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Crooks make off with Canadian treasure

Crooks make off with Canadian treasure A 28 centimetre-long piece of ammolite is shown in a handout photo, released on Monday December 23, 2013. The front window of Rocks and Gems Canada was smashed Dec. 20 and police say the crook made off with the Canadian national treasure. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

VANCOUVER - It's not a sparkly diamond or a precious sapphire, but police in Vancouver still want to find a stolen gemstone that, in Canadian terms, could rank right up there with the Hope Diamond.

Police are looking for what they say is a rare, opal-like gem that was stolen early Friday morning from a shop in Vancouver's Gastown district.

The front window of Rocks and Gems Canada was smashed, and Vancouver police spokesman Sgt. Randy Fincham said Monday the crook made off with an ammolite piece worth $500,000.

Ammolite is Alberta's official gemstone. It is also ranked as a Canadian national treasure, meaning the federal government must approve an application before it can be taken out of the country.

The gem is formed from the fossilized shells of extinct marine mollusks known as ammonites and contains the same minerals that make pearls.

Fincham said the piece stolen from Rocks and Gems Canada is nearly 28 centimetres long, or about the size of a man's shoe. It is shaped roughly like a helmet and has a colourful, iridescent sheen.

Nothing else was stolen from the store, and it's unclear at this point whether the break-in was targeted, Fincham said.

"This was a retail store, so somebody would have the ability to go into that retail store and determine exactly what the value of this item was," he told reporters.

"Obviously it has a limited retail value because it's fairly distinct, so it would be (someone like a) collector possibly that would look at purchasing something like this, as it is such as unique item."

Store employee Zee He said the large gemstone sits behind the store's window, which is protected by stainless steel bars. A piece of plastic board is also put up at night to block people's views from the street.

"The (ammolite) has been sitting there for a few years now," he said. "The thieves, they know exactly where it's located. The point where they break the piece of window is exactly where the fossil is sitting."

He said there have been several potential buyers over the years, but none has made an offer for the ammolite piece that was close to its market value.

He said ammolites are more than 17 million years old and can be found around the world, especially in Madagascar. But the one stolen from his store is from southern Alberta, the only area where ammolites with rainbow-coloured shells can be found.

"That's why they're different from anywhere else you see," he said. "The value is worth anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Fincham said police are reviewing video footage from the area and speaking to witnesses.

Anyone who may have information about the theft or know where the gem can be found are asked to contact the police.

The Hope Diamond belongs to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and is not for sale.

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