Sapphire discovery in Canada equals hard work and reward in 100-pound boulders containing sapphire crystals. In April of this year, the discovery of a sapphire unlike anything similar was made near Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada. I arrived soon after the discovery to meet with the well-known young Canadian prospector responsible for the find, Herb Hyder. During my three-day visit, not only did I have the opportunity to learn about the infamous prospector’s past, but I also had the chance to mine alongside him.
During our adventure, I learned about the local geology and experienced the vast wilderness that makes Revelstoke a world-class destination, all while pulling giant sapphire specimens out of the earth. I am convinced, that over the next few years, Herb Hyder’s aptly named Blue Jay claim will produce stunning sapphire crystal specimens, as well as lapidary material.
Herb announced to the world via social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook the discovery on the very day it occurred, April 13, 2019. The moment I saw photos of these crystals, I was amazed. The crystals exhibited the most unique concentric hexagonal structure and chatoyance. I immediately set up an interview with this young prospector to see what he had going on in British Columbia, Canada. A week later, I had my bags packed and passport in hand. Luckily for me, British Columbia is only a day’s drive from my home. The weather was perfect, and the drive through the mountains was beautiful.
The afternoon of my arrival, Herb and I met up in Revelstoke and exchanged quick introductions before heading out into the remote wilderness to see his new claim. After a long drive down winding dirt roads, we arrived at camp just before sundown. We hastily got a fire going while preparing dinner and chatting up a storm. Interestingly enough, as we were sitting by the fire a grouse came running out of the brush! The chatty bird ended up joining us every day for breakfast and dinner.
The following morning Herb and I woke early and hiked to the sapphire claim. With the discovery being so recent, both of us were excited to get to the claim, assess the situation and see what we could collect. As an added bonus, the hike provided the perfect opportunity for me to learn more about Herb’s past and discover what brought him down the path he is on currently.
Path to Rockhounding Starts Early
Herb’s mother was from Maine, and as a child, he spent quite a bit of time there. It was in this state, at the age of five, he had his first experience digging gemstones. He often collected rose quartz from the local pegmatites and has been hooked ever since.
Growing up in a financially challenging environment, as a teenager Herb found a way to make money doing what he knew best. At this point in time, his family was living in Nelson, British Columbia, where his father ran a jeweler’s shop. Herb told me he would climb the mountain behind his father’s shop and collect quartz specimens to take back down and sell. His entrepreneurship helped feed his family.
Early in his adult life, Herb began working as a prospector for mining companies. Over the years, he’s worked in Mexico, the U.S., and Canada, hiking all over the countryside searching for deposits of gold, silver, and rare earth minerals for mining companies. Often, the locations were so remote he had to be flown in by helicopter.
However, things took a turn in 2012, during the economic recession, and Herb found himself without consistent work. That situation prompted Herb to approach things differently, and he began creating work for himself, by traveling greater British Columbia prospecting for gem deposits and staking claims. Since then he’s started making a name for himself, and people are starting to notice. He is quickly becoming one of Canada’s most well-known prospectors.
Relying on Ingenuity and Instinct
Given his sapphire discovery, among others, it’s easy to see why people are paying attention. While Herb may not have struck it rich yet, he still follows his passion and is doing what he loves; even if that means living out of his truck from time to time. His commitment to living his dream is leading to the discovery of gemstones that would likely never make it out of the earth.
In the mountains surrounding the greater Revelstoke area, Herb has found deposits of iolite, smokey quartz, amethyst, fluorite, aquamarine, graphite and now sapphire. Herb’s also credited with other noteworthy gem discoveries, including an Isometric claim, which has been since sold. In the isometric claim area, Herb found lovely green and purple color-changing fluorite. He is also responsible for finding some of Mt. Odin’s best amethyst and smoky quartz crystals. Plus, his iolite claim produces large fist-sized nodules, which contain zones of large gem-facet grade material.
After learning more about Herb during our hike, we made it to the sapphire deposit high in the mountains. The best way to describe it is being on a steep hillside up against a rock wall full of sapphires and garnets. You would never know it existed unless you stumbled upon the spot, which Herb did. Upon our arrival, it was clear the deposit is highly crystallized.
