Original Published 10:00 Mar 31, 2022
By Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As ammolite is set to become Alberta’s official gemstone, stores are reminding buyers that they can pick up their own sample of ammolite in Jasper.
Ammolite is a vibrant gemstone formed from an ancient marine fossil called ammonite and found predominantly in southern Alberta.
“Ammolite is an important part of our heritage and economy,” said Ron Orr, Alberta’s minister of culture, in a press release.
“Recognizing ammolite as Alberta’s official gemstone reflects the unique nature of the stone and of our province, and helps to fulfill recommendation 25 of the Fair Deal Panel.”
The eye-catching colors in ammolite are what separate it from ammonite, which is found all over the world.
Closer to home, ammonites lived in an inland sea east of the Rocky Mountains.
After sinking to the seabed, the mud that covered ammonites hardened over millions of years to become shale.
Ammonite shells have been collected by Plains First Nations for a thousand years, and are still collected by Blackfoot communities for sacred purposes.
The shell properties, combined with southern Alberta’s unique geology, transformed many ammonite shells into the ammolite that is mined and used for jewelry today.
Ammolite was given gemstone status in 1981 and has been a popular item in Jasper stores for years.
Our Native Land has carried ammolite products since 2000.
The store’s collection is extensive, from pendants to rings to earrings in gold settings and silver settings, and encased in mammoth ivory.
Owner/operator Harry Schuurmans gets ammolite products from the three largest Canadian manufacturers of ammolite: Korite, Aurora and Solid Gold.
“By dealing with the largest producers of ammolite, you have more to choose from as a buyer, which gives customers more choice,” Schuurmans said.
“Each piece is unique, so there’s a good chance you can find whatever colour combination you desire.”
Our Native Land also carries ammolite fossils.
“Just like the jewelry, there’s different colour combinations and sizes,” Schuurmans said.
Jasper Rock & Jade has carried ammolite products since 1979.
Owner/operator Anna Murray said she recalled the unique way one of the original store owners, Tom Wright, was introduced to ammolite.
“Tom was in the shop one day and the founder of Korite, Rene Vandervelde, came in; he was out for a jog,” she said.
“He popped in, had a chat with Tom. He said he’d come back with something to show Tom.”
It wasn’t long before Jasper Rock & Jade was stocked with ammolite.
“We’ve carried ammolite ever since,” Murray said.
“Although we no longer carry Korite jewelry, we do carry a beautiful selection of free form ammolite jewellery – rings and pendants.”
Murray noted though that the natural raw pieces the store carries were the most popular items.
Timberwolf Rocky Mountain Emporium began selling ammolite jewelry in late 1995.
Owners Dina Virlas and Brian Stevens said in an email that what started off as a handful of pieces in a showcase that no one heard of has grown into showcases upon showcases filled with hundreds of different ammolite creations.
“Unceasingly breathtaking, pieces are set in gold, silver, and many other mediums,” the email read.
“It is truly exquisite jewelry. Like a fingerprint, no two pieces are identical, making it even more remarkable. Every piece speaks to someone. One person may see a landscape or another the shoreline, most are just be captivated by the vibrant colors and how they transition in different light.”
Previous owner Dave Hamdi recalled a time when ammolite had just been introduced to the market, and he spent a lot of time with customers explaining in great detail what ammolite is and how it came to be.
“We would never tire, because it was the most exciting new gemstone to hit the market place, and most of all, it was uniquely Canadian,” Hamdi said.
“Through the years, we watched all our Canadian products go overseas to be manufactured. Ammolite was the one item we knew could and would stand the test of time, remaining 100-per-cent Canadian, but more so Albertan. It only makes sense that Alberta officially declare it the Alberta stone.”
Virlas and Stevens said jewelry is the most popular ammolite option for them, but added that small fragmented specimens and occasionally whole specimens were also highly sought after.
“Often, we hear from customers that their purchase is meant as an heirloom. Ammolite is a piece of our prehistoric history that has been revived in a very unique way.”
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge carries ammolite manufactured by Korite.
Matthew Magtoto, marketing manager, said in an email how ammolite is one of Fairmont’s selection of authentic Canadian products.
“What’s more authentic than a gemstone found in Alberta?” he said.
“The Fairmont store chose to carry this wonderful stone because of its heritage and its meaning to what we call home.
“Ammolite reflects the light in an array of gorgeous rainbow colours. From the gemstone’s natural alluring beauty to its rarity, it is the perfect example of what Alberta is – Canada’s gem.”
Magtoto noted ammolite is revered by feng shui masters.
Magtoto said the Fairmont Store in Jasper carries ammolite earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings.
“They also carry fossils that are both luxurious and charismatic,” he said.
“These magnificent fossils have caught the attention of our shoppers and we would say (it) is the most popular item in the store.”
This item reprinted with permission from the Jasper Fitzhugh, Jasper, Alberta