Millions of years ago, the Maritimes were a steamy jungle. Then, ash from volcanic eruptions forever entombed the tropical forests.

That created some of the world’s rarest petrified wood, which is now being made into modern-day jewelry in Cape Breton.

Retired geology professor Chuck Nicholson was prospecting in the Cape Breton Highlands when he made the fascinating discovery. He now has about three tons of virtual stone.

“Each of these contains about 500 pounds of petrified wood. Some of the very rarest and oldest in the world,” says Nicholson. “It is absolutely jewelry grade. There is none finer than this stuff you find on Cape Breton Island.”

The petrified wood begins its journey at Nicholson’s workshop, where the craftsman turned it into finished jewelry.

Raw gemstones are cut down to size and a fine grinder takes off the edges, shaping and smoothing the wood.

An electric tumbler then slowly polishes the wood, sometimes for a month or more.

The family’s jewelry designer finishes the pieces, setting them in sterling silver and gold to make pendants, necklaces, earrings and other accessories.

“We’ve dated this to be over 350 million years old. As far as we know there is nothing else of this age, so it’s very rare,” says Joyce Nicholson. “When I design each piece after Chuck has tumbled it. I do each one individually so there is not two alike.”

The Nicholsons won’t reveal the site of their petrified wood deposit, for fear the discovery might attract other prospectors.

But after more than a dozen years of digging the ancient wood and designing the jewelry, the find is far from exhausted. The Nicholsons say they have more than enough raw material for a lifetime of jewelry making.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Randy MacDonald