sapphire-rich colluvium on the hilltops between the previously worked gulches. Photo by Keith Barron.

To date, the rough sapphires recovered from the bulk sampling pits range in size from 0.25 ct to over 20 ct. Approximately 15% of this rough occurs naturally in marketable colors, including pink, orange, orange-pink, lavender, golden yellow, blue-green and green, and fine blue (figure 3). A substantial percentage of the remaining rough responds very well to heat treatment technologies that improve clarity and turn greenish and grayish rough to desirable colors such as blue, orange, yellow, pink, and parti-color.

Rock Creek sapphire rough
Figure 3. A selected assortment of unheated rough sapphires from the Rock Creek deposit weighing from 0.50 to 17 ct. Photo by Warren Boyd.

The high-grade concentration of the sapphires recovered from the various test pits, and the substantial inferred rough sapphire resource on Gem Mountain, indicate that Potentate would be able to provide a long-term, consistent supply of sapphire rough to the global market (figure 4). Potentate would be the only large-volume source for the Rock Creek sapphires. The company is developing a marketing strategy that would provide sustainable supply chain guarantees to their clients. These clients including wholesale gemstone cutters, polishers, and fine jewelry retailers would in turn be able to provide guarantees of origin and the presence (or absence) of any heat treatment to their consumers.

Rock Creek cut sapphire
Figure 4. A selection of natural and heat-treated Rock Creek sapphire ranging from 0.50 to 4.70 ct. Photo by Jeff Scovil.

Warren Boyd is director of marketing, and Dr. Keith Barron is CEO, of Potentate Mining, LLC in Philipsburg, Montana.