Rubellite is a highly prized -- and usually highly priced -- type of tourmaline. But there is a lot of confusion in the gemstone trade about what exactly counts as rubellite and how it can be identified. We've wondered ourselves which tourmaline to label as rubellite, and sometimes wondered whether we should have a category of rubellite at all on our website.
As we've looked into the matter, there seem to be two schools of thought. One view is represented by the mineralogist Walter Schumann, who wrote one of the standard texts in gemology, Gemstones of the World. According to Schumann, the term rubellite is one of a number of trade names used in the gemstone business to refer to different colors of tourmaline. These names also include terms like indicolite (blue), verdelite (green), dravite (brown), schorl (black) and achroite (colorless). In Schumann's opinion, rubellite tourmaline is "pink to red, sometimes with a violet tint." He also notes that "ruby color is the most valuable."
Schumann's opinion carries a lot of weight in the gemstone world, since his book is regarded as virtually a bible by serious students of gems. He goes on to observe that the trade names for colors are now often replaced simply by the color term added to tourmaline, as in "red tourmaline," and "yellow tourmaline."
A different view is expressed by the International Colored Gemstone Association (ICGA). They claim that "there are red and pink tourmalines in many nuances, which include a tender pink, a fine shocking pink, an intense violet and a bold ruby-red. However, only a few of these are entitled to call themselves 'rubellites'." The test for a genuine rubellite, according to the ICGA, is that true rubellite red shines just as intensely in artificial light as it does in daylight. Non-rubellites, on the other hand, will show a tinge of brown under artificial light.
How do we decide between these two influential authorities? It's not an easy question. Gemologists would agree that rubellite is not some specific variety of tourmaline, distinguished by its chemical composition in the way that elbaite, liddicoatite and uvite are distinct varieties. On the other hand, there is little point to the term rubellite if it refers to all the pink and red tourmalines. Perhaps that's the very reason why the use of the term has declined. We might think instead of rubellite as a qualitative term that picks out the outstanding examples of intensely red tourmaline that are truly ruby-like in color.
- First Published: August-27-2008
- Last Updated: February-26-2011
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