Korite finds rare gems in Alberta

Ammolite is brilliantly rainbow-coloured and found on fossilized ammonite, a squid-like fossil

by Jillian Clark
Ammolite is rainbow-coloured even in its raw form.

Ammolite is rainbow-coloured even in its raw form. — Photo courtesy Korite

Korite, a Calgary-based mining company, has discovered a rare gem called ammolite in Southern Alberta. Ammolite is brilliantly rainbow-coloured and found on fossilized ammonite, a squid-like fossil. “The ammonite shell is found in the Bearspaw formation, which is in some places 300 feet below the surface around Lethbridge, Alberta,” said Jay Maull, president of Korite. Fortunately, the St. Mary River cuts through the formation. “There are places where you can find it on the riverbanks,” Maull said.

Thirty years ago, no one knew what ammolite was. The 70-million-year-old fossil is found all over the world, but the perfect conditions of Southern Alberta have transformed the common fossil into a rare gem.

The original founders wanted to share their rainbow-coloured discovery with the world. “It all started selling to the tourists in Banff, Calgary, Jasper and Lake Louise,” Maull said. “Now, we sell the gemstone in 28 countries around the world.” Korite works to help promote Canada and Alberta tourism to the world. “We love the stone and where it comes from.”

The gems are known as a Canadian rarity. “When we promote the stone around the world, we promote Canada. We promote Alberta. We promote Canadian heritage,” said Maull. “We are 100 per cent Canadian-owned.” Korite works with Canadian designers to create their jewelery. The team is the official licensed jewelery supplier for Canada’s 150th birthday, and have created a reasonably priced special edition collection.

Korite is the official jeweller for Canada's 150th birthday.

Korite is the official jeweller for Canada's 150th birthday. — Photo courtesy Korite

Aside from its brilliant colour, ammolite is said to have significant feng shui properties. “Feng shui masters around the world believe that this stone has absorbed the cosmic energy for the last 70 million years,” said Maull. “When it’s placed in the heart of the home or the business, the positive energy radiates out from the shell, pushing the bad energy out of the space.”

The demand for ammolite grew quickly. “After the original founders had picked up everything that they could, they decided that they had to go and mine for it,” Maull said. “They found areas beside the river where Mother Nature had removed some of that 300 feet of overburden, making it economical to mine. Now where we mine, we only remove about 90 feet of overburden before we get to the formation.” 

The World Gemstone Federation recognizes this uniquely Canadian gem because of its rarity. “It had to be shown to have a commercial value, that it was sustainable as a gemstone, and that it was legally procured,” Maull said. At its current rate of consumption, Korite estimates there is about 50 years of the ammolite deposit still uncovered.

Throughout the mining process, Korite has strived to maintain ethical and environmentally friendly practices. “Korite takes great pride in its environmental stewardship,” said Maull. “We leave the land in better condition that it was when we arrived.”

Aside from replacing removed soil and replanting grass, Korite works closely with Alberta Environment to go above and beyond to improve the landscape when an ammolite mining operation is complete. “At our last mine site, we proposed a new contour to prevent the land from washing away, and so that it was more environmentally friendly for the farmer to use after we were done,” said Maull. “Alberta Environment agreed with us. We actually improved the land.”

The demand for Korite’s ammolite gems has created a handful of jobs for Southern Albertans as well: “In the last six months we’ve hired about 15 new staff and we plan to hire 10 to 15 more over the next 12 months,” Maull said.

Korite’s rainbow gems and jewelery are available online through the company's website, and at jewellers across the country.

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