Professional Jeweler Archive: Yukon Green

December 2002

Gemstones & Pearls/News

Yukon Green

True North, a company formed to mine the first emeralds discovered in Canada, is rolling out its initial finds

Flying by helicopter over the Yukon’s wild Pelly Mountains, you see endless miles of pine groves and shimmering lakes. Clearings reveal caribou herds, an occasional startled moose and grizzly bears. “Now and then,” the pilot says, “a spiteful grizzly will stand on its hind legs and taunt the helicopter, beckoning the ‘beast’ to come down for a scuffle.” The pilot knows better than to do so. Grizzly bears have long, vengeful memories and could eventually convert a miner into coleslaw.

The helicopter instead loops around the bear and heads toward Canada’s first emerald mine – Regal Ridge, located near Finlayson Lake, northeast of Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory.

It was from a helicopter, in fact, that Yukon’s first emeralds were discovered in August 1998. A field engineer for Expatriate Resources Inc., Bill Wengzynowski, reportedly landed his helicopter on a green outcrop he spotted from above. He wondered whether it could be malachite, which would point to a copper deposit. The outcrop contained enough green crystals, as the story goes, to color that section of the mountain green. Wengzynowski collected two sample kilos for further examination. It was emerald.

Safe Beneath the Permafrost

Expatriate Resources later conducted soil grids and trenching, determining the emerald outcrop to be 700 by 400 meters (roughly 70 acres). But the company had base-metal projects (for which it was better suited) on its hands, and sold the property to True North. Company officials say they’ve raised enough money (up to $2 million so far) to conduct core sampling and plotted mechanical stripping with a massive backhoe laboriously transported to the site during the dry season.

Wrapping up the second year of operation, officials say about six tons of ore have been processed. But in the Yukon, a “year” lasts only three months – June through August. “After that, the snows set in,” says William Rohtert, a new member of True North’s board.

Of the emeralds found at Regal Ridge so far, 5% are gem quality, 10% are near-gem and 85% are non-gem. By comparison, Colombian sources produce 30% gem grade. The new Canadian mine’s statistics are remarkable because of the short mining season and the fact the emeralds found so far are basically surface material, located in frost-shatter and oxidation zones.

That 5% of gem-quality crystals have endured centuries of freeze/thaw cycles is a minor miracle in itself. Emerald crystals, which are brittle to begin with, are ravaged by the type of weather experienced in the Yukon, ranging from minus 50&Mac251;C in the winter to 80&Mac251; in the summer. What has True North geologists buzzing, however, is the rich possibility of what lies under the permafrost. Bernard Gaboury, a geologist, gem-cutter and part-owner of the mine, says he’s encouraged by a new zone he and associates worked this year. “In this short time, we’re light years ahead of where we were last year,” he says.

Rohtert says if all goes well, full production is planned for 2004. Washing and sorting belts, already operational, are expected to yield increasing quantities of emerald as exploration slices deeper into the Cretacious granites and basalts under the permafrost.

Yukon Emeralds

While the surface material is heavily flawed, many of the crystals are bright, chromium-rich green. Assuming qualities will get better and sizes bigger as mining burrows deeper, Canadian emeralds have a fair to excellent chance of succeeding in the market. In addition to these factors, they follow on the coattails of Canadian diamond successes, they’re the first discovered in Canada and they’re far away from areas of conflict or political turmoil.

• True North, West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; (800) 399-8055.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

The Regal Ridge property, viewed by helicopter, is in its second year of a feasibility study. Emerald production from this new metamorphic deposit is expected to start in earnest in 2004. Photo by Robert Weldon.
A handful of Canadian emerald crystals are chromium-rich bright green. Material mined so far is mainly from surface deposits, where they were exposed to Canada’s temperature extremes. The largest faceted emeralds from Regal Ridge are a 0.50-ct. round brilliant cut and a 2.08-ct. cabochon. Photo by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2002 by Bond Communications