This month's newsletter is all about one of our favorite gemstones, tourmaline:How Tourmaline Led the Modern Colored Stone Market
In 1875, the 20 year old Kunz walked into the offices of Tiffany & Co. in New York City with some fine green tourmaline that he had obtained from the Mount Mica Mine in Maine. Tiffany & Co., founded in 1837, had already become the largest jewelry business in the world, but their business was strictly in precious stones - diamond, ruby, emerald and sapphire. Kunz wanted to sell them semi-precious stones, and he brought a green tourmaline gem to convince them.
Kunz managed to get in to see Charles Tiffany on that day, and persuaded him to buy the tourmaline. It was the beginning of a long relationship. Kunz eventually became the resident gem expert at Tiffany & Co., an influential position that he held for nearly his whole life.
Tiffany became the world leader in colored gemstones and introduced many new colored gem varieties to the market in their famous jewelery designs. It is fitting that Tiffany's leadership in the colored stone market began with that tourmaline they purchased from George Kunz.
That's because tourmaline is in many respects the quintessential colored gemstone. It combines good hardness (7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale) with excellent durability (it has no cleavage). It occurs in an astonishing array of colors, including bi-color and tri-color crystals such as the distinctive watermelon variety, that are instantly recognizable as tourmaline. The best tourmaline has excellent clarity and a vitreous luster that makes it the equal of any of the precious stones. Also, because of its tremendous color variation and pleochroism, almost every piece of tourmaline is quite unique.
Tourmaline also has some intriguing physical properties that make it a rather special mineral. If a tourmaline crystal is heated and then cooled, or has pressure applied (e.g, by rubbing), it will become electrically charged. It will then attract dust particles as well as small pieces of paper. These effects, known respectively as pyroelectricity and piezoelectricity, require tourmaline to be cleaned more often than other gemstones.
Tourmaline is found in many places in the world and it is one of the few gemstones for which the USA is famous. The first American tourmaline discoveries were made in 1822 in the state of Maine. California became a producer of tourmaline only 80 years later. In fact, tourmaline was the first gemstone mined in the United States by miners other than prehistoric man or Native Americans. Tourmaline mining began at Mount Mica, Maine, and with a few interruptions, has continued to the present day. During the early 1900s, Maine and California were the world's largest producers of tourmaline gemstones. The Empress Dowager Tz'u Hsi, the last Empress of China, loved pink tourmaline and bought large quantities for gemstones and carvings from the Himalaya Mine, located in San Diego County, California. Today most of our tourmaline supply comes Africa, particularly Nigeria and Tanzania.
New in Gems
Our buyers are always busy seeking out the best value gems for our customers. Here are some of the excellent buys we've made in the last few weeks:
Each month our staff select some of their favorite gemstones from our inventory. This month they've chosen some special tourmaline pieces.
Gemstones Worth Knowing
Each month we focus on one of the lesser known gemstones. This month's featured stone is chrome tourmaline.
Tourmaline is of course a well-known gemstone family. But chrome tourmaline is not well-known at all, largely because it is rare and expensive, and few people have had a chance to own it.
Chrome tourmaline is not just a tourmaline color, but is actually a distinct variety, called chrome dravite. It was first mined in Tanzania in the 1960s, so it is a recent discovery. To date, it has only been found in East Africa, specifically in Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and Namibia. Like emerald and tsavorite garnet, fine chrome tourmaline is pure "forest" green with slightly yellowish to bluish secondary hues. The blue will normally show itself in incandescent light; the yellow will be more visible in daylight. A blue secondary hue, as in the photo above, is preferred to yellow.Customer Questions
Every month we answer questions of general interest from our customers. Please feel free to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, with "newsletter question" in the subject line.
This month we answer some questions about tourmaline.
A final note - if you send us email, please be assured that we answer all our email very promptly, 6 days per week. But we sometimes have problems with spam filters on the receiving end, so please adjust the settings on your email account so you can receive mail from email@example.com.
Happy gem hunting!
Your friends at GemSelect
- First Published: March-01-2007
- Last Updated: October-30-2014
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