Hoping to interest you in the story of a rare Canadian stone, called "the sleeping beauty of the gem world."In addition to a royalty-free story with a preface below, there is a new video that tells the story of KORITE ammolite, also for circulation and publication across any of your channels for audience interest.
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TITLE: The ‘Sleeping Beauty’ of the Gemstone WorldSUBHEAD: Calgary-based Korite International is the global leader in ammoliteproductionby Karen Rudolph DurrieThe pendant at her neck glows like a burst of rainbow fire. Its blazing coloursresemble the expressive handiwork of an artist.The gemstone in it — one of the rarest in the world — has been mined, cleaned, cut,polished, designed and set, all by hand.It’s taken literally millions of years and the work of many dedicated individuals tobring this uniquely Canadian work of art to market. It’s available today thanks to theexperts at Korite International, a Calgary-based company that created the ammoliteindustry 40 years ago.The Korite pendant is made from ammolite, an organic gemstone that was givenofficial gemstone status by the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO) ColouredStone Commission in 1981. Its beautiful face is the result of an amazing voyagethrough time.The journey began during the Cretaceous period, about 71 million years ago, in thewaters of the Bearpaw Sea that once covered parts of southern Alberta. Each pieceof ammolite began life as a squid-like creature called an ammonite. Ammonites wereprolific in those prehistoric waters, and as the sea retreated, their empty shells wereembedded in what’s called the Bearpaw Formation. The shells, ranging in size fromtiny up to more than three feet in diameter, were transformed into brilliantammolite thanks to the right combination of minerals, temperature, pressure andtime.Korite mines ammolite in the Bearpaw Formation, and is the world’s largestproducer of ammolite gemstones and ammonites. Southern Alberta ammolite is themost uniquely coloured anywhere, and the only variety that has official gemstonestatus. Ammolite is one of only two organic gemstones in the world — the other isthe pearl.The Discovery Channel, which produced a documentary on ammolite, called it the“sleeping beauty of the gem world.”Though ammolite is just hitting its stride as the world’s newest official gemstone, ithas long been revered in different cultural legends.Ammolite is found in Blackfoot Nation medicine bundles, where it’s known as“iniskim,” the sacred buffalo stone. The legend has a few versions, but one tells of afreezing winter when buffalo were scarce and the Blackfoot people were starving. Awoman heard singing in the trees, and followed it to find a piece of ammonite fossilresting on buffalo hair. The rounded stone resembled a sleeping buffalo. The stonespoke to her and told her to take it back to her camp and pray for the buffalo toreturn. The next morning, a herd of buffalo appeared on the plains. Since then, theBlackfoot have used ammolite for good fortune in hunting, and for use in healingand ceremonies.
DIGGING INTO HISTORYKorite’s mine is located a short distance from Lethbridge, just beyond flat-toppedsweetgrass prairie dotted with peaceful farmland. Adjacent to the mining site is theBlood Reserve, home to the Kainai Nation, with which Korite has worked over theyears.The prairie’s edges give way to impressively carved sandstone escarpments androlling hills as the terrain drops into the meandering St. Mary’s River valley. RenéTrudel, Korite’s wiry head of field operations, stands on a windy ridge overlookingthe company’s humming mining operation, remembering his first fossil-huntingexcursions with cousin Pierre Paré, one of Korite’s founders.“We found a notch on the bank. I saw a bright blue ammonite fossil, and I had noidea what it was or what I was doing, but we hauled it in backpacks uphill,” Trudelsays.Paré and his friend, the late René Vandevelde, had decided to turn their interest inpaleontology into a business. They purchased a young company from the Kormosfamily, keeping the name alive by calling it Korite.It was Vandevelde who lobbied to have ammolite declared an official gem. He beganshowing the vibrantly coloured stone to shops in Banff and Jasper, and the souvenirmarket quickly developed a taste for it. Soon, the market seemed insatiable.It was apparent that if the company wanted to grow, it needed to mine.When mining began in 1981, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Once the Albertagovernment realized the possibilities for ammolite, some policies changed.“When we started, the government said ‘wait a minute, this looks like the next goldrush,’ and took ownership of the mineral rights,” Trudel says. Korite now has arenewable lease agreement with the province on the lands it mines.Almost four decades later, Trudel is still working the field, having traded handdigging and canvas backpacks for overseeing excavators and workers on land nearthe St. Mary’s River.Like mechanical dinosaurs, the excavators claw delicately at layers of soft blackshale, sandstone and bentonite — strata of waxy volcanic soil that indicate fossilriches are likely near.Spotters work alongside each machine, checking each new dig and the pile ofscooped rock for flashes of colour and the telltale curved shapes of ammonite fossils.If these are spotted, excavation is halted and the rock is sorted through by hand.Fragments, flakes, flattened whole shells, and the most prized pieces of all — whole,three-dimensional ammonite shells that filled with sediment after landing on the seabottom — are pulled out, bagged and set aside in aluminum buckets.Finding even small amounts of this gemstone is painstaking and expensive work. The mine’s machines use 7,000 litres of fuel every two weeks.Some days, the labour barely fills a bucket. But other days, the miners strikepaydirt. One of Trudel’s most memorable days with Korite occurred when a group ofjewelers visited the mine.
