Saturday, June 12, 2021

Family heirlooms 30 years in the making

| February 7, 2021 12:00 AM

Nearly 30 years ago, my family took a trip to Gem Mountain in Philipsburg to mine for sapphires and garnets.

The kids do not recall this adventure since our son was in a baby carrier on my husband’s back and our daughter was toddling around our feet while we sifted through buckets of dirt — a pleasant, inexpensive way to wile away a sunny summer afternoon.

After we’d separated the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, staff directed us to the retail store where knowledgeable gemologists would recommend which stones were worth heat treating and faceting to be turned into keepsake jewelry.

We were on a tight budget, though, as many young families are, and left with our rocks unexamined, content with the experience and the family road trip.

Years later — around 2012-2013 — I was pulling off a glove at my desk at the newspaper when it snagged, I assumed, on my modest engagement ring diamond. When I removed the glove the prongs contained nothing — the diamond was missing. I and several of my coworkers searched high and low for that little bit of carbon, to no avail. I called my husband and gave him the bad news.

An hour or so later, he called me back. He’d used a flashlight on the floor at home and found that diamond embedded in a hallway rug! We were elated but, alas, we didn’t take the ring into to have the setting rebuilt due to the expense … that is, until 2016 when we returned to Philipsburg, having decided to finally find out just what hidden treasures we’d found in those raw sapphires nearly 30 years ago. We brought our stash into the Sapphire Gallery and the gemologist found five raw sapphires of value, along with several decent garnets. We left the sapphires at the shop for heat treating and paid to have them mailed back to us a few months later.

Of the five sapphires, two were roughly oval and nearly identical in size. The other three were of varying sizes and predominantly round.

In early 2017 we took the heat treated, yet unfaceted stones back to the shop and arranged to have the two oval ones emerald cut, and the other three round cut.

Now, a long, long time ago my mother had given me her original gold wedding band, so slender it had been reshaped into an oval from years of her wearing it. We’d brought that with us along with my original gold engagement ring, also slim, to the shop. We asked the gallery to melt the gold and blend the two rings into one band, and had them build a setting for a new ring that would include my engagement diamond (which had been patiently lying in wait for several years) flanked by the larger, lovely deep blue sapphires we’d found with our young children at our side so many years ago. I now have a precious keepsake engagement ring with a pretty neat story behind it.

As for the three other sapphires?

Two of them were placed in a silver necklace we designed ourselves, and which our son drew up using a graphic design program on his computer. We then took our design to O’Keefe Jewelry in Whitefish, which created the lovely, unique necklace our daughter wore the day she was married.

The final one, the largest of the three, is reserved for our son, if he so chooses, to have made into a ring one day for his future fiancee.

How wonderful it is to think that from one summer afternoon some 30 years ago those sapphires would one day weave themselves into our family’s history so beautifully and in such a loving, lasting way.

Community Editor Carol Marino can be reached at