The ghost town of the Kennecott mines sits north of the McCarthy airport, in the Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve 120 miles northeast of Cordova, Alaska. These Kennecott mines were once the largest copper mines in the world. In 1916, at their peak, the mines were valued at $32.4 million. During their years of production, the mines produced over $200 million worth of copper ore. Recently, the Kennecott mines have been the talk of the town for a completely different reason – a rare mineral called covellite. This remarkable gem, indigenous from the last mining frontier, leaves spectators emotionally moved from the beauty and energy it possesses.
Gem-quality covellite is extremely rare, but one lucky owner, Rosemary Libert of Skagway, said she just happened to be "in the right place at the right time” and has created a line of covellite jewelry called Star of Alaska for other people to enjoy.
The history of how Rosemary got her hands on her collection of covellite is shocking.
The History of the Kennecott Mines
It is well known to native Alaskans that high-grade covellite can be found in the Kennecott mines. However, the mines are officially closed for scavenging since becoming a national landmark in 1986.
In 1902, Stephan Birch, a mining engineer, invested in the Kennecott area believing it to be one of the richest known concentrations of copper in the world. He teamed up with JP Morgan & Co. and the Guggenheim family (known as the Alaska Syndicate) to establish the booming mining town in the remote wilderness of the St. Elias mountain range, hiring Michael J. Heney from the White Pass & Yukon Railroad in Skagway to build the railroad to transport the ore out. The mining town consisted of 5 mines with over 200 workers that worked the mines alone. Another 300-500 people worked in town manning hospitals, general stores, schools, and even an ice skating rink. The town itself was self-sufficient because of the vast amount of money the copper mines produced. However, when profits began to decline during the Great Depression, and railroad repairs began to increase, the owners of the Kennecott mines decided to slowly shut down the mines one-by-one. On November 10, 1938 the very last copper shipment train rolled out of Kennecott leaving behind nothing but abandoned buildings.
What is Covellite?
Covellite is a mineral of indigo-blue color, sometimes found with glimmering streaks of gold pyrite or "fool’s gold”, found in enriched sulfide zones of copper deposits (i.e. copper mines). The gem is named after the geologist who originally found it in Mt. Vesuvius ash in Italy – Nicola Covelli. Gem quality covellite is extremely rare, and further, Alaska is not known to have large covellite deposits. In addition to its deep indigo color, the naturally occurring veining pattern within covellite compliments both silver and gold, making it a valuable gem for jewelry makers.
Some believe that the energy released from covellite encourages positive thoughts and behaviors. It has been said that covellite connects one to a higher self that helps transform your dreams into reality by pushing out negative thoughts within the mind. Some even believe that the stone heightens psychic abilities and some psychics use covellite as a tool to help with the expression of divine communication. Rosemary, who describes herself as being "on the fence about the supernatural,” says that there is something powerful about the stone. "I have customers who will hover their hands over the stone to feel it’s energy and I can tell they are moved by the power of the stone. It’s unbelievable.”
Why Is Alaskan Covellite Rare?
Alaskan covellite is among the highest-grade covellite known, increasingly rare and highly sought after by gem collectors. The production from the Kennecott mines is considered the finest quality covellite in the world because it was found in large, pure, massive pieces, which isn’t common for the mineral. Covellite has not been mined in Alaska since the closing of the Kennecott mines in 1938, making it increasingly difficult to source it.
A Hidden Treasure at an Estate Sale
Rosemary Libert first came to Alaska 35 years ago after deciding to see the world alphabetically. Starting with the A’s, she took a job in Skagway, Alaska with the National Park Service as an interpreter and backcountry ranger. It was here that she met her husband and raised their five children. Rosemary currently owns Lynch & Kennedy, a gallery that showcases Alaska’s finest art, and is constantly searching for raw materials that are indigenous to the Alaskan wilderness. She jumped at the chance to get her hands on a supply of covellite when she heard that a supply was for sale at an estate sale.
"I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” she explained when asked how she acquired her collection for her Star of Alaska line.
"I purchased 100 pounds from a partner at an estate sale. It’s special because there are large pieces and sourcing the material is difficult because it’s not mined anymore. I got really lucky.”
After holding on to the material for a while, Rosemary partnered with longtime Alaskan jeweler, Orocal, to create her newest collection, Star of Alaska.
Rosemary is a perfect example of a person affected by the positive powers of covellite. She dreamed of a jewelry line that was new, fresh, and that told a story about Alaska. Rosemary transformed her dream into a reality when she created the Star of Alaska jewelry line.
When asked about the vision behind it Rosemary explained, "I wanted a jewelry line that told a story. Right now I am working on a line that is based off of the Northwest Passage. My jewelry has to mean something outside of just being a piece of jewelry; of course it has to have a design element, but to me it has to have a story. I wanted a product that was more relevant for Alaska.”
Where You Can Find Star of Alaska Jewelry
The Star of Alaska covellite jewelry line was born from estate pieces mined at Kennecott and its raw beauty reflects its local lineage, fully indigenous from the last frontier. For those looking for a piece of jewelry that beautifully captures the wonders of the wide open Alaskan skies and expansive wilderness, the Star of Alaska is perfect: intense beauty, rare quality, and locally sourced.
Only a few galleries carry authentic Star of Alaska (click below to buy online):
(2) Omni Jewelers owned and operated by Indresh Chawla