Herb directed me to the wall and explained the geology. The corundum sapphire crystals at this locality are the crystallized form of aluminum oxide. The vibrant blue color of these gems happens when the corundum is rich in iron and titanium. The optical chatoyant effect seen in these gems happens when many very thin parallel inclusions occur. Light is reflected back and forth between these bands, which creates a “silky” effect. While this material is highly chatoyant, we have not seen it show an asterism yet. An asterism is what creates a “star” effect. It’s highly likely this effect will be observed in the near future, as this new gem makes its way into the lapidary market and many beautiful stones come to light.
Head-Down Hard-Rock Mining
The majority of the mountain where the deposit is located is made of metamorphic gneiss created from the tectonic action of the Shuswap metamorphic complex. In addition, this area is in a zone where nepheline syenite was accumulated and created an area rich in corundum (sapphire) and garnet crystals of large size. Nepheline syenite is a feldspathoid type rock, and you can visibly see feldspar crystals growing along with corundum crystals. While the deposit was easy to see, Herb could only collect so much without having to start hard rock mining.
Eventually, he expects to begin hard rock mining. In preparation, he’s begun removing all dirt and boulders that have built up against the rock face. Once that is complete, he can create a bench by drilling back into the rock where he can stand. In this fashion, he will be able to systematically work the claim. During my visit, there appeared to be 5 to 10 feet of rocks and dirt that would need to be removed before more rock wall would be exposed. Revealing more of the wall helps determine how far down the deposit extends. It’s a near certainty that while digging through all this material more sapphires will be retrieved.
Fortunately for me, I was able to assist with this while I was there. We grabbed shovels and started digging straight down toward the rock wall. This created a natural bench, which gave us flat ground to work from. We used all the dirt we dug to create a tailings pile that was directed away from the area. Every now and again we would uncover a piece or a full sapphire crystal. This was enough to keep us digging. However, we also had to remember we had an equally important goal: to dig through and reach the rock wall.
Toward the end of the day of the first day, we uncovered a hundred-pound boulder full of sapphire crystals! It took Herb over an hour to break down this boulder and recover all the crystals that naturally dislodged from the metamorphic matrix. Many of the crystals revealed a bright blue and silver chatoyance and presented with a good crystal structure. They also appeared to be stacked and intergrown. I was amazed at the number of crystals in the rock were in that rock. After a busy first day, we headed out.
The next day we decided to take a break and visit a nearby hot spring to relax. This was exactly what was needed before another day of digging.
Boulders Offer Sapphires Aplenty
Our digging experience during the third day was similar to our first day, as we hit another large 100-pound boulder full of sapphires. Up until then, we were happy enough with the progress. However, this put us over the top with excitement. We knew there would be good specimens coming from that boulder.
As my last day drew to a close, we packed up and made our way back down the mountain, with backpacks full of fabulous sapphire specimens. Once we arrived at our vehicles, we took one last look at what we found and photographed our finds.
While the end of this digging adventure came too soon, I was very happy to have had the chance to meet and dig with Herb and purchase a few of the amazing sapphire specimens to take with me. Once I returned home, I took to my preparation and lapidary shop and got to work on the sapphires. Just as Herb and I had discussed, there is huge potential with these fantastic gems. I made many cabochons from the rough broken crystals and was pleased to see they all exhibited vivid silver chatoyance and stunning blue and silvery grey growth patterns.
They will certainly be popular once they hit the market as a lapidary stone. In addition, these giant sapphire crystal specimens will make great additions to museums and private collections everywhere. Because the sapphires are found locked in a metamorphic host rock, they can be prepared to be very aesthetic and oftentimes break apart from the rock in a perfect manner. Their natural cleavage makes for a perfect window into the stone, revealing its growth patterns and chatoyance.
Seize the Opportunity
My trip up to Revelstoke and the time I spent with Canadian prospector Herb Hyder proved to be extraordinary. I enjoyed getting to know him and having the opportunity to witness the local geology firsthand while collecting with the man who found the spot mere days before.
The story of Blue Jay Claim continues to evolve. Recently, claim ownership changed from discoverer Herb Hyder to Chris Robak.
Robak worked out a deal with Hyder to take over ownership and operations. This move allows Hyder the money and freedom to focus on his is true passion — prospecting!
Chris Robak intends to share Canada’s mineral specimen wealth with those throughout the world. This venture will certainly enable him to fulfill that destiny.
In addition to owning and operating three Alberta-based storefronts, as Silver Cove Ltd., Chris and his wife, Melissa, also coordinate dozens of gem shows that take place throughout the year in Canada.
This story about sapphire discovery appeared in Rock & Gem magazine. Click here to subscribe. Story by Stuart Tate Wilson.