A Geologist's Perspective of Fitz Shillingford's Jasper Project
I first met Fitz Shillingford in early 2011 when my friend, Miguel Lawrence, and I drove to Mr. Shillingford's home at Fond Melle. With much enthusiasm Mr. Shillingford showed us an extensive collection of jasper rocks that he had found and then collected from the small river flowing through his land. He had discovered the jasper a couple of years earlier and had then recognized it as a gemstone that could be shaped and polished into various forms of jewelry and ornamentation. After examining his jasper samples that day, I agreed with his assessment and consented to participate with him, to the extent that I could, in advancing the jasper project.
It is appropriate here to provide some background information about jasper. Jasper is a coloured variety of micro-crystalline quartz. It is hard and opaque to semi-translucent. Colouration is commonly various shades of brick red, but sometimes yellow, green, black, or white, and is due to the presence of small quantities of other elements such as iron (red). It can be finely layered, massive, or brecciated and multi-coloured. While it is widely regarded as a semi-precious stone, there are many known occurrences of jasper globally.
In Dominica jasper forms in volcanic rocks due to hydrothermal activity caused by heat from deep magma chambers. At time-events in geological history it may have come to surface and formed finely layered beds or it may have filled fractures in the rocks as massive or brecciated jasper. However there are no known surface exposures of jasper in Dominica. The rocks and boulders found by Fitz at Fond Melle are the closest we presently have to a bedrock jasper deposit. There are two known jasper occurrences in Martinique. There are no other occurrences known to me in the Caribbean islands.
To modify a bold statement made in The Sun (April 3, 2016) describing Dominica jasper as "The best in the world" - Dominica jasper is considered to be good quality jasper. It does not have to be the best in the world to create a valuable end product.
Because of its particular beauty, jasper has long been used to make jewelry, such as pendants, necklaces, and rings, as well as a great variety of ornaments. Jasper jewelry and ornaments are marketed by jewelers and specialty shops around the world. Additionally jasper has been ascribed healing powers and has been described as the "supreme nurturer", bringing tranquility and well-being to the wearer. Many such healing attributes have been given to jasper. Who am I to be skeptical of such beliefs?
Since our first meeting I've returned to see Fitz on a regular basis, usually with visitors. I've prospected the river and found several specimens of jasper, while Fitz dauntlessly has continued to add to his collection. I estimate that he now has approximately 2 tons of jasper rock stored at his house. The overwhelming majority of it is red jasper – some massive, some finely layered, some brecciated. There are also examples of yellow, black, and white (chalcedony) jasper. All of this jasper comes from the riverbed and is in the size range of small rocks up to sizeable boulders. More jasper washed down from above Fond Melle with the heavy rains of Erika – one of the upsides to that calamity!
Together Fitz and I have discussed forming a small enterprise to exploit this resource. The obvious market would be tourists. It has been suggested by others that jasper be marketed as Dominica's national stone. I agree. Aside from hot sauce and rum there is very little for tourists to buy that is native to and made in Dominica. Tourists crave this – they don't want stuff made in China! A small business manufacturing jasper jewelry and ornamentation from Dominica jasper, then retailing it to tourists has a ready-made market. Once a domestic market is established, outside markets could be tested. Start-up costs include the purchase and importation of lapidary equipment (mainly used), training people, a manufacturing facility with security, electricity and water, and, subsequently, some retail staff. Benefits ideally would include gainful, long-term employment for several Dominica citizens and a new profitable small business in Dominica.
I'm well aware that Fitz, despite his arduous efforts, has had trouble gaining support for the jasper project. Seeing that there is no source of government funding forthcoming and because I believe in the project and in Fitz himself, I've begun searching for private start-up funding. Perhaps crowd-sourced funding is a good method to utilize. But I'm a geologist, not a marketing guru. Sensible suggestions are welcomed.