Canadian Arctic a prime spot for ‘ridiculously rare’ blue gemstones

Experts say cobalt-blue spinel is prized by jewellers and collectors

Baffin Island holds some of its treasures in plain sight with rocks that produce rare gems sitting exposed to the elements, scientists say.

A new study from the University of British Columbia shows the area is home to a mineral that is prized by jewellers and collectors.

READ MORE: Battle over insurance payout for diamond-encrusted eagle statue allegedly stolen in B.C.

Study co-author Philippe Belley said in an interview that cobalt-blue spinel, “which is a ridiculously rare gemstone” gets a lot of interest from gemologists and jewellers but there’s not enough supply.

The most significant source of the gems is Vietnam, and even then production is limited, said Belley, who’s a PhD graduate within the department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences.

He and report co-author UBC mineralogist Lee Groat conducted the first scientific study of the cobalt-blue spinel in Canada.

Baffin Island is “really unique” because it has all the “right ingredients” needed to produce coloured gemstones but the area is “virtually” unexplored, Belley said.

“The rock is extremely well exposed so not only is it easy to see if you have a gem occurrence by just walking on the surface and doing geological mapping, but its also suitable for remote detection methods using drones and satellites to collect data on the rocks.”

Using remote detection can’t be done in most other gem-producing areas because of plant cover or challenging terrain, Belley said.

The researchers analysed 14 occurrences of spinel on Baffin Island, including two of cobalt-blue spinel, to better understand how it forms.

“It’s finding the right chemical components in the right concentration,” he said. “We found that most gem occurrences on Baffin Island were formed from the transformation of a mixture of mud and magnesium-rich limestone under high temperature and pressure.”

They found it was formed 1.8 billion years ago at temperatures of about 800 C, but cobalt was only present in high-enough concentrations to produce gem-quality stones in small, localized areas.

Baffin Island spinel contains up to 500 parts-per-million of cobalt, giving it a vivid blue colour comparable to the best sources worldwide, Belley said in the news release.

Spinel also comes in red, pink and violet, Belley said.

Other gems found on Baffin Island include beluga sapphires, used in the Queen’s sapphire jubilee brooch, and lapis lazuli, a rock used as a gemstone by the Egyptians.

Mining for the gems on Baffin Island wouldn’t necessarily leave a large geographical footprint, he said.

“Most gemstones are either mined from a relatively small mine and a lot of them a mined by one or a few people or families around the world, which is called artisanal mining.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Car crashes into Kelowna business

Damages were done to the storefront of Interstate Batteries All Battery Centre on Banks Road

Keep the ‘Wild’ in Wildlife: RDCO

RDCO reminds park-goers that bears are more prevalent in parks at this time of year

Simplifying business licences in Kelowna

Kelowna city councillors are looking at modernizing 20-year-old bylaw

On-foot brewery tours in Kelowna give ‘beer runs’ a new dimension

Brew Crew Kelowna celebrated its kick-off year in 2019

$11K Yeti bike stolen from Kelowna building

Two suspects broke into a building’s bike compound and left with some pricey new rides

Madchild brings demons of drug abuse to Okanagan

Swollen Members rapper takes Status stage

Car catches fire while being towed by motor home on Hwy. 97

The incident occured just north of Sage Mesa Rd., no injuries have been reported

B.C. Hydro applies for rare cut in electricity rates next year

Province wrote off $1.1 billion debt to help reverse rate increase

Repair work to begin on lakeshore paths in Summerland

Paths were damaged during spring flooding in 2017 and 2018

One sent to hospital following Balmoral Road/Highway 1 collision

Violation ticket issued in second crash at Balmoral intersection in two weeks

Chase RCMP request public’s help to find missing man

Travis Allen Sauls was last seen in Chase on July 14

Cause of North Okanagan house fire still under investigation

Mom rescued sleeping baby from Thursday’s blaze

Entrepreneur gives Okanagan’s homeless women a boost

The woman says she’ll continue to package and send out bags of products from her self-run business

Speculation tax forces sale of Greater Victoria’s iconic ‘Tulip House’

Bob and Jan Fleming selling their retirement home famous for its thousands of tulips

Most Read