By Ian King
Canadian ammolite is a rare and unique gemstone which originates from the fossilized nacre of extinct ammonites in Alberta. It is a rare and valuable organic gemstone, with only a few deposits found in the world—the most significant being in southern Alberta.
What makes Canadian ammolite jewellery so unique is the range of colours and patterns it displays, ranging from brilliant greens and blues to rich reds and oranges. It is even capable of displaying iridescent colours that shift and change when viewed from different angles. This colourful property is caused by light reflecting off the microscopic layers of aragonite crystals that make up the gemstone.
Ammolite was discovered in the late 1800s by miners east of the Rocky Mountains; however, it was not until the 1980s that the gemstone gained recognition and earned its status as valuable and collectible. Today, ammolite is considered one of the rarest gemstones in the world, with a finite supply that is primarily available in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. More recently, in March of 2022, ammolite was recognized by the Government of Alberta as the province’s official gemstone, further strengthening the ties between this remarkable stone and Wild Rose Country.
Today, ammolite is primarily found in the Bearpaw Formation of southern Alberta, where it is mined by a select group of licensed professionals. While smaller deposits have been discovered around the world, including in the United States and Russia, the quality and quantity of ammolite found in Alberta is unparalleled.
Harvesting and processing ammolite is delicate and intricate. The gemstone is first extracted from the ground, often by hand, and then carefully cut and polished to bring out its true beauty. Due to its fragility and rarity, only a small percentage of the ammolite that is mined is deemed suitable for use in jewellery, making the final product even more valuable and prized.
Minimizing environmental impact and supporting local community is integral to the ammolite mining process. As such, Korite, the largest commercial producer of ammolite, works closely with miners to ensure the gemstone is mined and processed in a responsible and sustainable manner. When a suitable site is discovered, the land is carefully excavated to allow for the extraction of ammolite gemstones without disturbing the nearby land. When mining is finished, the land and sites are restored completely to their natural state.
Ammolite properties and value
Ammolite’s unique beauty is characterized by its vibrant colours, iridescence, and stunning patterns. These properties make it a highly sought-after gemstone, prized by jewellery designers for its versatility and natural beauty.
Ammolite has a hardness of 3.5 to 4.5 on the Mohs scale, making it soft compared to other gemstones. Nonetheless, it is still durable enough to be used in jewellery with proper care. In some cases, manufacturers will opt to use a quartz cap to protect the stone for daily wear on items such as rings.
Due to its rarity, the value of ammolite is higher than most gemstones. The gemstone is graded based on its colour, pattern, and quality of finish, with the highest-grade being AAA (Figure 1).
Nonetheless, each stone is as unique as a fingerprint, displaying a range of colours that vary in intensity and hue. Standard grade stones typically display one or two colours, while A-grade stones feature two or more colours in brighter tones. AA-grade stones boast three or more bright colours, and AAA-grade stones display three or more vibrant colours from any angle. These can include a stunning array of hues, from fiery reds and oranges to deep greens and blues. The scarcity of high-quality ammolite means the price for each grade varies, with AAA grade being the most sought after.
The occurrence of different colours in ammolite vary depending on the specific deposit. As a general rule, at lower grades, greens tend to dominate, along with possible reds and oranges. As the grade increases, a wider range of colours can be seen, including blues, violets, and other vibrant hues. This is because higher-grade ammolite stones tend to exhibit more saturated colours overall, with a greater range of tones.
Iniskim and ammolite’s significance with First Nations
Ammolite holds significant cultural and spiritual value to the Blackfoot people, an Indigenous community in North America. The gemstone is found exclusively in the Bearpaw Formation in southern Alberta, and the Blackfoot people have inhabited this region for thousands of years. As such, ammolite has been a part of the community’s cultural heritage and way of life for generations.
According to Blackfoot tradition, the gemstone represents the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Additionally, ammolite (also known as Iniskim or ‘the buffalo stone’) is also seen as a symbol of protection and good luck for the hunt. According to Blackfoot mythology, the Iniskim was created by the Great Spirit to help the Blackfoot people survive during times of hardship and famine.
The story of the Iniskim begins with the Great Spirit appearing to a young woman in a dream and instructing her to tell the Blackfoot people to perform a ceremonial dance. The dance was to be performed until the Great Spirit sent a special stone to the Blackfoot people.
The stone sent was the Iniskim, which was said to have the power to attract buffalo herds to the Blackfoot people’s hunting grounds. The Iniskim was also believed to bring good luck and prosperity to those who possessed it.
The Blackfoot people revere the Iniskim and treat it with profound respect. Historically, it was often carried by hunters on their hunting expeditions and was also used in healing ceremonies and other rituals.
Today, the Iniskim is still considered a sacred object by the Blackfoot people and continues to be an important part of their culture and traditions. The stone is believed to hold the wisdom and power of the Great Spirit, and its significance is passed down from generation to generation through storytelling and other cultural practices.
In addition to its spiritual significance, ammolite is also an important economic resource for the Blackfoot people. Ammolite is used in jewellery, art, and other decorative objects, and is in high demand by collectors around the world.
Canadian ammolite jewellery is highly valued for its unique beauty and rarity. Additionally, because the finite supply of ammolite is estimated to run out within the next century, its value is only set to increase with time. As such, owning a piece of ammolite jewellery is not only a beautiful addition to any collection, but also represents a wise investment for the future.
Among the most important aspects of ammolite jewellery design is the cutting and setting of the stone. Skilled artisans must carefully consider its size, shape, and colour to create a setting that best accentuates the gem’s natural beauty.
Matching the colours and patterns of ammolite is also crucial in creating beautiful jewellery pieces. Some jewellery designers may choose to highlight the entire spectrum of colours, while others may, instead, focus on a specific hue or pattern to create a cohesive design. In many ways, the properties and allure of this gem push designers to think outside the box when creating pieces.
Canadian ammolite jewellery tells one-of-a-kind stories, with each piece reflecting the beauty and history of the gemstone itself. Whether a piece is simple and elegant or more intricate and detailed, each design is in itself historic, as it is represents and showcases a treasure of Canada.
A piece of history
The delicate process of extracting and processing ammolite requires skilled artisans to cut and set the stone in a way that sufficiently displays its natural beauty. The importance of matching the colours and patterns of ammolite cannot be understated, as it adds to the overall esthetic of the jewellery piece. Additionally, the unique stories behind each ammolite piece make it even more special, reflecting the gemstone’s history and beauty.
For jewellers, ammolite is an incredible addition for any showcase. Ethically sourced in Canada, these stunning, high-value pieces offer a one-of-kind look and sure to impress even the most selective customer.
Ian King is an experienced marketing professional, currently serving as a marketing and e-commerce director at Korite. King is highly skilled in crafting and executing successful marketing strategies for the ammolite industry. He collaborated closely with the ammolite experts at Korite, leveraging their knowledge and insights to create this article. For more, visit korite.com.