The print version of this story incorrectly had Craig Scott talking about ammolite. He was in fact discussing ammonites, the creatures whose shells became ammolite. This story has been corrected accordingly.
A St. Albert gem enthusiast hopes to see a bump in sales now that the province has moved to make an ancient rainbow shell the official gemstone of Alberta.
Alberta Culture Minister Ron Orr tabled Bill 6 in the provincial legislature March 17.
If passed, the bill would amend the Emblems of Alberta Act to designate ammolite as the official gemstone of Alberta.
The Blackfoot and other Plains First Nations have collected ammolite for millennia and consider some samples of it to be sacred, Orr said. Ammolite has been mined and sold for centuries, but was not recognized as an official gemstone by the World Jewelry Confederation until 1981.
“It is exceptional as Alberta itself is,” Orr said in a press conference.
Orr said passing this bill would recognize Alberta’s geological and cultural heritage and reflect Recommendation 25 of the Fair Deal Panel (which calls on the province to affirm the province’s cultural, economic, and political uniqueness in law).
Ammonites were squid-like creatures with disc-shaped shells found in an inland sea east of the Rockies about 75 million years ago, said Craig Scott, director of preservation and research at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
“Ammonites were once one of the most abundant organisms in the ancient seas of Alberta and elsewhere,” he said, and would have been easy prey for sharks and plesiosaurs (the extinct long-neck reptiles often associated with the Loch Ness Monster).
While ammonites themselves are valuable for ancient ocean research, millions of years of being compressed under Alberta’s unique geology sometimes transforms them into a type of ammolite not found anywhere else in the world, Scott said.
“It truly is unique to Alberta.”
The University of Alberta has hundreds of ammonites and a few samples of ammolite in its Paleontology Museum, said collections and museums administrator Lisa Budney. Often found in concretions of iron stone, ammonite becomes ammolite when minerals combine with shell proteins to refract light in just the right way.
“When the light interacts with that structure, we can see the colours of the rainbow,” Budney said.
Alberta is the only place in the world where ammolite is mined commercially, Budney said. The province tried to make ammolite its official gem in the early 2000s, but the required legislation never made it to a final vote.
Ammolite comes in different colours based on its location, said Luc Guillemette, who has many samples of it at Gemport in St. Albert. Albertan ammolite captures every colour in the spectrum, depending on how the light hits it, while Dakotan samples tend toward purple.
“The material is quite spectacular,” he said, and very easy to cut into jewelry.
Guillemette said ammolite is relatively soft and easily damaged, so most samples are capped with a protective resin. Larger samples, such as entire shells, are typically left intact, and can cost thousands of dollars.
Gillemette said he hopes these new amendments will encourage more people to invest in ammolite.
Alberta currently has an official flower (wild rose), grass (rough fescue), bird (great horned owl), tree (lodgepole pine), fish (bull trout), mammal (Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep), and stone (petrified wood) under the Emblems of Alberta Act. It also has an official flag, provincial colours, coat of arms, and tartan.