Ammonites are fossils of extinct molluscs or ancient snails, millions of years old. They resemble the modern nautilus. Their spiral shape also looks like ram's horns. Ammonite comes from the name given to them by the Roman, Pliny the Elder (d.79 AD) - ammonis cornua or "horns of Ammon" after the Egyptian god Ammon/Amon/Amun whose sacred animal was the ram. A splendid and enormous (2 feet in diameter) ammonite is on display at the New York's Museum of Natural History.

It is the opal-like iridescent shelled ammonites which are prized for jewelry. Although ammonites can be found worldwide, ammolite the gemstone quality version can only be found mainly in one small spot in southern Alberta. Indeed it is the official gemstone of this Canadian province . Korite International is the Alberta based mining company that first produced ammolite. Ammolite is thus extremely rare and high grade supplies are limited. This mine currently produces over 90% of the world's supply and they estimate it will all run out in about 20 years unless another deposit is found somewhere else.

An example of Korite International jewelry is shown in the above picture (source). Below is a picture of raw ammolite. Ammolite is like the nacreous material of pearls so it is soft and delicate. Sometimes the gemstones is capped with a spinel in jewelry to protect it.

How expensive is it? Very. On her holiday to Vancouver earlier this summer, Debbie (my co-instructor, Widget's Beads) hastily put back the tiny (half the size of her pinkie nail) ammolite earrings she was eyeing because they cost $700! Still determined to possess ammolite, she purchased a cross-sectioned ammonite shell pendant (below left). Later in the summer, she came across a vendor who was selling ammolite pendants which were not in the popular reddish hues. As he was also selling them half-price, she finally got her genuine ammolite pendant for $28 (below right)!

Debbie is very smug about this because all I have of ammolite is a Korite International brochure someone picked up for me some years ago! Darn.

The Beading Gem's Journal