Tourmaline is the gemological name for an important group of complex gem-quality boron silicate minerals. Tourmaline gemstones can be found in all colors of the rainbow. Owing to its wide range of color availability, tourmaline is considered to be one of today's most versatile gemstones. Its name is thought to be derived from the Sinhalese word, "turamali", which means "stone with various colors" in reference to its extreme versatility. Tourmaline was first thought to be used as a gemstone around the 1500s, but distinct mineral species were not actually described until the 1800s. In 1875, George Kunz, an American mineral collector, introduced green tourmaline from the Mount Mica mine in Maine, USA to Tiffany & Co., which sparked an interest in tourmaline and led to its popularity (along with other semi-precious gemstones) on the mainstream jewelry market.
The major tourmaline species include dravite, uvite, schorl, liddicoatite and elbaite. Schorl is the most common variety, making up nearly 95% of all tourmaline deposits, but it is not often desired as a gemstone. Most tourmaline gemstones are varieties of the elbaite family. Since tourmaline consists of a very large group of related gemstones, most tourmaline is traded under very color-specific varietal names. Some of the more popular trade names include pink-red 'rubellite', blue-green 'Paraiba', blue 'indicolite' and multicolored 'watermelon tourmaline'. Lesser-known trade names include colorless 'achroite', green 'verdelite' and 'chrome tourmaline'. Like sapphire, descriptive names such as 'yellow tourmaline' or 'pink tourmaline' are also commonly used to market fancy-colored tourmaline gemstones.
Tourmaline is a boron silicate mineral often containing traces of aluminum, iron, magnesium, sodium, lithium, copper and potassium. Tourmaline crystals form in the trigonal crystal system and can be distinguished by their distinct three-sided triangular prisms. Tourmaline has very distinct gemological properties which can help identify it from other similar colored gemstones. Tourmaline has superior hardness (7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale), poor cleavage and strong pleochroism. Tourmaline is known to exhibit unique pyro- and piezoelectric properties, which means crystals can produce and hold an electrical charge when subjected to mechanical stress, pressure or extreme temperature fluctuations, earning it the nickname of the 'electric stone'. When tourmaline crystals are rubbed, friction can cause static and when held over dust or ash, the static can attract particles, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the 'Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) magnet'.
Tourmaline is found in pegmatites and alluvial deposits all over the world. Tourmaline is the national gemstone for the United States, where it has been mined for centuries. In fact, up until the early 1900s, the United States was considered the primary source for fine tourmaline. Today, the most significant tourmaline deposits come from Minas Gerais and Bahia, Brazil. Other notable tourmaline sources include Afghanistan, Australia, Burma (Myanmar), India, Italy, (Elba) Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, (Tessin) Tanzania, the United States (California and Maine), Zaire, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Tanzania is known to produce fine emerald-green chrome dravite tourmaline, and in the late 1990s, a copper-bearing blue Paraiba tourmaline was discovered in Nigeria; shortly thereafter, another deposit of a copper-bearing Paraiba tourmaline was discovered in Mozambique. Both of Africa's Paraiba tourmaline deposits were not as intensely colored as Brazilian materials. Zambia is known for producing fine red rubellite and yellow canary tourmaline, while Afghanistan is famed for producing fine green verdelite and rare blue indicolite.
Buying Tourmaline and Determining Tourmaline Gemstone Value
Black tourmaline is actually the most common color occurrence. Most tourmaline gemstones display two or more colors in a single stone (or two tones of the same color). Tourmaline crystals that exhibit green on one end and pink to red on the other, with a band of white in the middle are marketed as 'watermelon tourmaline'. Tourmaline exhibits strong pleochroism, which means its crystals can exhibit different colors depending on the angle from which they are viewed. Most red, pink and brown to yellow tourmaline is colored by manganese, while iron and titanium can result in greenish to bluish-black colors. Lithium impurities can result in just about every color, including blue, green, red, yellow and pink. The rare emerald-green chrome tourmaline is colored by chromium (and sometimes vanadium).
Many pink tourmaline crystals obtain their color though a natural irradiation process. Cat's eye tourmaline is typically green or pink in color, although it can also occur in other rarer colors too. The most valuable and rare tourmaline is neon green-blue Paraiba tourmaline, which is colored by copper. Other valuable color combinations include purplish-red 'rubellite' and blue 'indicolite'. When buying tourmaline, color intensity and saturation are the most important factors.
Tourmaline Clarity and Luster
Tourmaline is typically transparent to translucent. Opaque material is common for cat's eye tourmaline and schorl. According to GIA, most tourmaline is 'Type II' material in regard to clarity, which means tourmaline is often included. The level of inclusions can vary depending on the type of tourmaline, with some colors being more heavily included than others. Green tourmaline is often eye-clean, while blue, red and pink tourmaline, including rubellite, Paraiba and watermelon tourmaline, are almost always found with significant inclusions. Rubellite, Paraiba and watermelon tourmaline are considered to be Type III clarity gems. Cat's eye tourmaline is usually translucent to opaque and owes its chatoyancy to thin needle-like inclusions. When cut and polished, tourmaline exhibits a vitreous to sometimes slightly resinous luster.
