Skip to content

The tourmalines are a large group of complex silicates, which can produce crystals in almost every basic hue. As a result, they have become the dominant mid-market gem species and, since the discovery of the neon blue paraiba variety, also now have a significant presence at the high-value end of the market.

While 32 different tourmaline sub-species are recognized by the International Mineralogical Association, the vast majority of gem tourmalines are elbaite. Named after the Italian island of Elba, its various hues have been allocated gemstone tradenames, including rubellite (red/pink), indicolite (greenish-blue/blue), verdelite (green), paraiba (neon blue) and achroite (colorless), as well as a bi-colored, pink and green “watermelon” variety.

Of the remaining 31 tourmaline sub-species, only the black schorl, multi-colored liddicoatite and brownish dravite are of any gemological interest, with chrome-containing specimens of the latter possessing green hues that are amongst the brightest in the gem world.

Tourmaline Characteristics

  • Hardness: 7 -7.5
  • Color: Most commonly black, but can range from colorless to brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, pink, or hues in between; can be bi-colored, or even tri-colored; rarely can be neon green or electric blue
  • Chemical composition:
  • Crystal system: Trigonal
  • Crystal habit: Parallel and elongated. Acicular prisms, sometimes radiating. Massive. Scattered grains (in granite).
  • Tenacity: Brittle

History of Tourmaline

The stone was first discovered by Dutch traders off the West Coast of Italy in the late 1600’s or early 1700’s. At the time, these green tourmalines were assumed to be emeralds. It wasn’t until the 1800s when scientists realized that these stones were their own species of mineral. The name tourmaline comes from the Sinhalese term “turmali.” It’s a term Dutch merchants applied to the multicolored, water-worn pebbles that miners found in the gem gravels of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The name was given to all colored crystals on the island of Sri Lanka at that time. This all-inclusive name indicates the inability of ancient gem dealers to differentiate tourmaline from other stones. In fact, at one time in history, pink and red tourmalines were thought to be rubies. Pink tourmaline tends to be pinker in color than ruby. However, their similarities in appearance are so strong that the stones in the Russian crown jewels believed to be rubies for centuries are now thought to be tourmalines.

It’s easy to understand why people so easily confuse tourmaline with other gems: Very few gems match tourmaline’s dazzling range of colors. From rich reds to pastel pinks and peach colors, intense emerald greens to vivid yellows and deep blues, the breadth of this gem’s color range is unrivaled. Brazilian discoveries in the 1980s and 1990s heightened tourmaline’s appeal by bringing intense new hues to the marketplace.

People have probably used tourmaline as a gem for centuries, but until the development of modern mineralogy, they identified it as some other stone (ruby, sapphire, emerald, and so forth) based on its coloring.

One of the earliest reports of tourmaline in California was in 1892. In the late 1800s, tourmaline became known as an American gem through the efforts of Tiffany gemologist George F. Kunz. He wrote about the tourmaline deposits of Maine and California and praised the stones they produced. Apparently, in 1876, a young man walked into Tiffany’s (where the young George Kuntz was employed) and showed Charles Tiffany a beautiful green stone with strong pleochroism. As the story goes, Kuntz was smitten by this obscure gem and fell in love. It certainly true that Mr. Kuntz did much to actively promote the use of tourmaline in jewelry and as a collector’s object d’art.

In spite of its American roots, tourmaline’s biggest market at the time was in China. Tourmaline was prized as a gem through history, but her main admirer was Tzu Hsi, the Dowager Empress who ruled China with an iron hand from 1860 until her death in 1908.

The last Empress of the Ch’ing Dynasty was so passionate about this stone that she bought huge quantities of it, mostly of pink color from mines in California, discovered during her reign. The stone was used mainly in carvings, watch chain bars or jacket buttons worn by the Imperial Court and some wealthy personalities.

The miners became so dependent on Chinese trade that when the Chinese government collapsed in 1912, the US tourmaline trade also collapsed. The Himalaya mine stopped producing large volumes of gemstones. Other mines in San Diego County still produce sporadic supplies of gem-quality tourmaline.

The Chinese have engraved and carved figures with tourmaline for many centuries, and ancient examples are still displayed in museums, a testament to the durability of the stone. You may recall seeing intricately carved Chinese snuff bottles made from pink tourmaline.

Sources of Tourmaline

Brazil has been the world’s leading source of tourmaline for nearly 500 years. In the 1500s Portuguese explorers obtained green and blue tourmaline from indigenous people and from panning streams in search of gold. They thought that these colorful stones were emeralds and sapphires and sent them back to Portugal, where they were cut into gems and used to make jewelry for royalty and wealthy citizens. (Tourmaline was not recognized as a distinct mineral until 1793.) Beginning in the late 1800s, a steady stream of tourmaline discoveries have been made in the pegmatite deposits of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Since then, millions of carats of tourmaline have been produced in a wide range of colors, including much bicolor material. This diverse stream of tourmaline from Brazil has been the most important source for the worldwide gem and jewelry market. The first commercial gemstone mine in the United States followed an 1821 discovery of tourmaline near the town of Paris, Maine. Over the past 200 years, significant amounts of pink and green tourmaline have been produced from dozens of Maine localities. The most important source of tourmaline in the United States has been the tourmaline mines of southern California. Tourmaline has been mined there since the late 1800s. On the basis of cumulative dollar value, tourmaline has been the most important gem material mined in California. Most of this production occurred over 100 years ago in Riverside and San Diego Counties. Tons of red tourmaline were mined there and shipped to China, where it was used to make snuff bottles, carvings, jewelry, and many other items. Today, a little tourmaline is being produced by small-scale mining. The miners today sell much of their best products as mineral specimens. Today, discoveries of tourmaline of various kinds are made in Afghanistan, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, the United States, and other countries. These provide the market with a constantly changing supply of gem tourmaline and mineral specimens.

