In 1866, Montana—specifically the Yogo Gulch—was awash with disappointed prospectors, tossing out the blue pebbles they found in their sluice boxes as they panned for gold.
In the mid-19th century, the cry heard across the American West was “There’s gold in them thar hills!” In the great Treasure State of Montana, little did the prospectors know that they should have instead been proclaiming the presence of one of the highest quality (and most expensive) gemstones the world over, known today as the Montana Sapphire.
In 1866, the Little Belt Mountain Range of Montana—specifically the Yogo Gulch—was awash with disappointed prospectors, tossing out the blue pebbles they found in their sluice boxes as they panned for gold. And while those pebbles were not diamonds in the rough, they were sapphires—and of an extremely lucrative variety.
Other sapphires found throughout the state had been more of the industrial quality, and in hues that are less than desirable at the time: greens, pinks, or colorless.
In 1895, Montana’s reputation as a motherlode of precious sapphires was still relatively unknown, until, a gold prospector named Jake Hoover decided to send in his cigar box filled with collected blue pebbles all the way from Montana to New York City.
The box landed on the desk of Dr. George F. Kunz, the most well-regarded gemologist and mineralogist at Tiffany & Co. Kunz’s meteoric rise to fame started when he began selling specimen collections of gemstones to universities across the United States as a boy, and wound up with his entrance into the Tiffany & Co. executive offices at age 23.
Throughout his life, he would write, research, and accomplish much, including aiding J.P. Morgan in amassing the gems and minerals collection that would form the basis of the American Museum of Natural History’s collection.
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