“As everyone was watching, a big chunk of shale slid out of the shovel and threeabsolutely perfect, side-by-side ammonites were within it, all whole with no cracks,”he says.But in an average year, Korite only mines enough top-quality ammolite to produceabout one cup per day of top-quality gems.Korite takes pride in its environmental stewardship that leaves the mined areaslooking like the company was never even there. After mining activity is done, eachlayer of the land is replaced in order. The area is reclaimed to its natural topographyand seeded with native grasses.To date, Korite has mined about 45 acres of land, averaging about two to three acresper year.TAGGING TREASURESFrom the mine, the buckets of ammonite fossils, fragments and flakes go to a curiousplace: an unassuming patch of land with a farmhouse, barn and warehouse, whereGary Nilsson, Trudel’s operations assistant, sorts through each day’s finds. Hepuzzles pieces together, categorizes ammolite, and stabilizes it with a proprietarysubstance before packing it into barrels. Nilsson, a soft-spoken, mustachioed man,has been with the company 24 years. This is a common theme at Korite — peoplestick around.Nilsson recalls an exciting day at the mine a few years back. “We found a juvenilehadrosaur curled along the river, and it had shark’s teeth along its spine,” he says.The land-dwelling duckbill was likely swept out to sea, where it became a snack.Korite’s mining has unearthed a number of dinosaur fossils over the years, and thesecond that a specimen is spotted, mining ceases. The world famous Royal TyrrellMuseum of Paleontology is called in, and archaeologists head to the site to recoverthe remains. Korite assists in whatever way possible, on its own dime, so thatoperations can resume quickly.In a market where not everyone plays by the rules, Korite adheres strictly to all theregulations around the disposition of fossils, including ammonites.“We’re honest people dealing the right way, and we mine in a way that makes sense.This business can give rise to unethical practices like poaching and illegaltrafficking. Our ammonites are ethically mined, abiding by all Canadian laws andregulations,” says Martin Bunting, Korite’s President and CEO. Bunting is a staid manwith a wry sparkle in his eye, who took on leadership of the company three yearsago as part of a new ownership group.The Historical Resources Act, passed in 1978, declares all fossils public property,and requires every fossil to be numbered, catalogued and photographed forinspection before being released back to the finder. Anything extraordinary or ofscientific interest may go to the Tyrrell Museum for a closer look.“The Korite mine and the museum maintain a very positive relationship, which hasled to the recovery of a number of significant fossils,” museum executive directorAndrew Neuman told the Canadian Press in an article about the discovery of amososaur at the mine.
