May 23, 2014
By Where Staff
Crystalline blue skies, forests of deep green, fiery red Indian paintbrush wildflowers and a vibrant yellow sun; nature paints the Canadian Rockies in radiant hues. Ammolite, a rare gemstone found only in southern Alberta, is imbued with these same brilliant colours.
Ammolite originates in the Bearpaw Formation east of the Rockies. This gemstone is made from ammonites, shelled creatures that inhabited inland seas 75 million years ago. The seas dried, millennia passed and the buried shells fossilized.
Blackfoot Indians gathered ammonites centuries ago; they believed the stones brought great fortune. In 1981 ammolite received official gem status from the World Jewellery Confederation (CIJBO).
A soft gem, ammolite often needs to be strengthened with stabilizers and reinforced with backing and capping. But sometimes ammolite fractured under the weight of the earth is sealed naturally with carbonate. ‘Natural’ ammolite is thick and not reinforced; it must be handled with care. More common are ‘doublets’ that have protective backs, and ‘triplets’ that also have a hard spinel or quartz cap on top.
More colourful ammolites command a higher price. Orange and green are more common than blue and purple. Multicolor stones are rare and more expensive than ammolite with only one or two colours. Valuable stones have sharp, bright colours that show brilliantly when angled in all directions. Natural patterns and textures give each ammolite stone a distinctive look, from smooth lustrous to unique fissure motifs.
While most people associate ammolite with jewellery, whole fossils and large chunks of polished ammolite can be displayed like sculptures.
Editor’s note: Local jewellers can share their knowledge of ammolite history, mining and manufacturing. They can provide advice to help you choose a stone that is right for you.