Yogo Sapphire Production: Part 1 of 2.

Reviving the American Dream

Sapphires have been mined, with varying levels of success, in Montana since the late nineteenth century. In the first of this two-part instalment, Olga Gonzalez FGA DGA and Jerod Edington, interim president of Yogold USA – the current operator of the Yogo mine – discuss the transition, current operations and production.

This article appeared in the most recent issue of The Gemmological Association of Great Britain’s Gems & Jewellery Magazine.

Rarely does an opportunity come about to achieve prosperity in the way that it seemed within reach to the American pioneers of the nineteenth century. During the gold rushes that began in California in 1848, miners moved west, in a frenzy to discover the precious metal. In the mid-1880s, at the forgotten gold camp in what was then known as Yogo City, Montana, blue pebbles were unexpectedly unearthed. From the gemstones’ discovery by prospector Jake Hoover – who collected enough sapphires to fill a cigar box – through the successful English Mine period with Charles Gadsden at the helm, to lntergem and Kunisaki’s ownership, sapphire production at Yogo is picking up again after a 40-year hiatus. Now a new era for the mining and distribution of this stunning North American gemstone is upon us with Yogold USA, a family-owned and operated company with a passion for cornflower blue, a background of industry experience and a great deal of support. Jerod Edington, interim president of Yogold U.S.A., provides some context in this first part of a two-part series on current sapphire mining near Utica, Montana.

What inspired you to lease the mine and put it back into operation?

JE: The inspiration for this project was my father, Jay Edington. With a background in geology and mining, he always had a great appreciation for the mine itself, and he understood its potential. The fact that the Yogo mine is currently the largest known deposit of natural sapphires that do not require heat treatment is a major factor.

After lntergem’s bankruptcy, the property reverted back to Roncor Inc., which was open to buyers. My father told my brother, Ryan, and I that if we were motivated to take on the Yogo deposit, he would come out of retirement and act as a senior consultant. We wrote a formal proposal to Roncor to lease the mine with an option to buy, and the board accepted our offer. My father then helped us build a management team and facilitate implementation of a capital formation plan to fund the project.

My brother and I then formed Yogold USA to acquire the mine and bring it back into production. We approached this project on a multi-phase basis. After we negotiated and entered into formal agreements with Roncor, we spent our first two years in business doing bulk testing and small-scale mining of the available surface material. Currently, we are securing all the necessary equipment and supplies needed to undertake the rehabilitation of the 3,000 ft (914.4 m) Kunisaki haulage way – also known as the ‘Kunisaki Tunnel’. We are also securing all of the required permits and approvals from numerous state and federal agencies. Finally, we are recognising key professions and hiring people in those capacities. These people have many years of experience in opening and operating an underground mine.

The mine has been through many owners, and some were more successful than others. How does your vision for the future of the mine differ to what has been done in the past?

JE: Historically speaking, there has been very little produced by the Yogo mine for over 40 years. To make the mine a financial success, it cannot be operated in the way a traditional mining operation, such as a precious metals mine, would operate. To achieve economic viability and generate a profit, one cannot simply mine and sell sapphire rough. The mine economics demand that, at a minimum, the operator must correctly mine and extract the sapphire rough. Then the rough must be sorted, graded, faceted or shaped, polished and then taken to market and sold as loose finished gems for jewellery. The optimum from a future profitability perspective would be to transition into the manufacturing and marketing of fine jewellery.

In your words, what does this mine mean to you? What makes Yogo sapphires exceptional?

JE: I view my role in operating the mine as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a variety of reasons. If you look back at the period when the British syndicate operated the mine, from the early 1900s until 1928, the middle section of the Yogo dike produced anywhere from 18 to 23 million carats of very high-quality natural sapphires. This was accomplished with antiquated mining equipment and mining techniques. There are alluvial mining operations that have produced more gross carats, but not comparable and consistent quality.

Even more remarkable is the fact that the British did all their mining out of a shaft that was only 250 ft (76.2 m) in depth and then mined along the dike for only about 1,200 ft (365.76 m). That is a very small area to produce those millions of carats of high-quality cornflower
blue sapphires that do not require enhancement with heat or chemicals. Using conservative estimates, the English mined less than three percent of the dike, which is documented to extend 25,000 feet (7,620 m) in length. Until additional drilling is accomplished, the depth of the dike cannot be determined with certainty. From a geologic perspective, this igneous dike is similar in nature to kimberlite pipes that are known to be deep-seated and generally extend to depths of many thousands of feet. Therefore, the depth of the Yogo dike could be many thousands of feet, similar to diamond pipes.

In addition, the size and location of the deposit makes it amenable for mining, and the sapphire is naturally occurring, not requiring any artificial heat or enhancement. With no colour zoning and few inclusions, the even, beautiful cornflower blue of the Yogo sapphires makes them exceptional. From a sustainability standpoint, the sapphires are locally and ethically mined, with no link to conflict situations nor child labour, and with safe working conditions. Stable jobs are offered to miners, and the surrounding community is passionate about the history and brilliance of the stones, offering a supportive environment for all.

Right now, Yogold is a private operation; you and your brother, Ryan Edington, each manage separate parts of the business. How is the division handled, and who is ultimately responsible for what tasks regarding your proposed business model?

JE: Ryan and I are heavily involved in day-to-day operations, with Ryan as our gem manager and head of security. Yogold has a seasoned board of directors, consisting of a mix of professionals in the mining industry, and other directors that have expertise in gemmology, gemstone cutting, jewellery manufacturing and marketing. Our management team and the board of directors have a combined 250 years of exploration, mine development, and mine operation experience. We also have outside consultants that bring another 200 years of mining experience to the table. Ultimately, all major business, operational and financial decisions must be ratified by the board of directors. ■

Look for the second part of our interview with Jerod Edington, in Gems & Jewellery’s Spring 2022 issue, to learn about Yogold USA’s vertical integration, the violet and purple sapphires found at Yago Gulch alongside the cornflower-blue material and the future of the mine as it transitions towards underground production. In the meantime, visit them at yogoldusa.com. All sapphires courtesy of Yogold USA.

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