The company works with both the Tyrrell and the Department of Canadian Heritageto advance consumer awareness of ammolite's Canadian history.“I think ammolite is more than a Canadian treasure; it’s a world treasure,” says RoyKormos, one of the people who formed Canadian Korite Gems, which later changedhands and became Korite International.Because of its excellent reputation with Canadian Heritage, Korite has a generalCultural Property Export Permit that allows it to ship its products immediately,without having to submit cumbersome paperwork that can take weeks to beprocessed.“Because that permit has been granted to us, we could ship 500 pounds of rough(ammolite) today,” says Amarjeet Grewal, Korite’s executive vice-president.“That integrity is a big deal to me, and it’s a big deal to Korite.”RESPECTFUL ENVIRONMENTGrewal sits in her office, long dark hair framing her friendly face, impeccableclothing accented by jewelry — naturally, some is Korite ammolite in beautiful hues.She is fiercely proud and protective of Korite’s reputation and its respectful workingenvironment.She started at Korite 28 years ago as a junior accountant, and is now part owner.Over the years, she has done gemstone grading and inventory management,eventually creating her own position, overseeing production, working in sales andmarketing and heading up operations and merchandising. She travels extensively totap new markets for the product.Like Grewal, employees at Korite are incredibly engaged and loyal. There is verylittle turnover. There are stonecutters, a goldsmith and fossil production technicianswho have put in more than 20 years at the company, too. All have their own uniquehistories and stories about Korite.John Issa, a 20-year employee, is manager of Korite’s fossil division, Canada FossilsLtd., where preserved ammonites are produced and sold. The company has donatedfossils to more than 20 museums around the world, including the American Museumof Natural History in New York City and the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.Issa is an encyclopedia on the history of the company, the mine’s geology and themineral properties of ammonites, and speaks of it all with enthusiasm. He’srepresented Korite all over the world, and witnessed the price of ammolite increaseas the world has sat up and taken notice of the gemstone.“If you look at a black opal and a high-grade piece of ammolite, ammolite wins anyday of the week. But the black opal is 10 times more expensive. Why? Because it’sbeen around 10 times as long. I see ammolite being worth as much as the Australianopal, and I think the colour is far superior, but it’s a gemstone in its infancy,” Issasays.At Korite’s headquarters, one meets dedicated people who have invested manyyears of their lives working together to bring ammolite’s beauty to the world.KORITE HQ, HALL OF WONDERS
Korite’s corporate headquarters are part office, part production facility, and partmuseum. The hallways are hung with framed ammonite fossils, paintings depictingprehistoric times and Alberta landscapes, and dinosaur fossils.The front wholesale showroom is a feast for the eyes, filled with radiant ammonitefossils of every imaginable size, including one specimen displaying the full colourspectrum of ammolite, with a dazzling amount of the more rare purples and blues.It’s worth $100,000 retail. There is a replica T-rex head, polished mammoth tusks onstands, art made from ammolite, and glass-case displays of ammonite jewelry tomatch every possible taste.Issa lays some of it out and discusses the work of different designers. He shows offKorite’s signature piece, the stunning and iconic pear-shaped Solara pendant byCalgary designer Llyn Strelau. The Solara has a large ammolite gemstonesurrounded by delicate gold wires that are set with several diamonds.Close by, in-house artisans work in an enclosed studio crafting ammolite pieces. Inanother area, preparation is underway on rough ammonite fossils, as producersspend hours carefully chipping away matrix rock with air tools to reveal theprecious ammolite beneath.There is no factory feel here. Even with all the technological advances in the world,the rarest gemstone isn’t something you leave to machines to mass-produce. Fromsorting by hand at the mine to old-world craftsmanship in-house, Korite’s ammoliteis about the human touch.HANDCRAFTED FROM THE HEART: Ammolite jewelry 101“You don’t pick the ammolite; it picks you,” Issa says as he stands in the cuttingroom, where jewelers work polishing and shaping pieces of ammolite one at a time,by hand, manipulating them against spinning diamond wheels. They hand-set thegems into pendants, earrings, rings, watch faces and other pieces.Each stone has unique qualities, colours, brilliance and patterns, and can look verydifferent depending on the light. It can even take on unique hues when worn bydifferent people.Ammolite is rated on a scale. AAA (Exquisite), displaying three or more brilliantcolours, represents only the top three per cent of production. AA (Extra Fine), hasslightly lower brilliance at a high grade; A (Fine), has two distinct colours and somefine lines present; and Standard has one or more colours, primarily green or red,with varying colour, pattern and brilliance.As a gemstone, ammolite consists of hundreds of thin, iridescent layers composedmostly of the mineral aragonite. Whereas other gems’ hues come from theabsorption of certain colours, the colour of ammolite comes from refraction of light.Each thin aragonite platelet acts like a tiny prism.Ammolite is also quite soft — a 3.5 to 4.5 rating on the Mohs scale, used to classifythe hardness of minerals. Once it is capped with a protective layer, it is brought upto a 7.5 to 8 Mohs rating. For comparison, diamond is rated at 10.Korite has developed its own proprietary techniques to produce the highest-qualitygemstone jewelry, and offers an unconditional lifetime guarantee on every piece ofammolite.
