The tourmaline is a gemstone which is found in a large array of colours in various parts of the world. The crystal structure is long, giving gem cutters opportunities to cut elongated shapes like baguettes and emerald cuts, although they can be cut into any shape. Tourmaline is a great gem if you are looking for colour and can accept the level of care required for a gem that is a little softer than a sapphire, ruby or diamond.
- Moh's Hardness/7 - 7.5
Colour is the most important factor when grading a tourmaline; the inclusion of trace minerals are what gives distinct colours to the gem. Indicolite is blue, verdelite and chrome are green, and their colour is likely caused by the presence of iron and possibly titanium, while rubellite is pink as a result of manganese. Tourmalines can be colour zoned along the length of the crystal. This striking effect is typically red-pink, white and green in colour and is known as watermelon tourmaline.
In the late 1980s, a new colour of tourmaline was discovered in Brazil with bright neon blues and greens, and was named after the region where they were mined; Paraíba. These are now the rarest and most desirable in tourmalines, fetching the highest prices. Black tourmaline, named schorl, accounts for 95% of the tourmaline found in nature and is the least expensive, while colourless tourmaline is the rarest, yet not highly sought after, making it inexpensive.
The name tourmaline comes from the Sinhalese word 'turamalli', meaning mixed gems. For many years, the various colours of tourmaline were often incorrectly thought to be other gems. This goes back to the 1500s when a Spanish conquistador in Brazil mistook a green tourmaline for an emerald. It wasn’t until the development of modern gemmology in the 1800s that tourmalines were correctly identified.
In the late 19th century, it was American gemmologist George F. Kunz who helped grow the American tourmaline market when he sold green tourmaline from Maine to Tiffany & Co. This saw the industry boom, with the main market being exports of pink tourmaline from San Diego to China due to the Empress Dowager Cixi who was especially fond of this gem. The collapse of the Chinese government in 1912 saw American tourmaline crash along with it.
In the late 1980s, new deposits of neon green, bright blue and violet tourmaline were found in Paraíba, Brazil, spiking renewed interest in tourmaline and effecting record prices. This region has produced the world's most sought after tourmaline and also the biggest; an outstanding specimen weighing 191.87 carats. Tourmaline is predominantly mined in Brazil but also Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Africa and the USA.
Tourmaline is a suitable gemstone for jewellery but at 7-7.5 on the Moh’s scale of hardness it is less hard than a sapphire and certainly softer than a diamond. For this reason, it needs to be treated carefully. Be careful not to knock the stone as it can crack. Wear all jewellery with care and avoid exposure to abrasive materials, harsh chemicals and extreme changes in heat.
To clean, soak your tourmaline jewellery in a dish of warm soapy water and use a toothbrush to gently brush away any built up residue. You can also use a jewellery cleaning cloth or professional jewellery cleaning products developed to be safe on tourmalines. Ultrasonic machines are not recommended for tourmalines. If you bought your tourmaline jewellery at Pieces of Eight, we recommend you bring it in for an annual clean and check.