A Gem of Many Colors
Ammolite is treasured by connoisseurs and Feng Shui masters..
By Sheryl Jones
Buried within the layers of gray shale and sediment at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the southern part of Alberta, Canada, is ammolite, a unique gemstone in iridescent colors of vibrant red, orange, blue and green. It is a multicolored stone with different shades beginning and ending distinctively next to each other, contrasting and complementing at the same time.
Ammolite comes from the outer shell of the ammonite, an ancient marine mollusk. Ammonites were abundant in Canada during the Cretaceous period, about 65 million years ago. Remnants and fossils of this mollusk can be found all over the world. However, Richard Clowater, vice president of U.S. sales for Alberta-based Korite, a mining company and the largest commercial producer of ammonite, says, “Alberta is the only place in the world that ammolite gemstone can be found.”
Research has shown that there are several factors as to why ammolite is found in this region. The depth of sediment in which the ammonites are buried is deeper in Alberta along the St. Mary River than in other places. This may also contribute to the more vivid colors present in the ammolite. Finally, there is a great deal of iron and magnesium in the soil, which may be a factor as to how the stone was created from the shell.
Korite mines over 90 percent of the world’s total ammolite production, which is about 8 million carats a year. Mining ammolite doesn’t require blasting and deep mining like other minerals. Clowater describes the company’s efforts to mine ammolite with the goal of returning mined land to its original state: “There is no scientific way to identify the deposits, so we have to trench, drill core samples and do test holes to find it. We use heavy equipment to peel back the layers of overburden that get laid to the side. Once we find the ammolite, it becomes more of an archeological dig site with the gem material being meticulously removed with hand tools. Once it is unearthed, the layers are placed back along with the topsoil.” Clowater continues, “Lastly, we plant grasses native to the area before livestock and horses are returned to the pasture. After Korite has reclaimed the site, there is literally no way to tell we were ever there.”
While Korite is the largest mining operation, there are smaller companies that also mine ammolite along the St. Mary River. Tom Chant, president of Enchanted Designs, Ltd. and ammolitestones.com, also mines ammolite and produces finished jewelry. Noting problems that can affect mining, he says, “Water is the biggest impediment to mining, because if it rains a lot or all the snow melts, it goes down into the pit and the walls will cave in making mining impossible.”
Most of ammolite is made into triplets. Clowater points out, “Ammolite material is about 3.5 to 4.5 on the Mohs scale. When you add a spinel or quartz top, it increases the hardness to 8.5, making it much more durable.”
Ammolite earrings and pendants are most popular in ovals and teardrop shapes. Free-form shapes are also very popular, according to Clowater. Korite also offers decor items featuring ammolite gem fossils for wall hangings in various sizes up to 30 inches. Clowater notes, “Ammolite creates a stunning visual on the wall.” Chant also sells triplets and free-form shapes of ammolite and pieces set in mammoth ivory and dinosaur bone. The bold colors of the ammolite against the white mammoth ivory make the colors even more vivid.
Ammolite gemstones are marketed in three qualities, from AAA to A. The top-quality AAA, Clowater says, is comparable to a D flawless diamond. These stones are very rare, with vivid colors and no visible matrix. Ammolite sold as AA is extra bright in color and has fine matrix lines present. A is bright in color and has matrix lines present. According to Chant, “Ammolite triplets retail from about $200 and up, depending upon the quality.”
Ammolite was certified by the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO) in 1981. “Awareness has increased 300 percent over the past decade,” Clowater says. Chant has also seen a rise in demand. He concludes, “Companies like Diamonds International, which sell ammolite along the cruise ship ports, have helped to increase its popularity.”
Article from the Rapaport Magazine - February 2017. To subscribe click here.