Tyoes of Tourmaline

Unlike other gemstones, tourmaline is not made of a single mineral. In fact, it is a group of interrelated minerals that have the same crystal structures. The presence of elements like iron, manganese, etc. in these structures gives tourmaline its different hues. Many of these colored varieties also have their own popular trade names based on which tourmalines are classified into the following types:

  1. Rubellite: This tourmaline variety is popular for its intense hues which range from pink to purplish red to orange red. Also, it is easily available and can be found in larger sizes too. All this makes rubellites a favored alternative to other red gemstones like ruby and red spinel.
  2. Indicolite: This type includes gems that are blue, violetish blue or greenish blue in color. They are one of the hardest tourmalines to be found and occur very rarely in nature.
  3. Paraiba Tourmaline: This name was given to rare neon blue tourmalines that were found in the late 1980’s in Paraiba, Brazil. Since their discovery, these gems have been highly desired for their exotic hue. With excessive demands and supply shortage, Paraiba is undoubtedly the most expensive tourmaline variety.
  4. Chrome Tourmaline: Contrary to its name, chrome tourmalines display an intense green hue. An element named vanadium is mostly responsible for its spectacular hue, which is very similar to that of tsavorite garnets. First discovered in Tanzania in 1960’s, chrome tourmalines are nature’s rarities that are available in small sizes and limited supply. This, however, makes them extremely sought-after among gemstone enthusiasts.
  5. Watermelon Tourmaline: This is a bi-colored tourmaline variety. These gems typically showcase a red or pink center with a green layer on the outside (or vice versa). More often than not, these crystals are specifically cut to display this special arrangement of red on one side and green on the other.

Paraiba Tourmaline

Whether it’s the mint green or electric blue variety, the Paraiba tourmaline has remained intensely sought after in the coloured gemstone arena, irrespective of the market situation. Given its electrifying appeal, it’s no accident that this beloved gemstone has made waves in the fine jewellery universe.

Gem-quality bright blue to green Paraiba tourmaline is currently mined in various sites in Africa and Brazil, with Brazil producing the more vivid, neon bluish-green variant.

Gems from Mozambique with good quality and colour command a per carat price of US$10,000. Per carat prices of Brazilian Paraiba tourmalines of 1 carat to 1.5 carats meanwhile range from US$15,000 to US$20,000, depending on clarity and colour. Top-range stones could sell for as high as US$30,000 per carat.At the moment, supply of ultra-fine and clean Paraiba tourmalines is scarce but prices for Paraiba tourmalines from Africa are expected to remain fairly stable in accordance with the supply situation.

Tourmaline Enhancement

Heat and irradiation are common treatments used to improve the color of tourmaline. Both of these treatments are commonly done after the stones have been cut and polished. They can be undetectable when viewed with a gemological microscope.

Heat treatment can lighten an undesirable tone in some materials and give some brownish stones a brighter, more desirable color. The results of heat treatment are usually permanent. Stones with liquid inclusions are not good candidates for heat treatment because heating can cause them to fracture.

Irradiation treatment can brighten many light-colored stones. The results are often reversed if the stones are heated. They can also be reversed over time with exposure to bright light.

Benefits of Tourmaline

Tourmaline aids in understanding oneself and others.  It promotes self-confidence and diminishes fear.  Tourmaline attracts inspiration, compassion, tolerance and prosperity.  It balances the right-left sides of the brain.  Helps treat paranoia, overcomes dyslexia and improves hand-eye coordination.  Tourmaline releases tension, making it helpful for spinal adjustments.  It balances male-female energy within the body.  Enhances energy and removes blockages.

  • Watermelon Tourmaline (heart chakra) promotes feelings of self-worth. It can also be used to balance and cleanse your chakras.
  • Black Tourmaline (root chakra) reduces anxiety and stress. It is believed that this stone keeps you grounded.
  • Pink Tourmaline (heart and crown chakra) is a loving stone that encourages compassion. It also reduces fear and panic.
  • Green Tourmaline, also known as ‘Verdelite’ (heart chakra) is excellent for overcoming jealousy and promotes stamina.
  • Brown Tourmaline, also known as ‘Dravite’ (root chakra) can help one overcome their bad habits and move forward from their personal weaknesses and/or failures.
  • Blue Tourmaline (throat and third eye chakra) promotes spiritual growth and intuition.