GROWINGSince the shift in ownership three years ago, Korite has taken an ambitious turn tofocus on growth. As the largest miner of ammolite in the world, controlling 90 percent of the world’s ammolite resources, it only made sense to strengthen thecompany’s leadership and move aggressively into expanding its markets.That included increasing its presence in the United States, where ammolite isextremely desirable but hard to find.“It would be nice to become the ‘De Beers of Ammolite’,” says Bunting, referring tothe company synonymous with the finest diamonds.One of the largest markets for Korite is Asia, which has responded to ammolite withenthusiasm for its colour and energy.Wilson Yip, one of Korite's longtime managers, is credited with the growth of theAsian market — and with ammolite getting the attention of feng shui practitioners.Feng shui master Edward Kui Ming Li declared ammolite the “most influential stoneof the millennium,” believing it to have positive energetic properties for the wearerand an ability to provide balance to environments such as home and office.Feng shui is the Chinese art of spatial arrangement for directing and harmonizingthe flow of life energy known as ch’i.Frank Fischer, a German feng shui master, visited the Korite mine and offices, andconducted a special ceremony intended to create the best ch’i for the company’senvironment.Fischer deliberated over an array of ammonite fossils, tapping on each with a metalimplement and choosing the one he felt had the most energy. Each employee alsoselected a piece of ammolite to hold during the ceremony. That ammonite fossil andthose pieces are now held in a special display on the company’s second floor, placedusing the principles of feng shui.“That became the heart of the office,” Bunting says.
A GIRL’S OTHER BEST FRIENDThe ultimate vision and goal for Korite, Grewal says, is for consumers to look atammolite in the same way they do the other precious gemstones.“Every woman owns or knows about diamonds, rubies and sapphires. If they ownthose, then they want ammolite. It’s beautiful, affordable, and luxurious, and it hasan ‘excuse me’ factor — people say ‘excuse me, what are you wearing?’”Korite’s extensive catalogue includes the Couture collection of classic statementpieces, as well as a Gold and Silver collection and the striking new Elementscollection, with ammolite flakes set in contemporary, stained-glass and mosaic-stylesettings. The Watch collection, with precision-cut mosaic faces, and the Décor line,with stunning whole ammonites in matrix slabs, framed ammonites and sculpturesmade from large pieces of ammolite, round out Korite’s offerings.
New products are constantly being brainstormed by all of Korite’s employees. It’snot uncommon for someone to knock on Grewal’s office door and offer a new ideafor using ammolite, and she welcomes it.“We take great pride in our product through our master craftsmanship,” she says.Korite ammolite is sold in 25 countries around the world. It does a brisk trade oncruise ships, and it’s also sold on television shopping channels in Canada and manyother countries.One of Korite’s latest marketing strategies is to position the Alberta gemstone as onethat relates to every part of the world, posing a piece of ammolite jewelry againststunning natural landscape photos of each locale where it’s sold.Allan Dagnall, marketing consultant to Korite, says the intent is to stir up magicaland romantic associations with ammolite.“We’re putting it with known landscapes. When we listened to why people boughtpieces, it was because on, say, cruises, it ties them back to that moment they werethere on their 20th anniversary in Alaska, and they saw a mountain, and the piecehad all the colours of that mountain sunset,” Dagnall says.BRIGHT FUTUREBelieving in its people, its products, and its passionate heart has seen Korite growinto something as brilliant as its gemstones. Each person’s unique and true coloursand patterns have been brought out under just the right conditions since 1979.Like an ammonite, Korite has spiraled out from small beginnings, and built roundand round its nucleus to form something ever more impressive.From humble beginnings hauling ammonites uphill in packs, the company’ssuccessive leaders have continued in the founders’ footsteps, focused on growingand developing a world-class gemstone company that can take on the competitionanywhere on the globe.“The ultimate goal is having the whole world know, recognize, appreciate and desireammolite. We are devoted to