With a bit of luck, a fortune could be waiting for you in the mountains of Montana. While Nevada and New Jer-sey may be getting all of the gambling fame, the Big Sky Country can also offer you a way to wager your money and you can do it in a campground under the open sky. The jackpot in this game of chance is sapphires.
Montana has a long and fascinating history of mining the precious blue stone but now two different entrepreneurs have refined the hunting of the gem to a point where anyone with halfway decent eyesight and a few bucks can engage in this fascinating pastime.
Both businesses are located on Mon-tana Highway 38 about 20 miles from the town of Philipsburg which is 28 miles north of Anaconda on U.S. 10A.
As sapphire bearing earth is dug from the ground, it is screened and washed to
help isolate the precious pebbles. The technique used at Philipsburg utilizes two screens of different sized mesh. One screen is fitted inside the other, put in the water and the gem bearing gravel is dumped into them.
The top screen is then shaken as it is removed, taking the large rocks with it. Sand and dirt are then washed from the gravel in the remaining, smaller-meshed screen.
As the washing progresses, the person doing the underwater shaking revolves the screen. This technique tends to center the sapphire and other extremely heavy material on the bottom.
You sit at a chest high sorting table with a paper cup and tweezers in your hand. A tag is tied to the table. When the shaker comes to your table, he flips the washed gravel onto the surface with a practiced inversion of the screen. The tag is then punched to count the screen.
Starting from the center you carefully scrutinies every inch of the washed gravel. If you spot a sapphire, you gently grasp it with the tweezers and put it in your paper cup. On the first few screenings, the washer usually stands by your shoulder after hes flipped the tray to help you to spot the rough gems. When he knows that you know what youre looking for, he returns to his screening. -
Sapphires in the rough look like small, slightly rounded pieces of water-worn glass. They are not always blue. As a matter of fact they can be almost any color except red.
When your eyes or your pocketbook have had all of the strain that they can stand, you take your punched out tag, the stones that you have found and the tweezers and go to the office. After you have paid your bill one of the staff will sit down with you at a table with a high intensity lamp and grade out your stones. Basically, the stones are divided into those that will facet, those from which
cabachons can be cut and the ones that are not sapphires at all. Unless youre quite experienced, youre bound to have picked up a few pices of quartz.
If you have been lucky enough in your picking to have come up with a facetable stone of exceptional size or color, you might be pleasantly surprised to have the person thats doing the grading offer to buy the gem. This offer could run into hundreds of dollars.
A cutting service is offered by the sapphire mines for those gem hunters who dont facet or dont have a rock-hound friend who can do the cutting. Professional facetors can also be found listed in the pages of most rockhound magazines.
Nevada and New Jersey may be able to offer you gambling amidst the glitter of chrome and plastic, but the jackpots are no bigger nor are they as pretty as those to be found in the Big Sky Coun-try of Montana.