|Tourmaline in America
The great colored gemstones mines of the world are mainly in Asia, South America and Africa. Most people don't think of the United States when they think of colored stones, though Montana sapphire and Oregon sunstone are known internationally. But the USA is certainly not up there with Burma, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Brazil, Tanzania and Mozambique as the source of the finest in colored gems.
That was not always true. At one time the USA was very famous indeed for its tourmaline. China's Dowager Empress Tz'u Hsi, the last Empress of China, loved the pink tourmaline mined in southern California, and bought vast quantities of it, especially for carving. Under her influence, China's appetite for this gem created a boom in the California tourmaline industry after 1902, particularly at the Himalaya mine in California. But the boom ended in 1911, soon after the death of the Empress in 1908.
The production of fine tourmaline in America was not confined to California. 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 some starts and stops, has continued to the present. During the early 1900's, Maine and California were the world's largest producers of gem tourmalines.
The Maine deposits tend to produce crystals in raspberry pink-red as well as minty greens. The California deposits are known for bright pinks, as well as interesting bicolors.
Records suggest that from 1898 until 1914, the Himalaya mine in San Diego County was the world's largest producer of tourmaline. In 1904 production from the mine was at least 5.5 metric tons. In 1989, 84 years later, a single pocket in the mine produced more than 0.5 metric ton of tourmaline.
Mount Mica may have been the first tourmaline producer in Maine, but it is by no means the largest. Newry Hill, a spur off Plumbago Mountain, is the most prolific tourmaline producer in Maine. Since its discovery in 1898, production from the mine has exceeded thousands of kilograms of high-quality tourmaline.
Today most tourmaline comes from Brazil, Mozambique and Nigeria, with other deposits in Sri Lanka and Tanzania. The cost of mining the remaining tourmaline in Maine and California has become prohibitively high, but undoubtedly more deposits of excellent material are waiting to be discovered.
- First Published: October-21-2008
- Last Updated: March-10-2011
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