Tourmaline Cut and Shape
Tourmaline is often cut into long rectangular bar shapes because of its elongated crystal habit. However, tourmaline is also available in various traditional and fancy shapes and a range of cutting styles.
Due to the strong pleochroism of tourmaline, lighter colored tourmaline is typically oriented with the table facet perpendicular to the main axis, in order to display the richest hue. Conversely, darker stones are usually cut with the table parallel to the main axis. Rare cat's eye tourmaline is cut en cabochon to best display the desirable cat's eye chatoyancy. Watermelon tourmaline is often cut into slices to best exhibit its characteristic and attractive color zoning.
Most tourmaline is completely untreated. However, some stones may be heated to improve color and clarity. Yellow, pink and red varieties of tourmaline may be irradiated to enhance color, although irradiation is nearly impossible to detect and does not normally affect value. Heavily included rubellite and Paraiba tourmaline may be clarity enhanced.
Tourmaline is actually a group of minerals and is a general gemological term used for several related gemstone varieties. Most types of tourmaline are classified according to their color. The following is a list of some of the most recognized and widely-used tourmaline trade names:
Achroite - Very rare colorless or almost colorless tourmaline. Dravite - Yellow-brown to dark-brown magnesium tourmaline. Intense, forest-green gems are also known as "chrome tourmaline" or "chrome dravite". Indicolite - Blue tourmaline. Paraiba - Light-blue, blue-green, vivid blue or green copper tourmaline, named after the state in Brazil where it was found.
Rubellite - Intensely colored, red, pinkish-red or violet tourmaline. Schorl - Black iron tourmaline. Siberite - Lilac to violet-blue tourmaline, named after a deposit in the Urals. Verdelite - Green tourmaline. Buergerite - Iron tourmaline named after an American academic. Elbaite - Lithium tourmaline named after the island of Elba. Liddicoatite - Calcium tourmaline named after an American gemologist. Tsilaisite - Manganese tourmaline named after a place in Madagascar. Uvite - Magnesium tourmaline named after a province of Sri Lanka. Watermelon tourmaline - Multicolored tourmaline that exhibits interesting pink, green and white color zones in the same crystal. When crystals are cut in cross section, a pink core with a white band and green edges can be clearly seen. Cat's eye tourmaline - A rare chatoyant variety of tourmaline. The chatoyancy is usually strongest in green and pink tourmaline.
Tourmaline Gemstone Mythology, Metaphysical - Alternative Healing
In general, tourmaline is said to be a powerful detoxification stone that invites positive energy. It is also a birthstone for those born in October.
In traditional Hindu belief systems, tourmaline is thought to help balance the energies of the body. Tourmaline is thought to affect different chakras depending on its color. Red tourmaline is related to Muladhara, or the base chakra and is associated with sexuality, grounding and survival. Orange tourmaline is linked to Swadhisthana, or the sacral chakra, which governs relationships, the sexual organs, pleasure, enthusiasm and creativity. Yellow tourmaline corresponds to Manipura, or the third chakra, which is related to the digestive system, metabolism, anxiety and fear. Green tourmaline is thought to benefit Anahata or the fourth chakra, which is concerned with communication, thought, expression and the thyroid gland. Violet tourmaline is linked to Ajna, or the third eye chakra, which governs intuition, intellect and the pineal gland. Lastly, pink tourmaline corresponds to Sahasrara, or the crown chakra, which is concerned with consciousness and the pituitary gland. Both green and pink tourmaline are said to encourage love and compassion. Violet tourmaline is associated with spiritual development and yellow is linked to the intellect.
In addition, black tourmaline is thought to protect its wearer against negativity and brown tourmaline is believed to be a cleansing stone. Watermelon tourmaline is said to encourage unconditional love.
Disclaimer: Metaphysical and Alternative Crystal Healing Powers and Properties are not to be taken as confirmed advice. Traditional, Ceremonial and Mythological Gemstone Lore is collected from various resources and does not represent the sole opinion of SETT Co., Ltd. This information is not to replace the advice of your doctor. Should you have any medical conditions, please see a licensed medical practitioner. GemSelect does not guarantee any claims or statements of healing or astrological birthstone powers and cannot be held liable under any circumstances.
Tourmaline is an extremely versatile gemstone, due to its great diversity of colors and tones. There is a color and shade of tourmaline to suit every taste and skin tone. When designing tourmaline jewelry, the preferred color can be first considered.
Tourmaline jewelry can be vivid and striking or subtle and understated. Intense pink tourmaline, emerald green and Paraiba tourmaline gemstones are often accented with diamonds in rings by Chopard, Chanel, Dior and Cartier. Both white and yellow precious metal settings are equally stunning. Tourmalines make beautiful central stones and are often available in large, affordable sizes. Smooth, unfaceted tourmaline beads are used in tribal-style jewelry and wire-wrapping. Tourmaline is perfectly suitable for tough everyday-wearing tourmaline gemstone rings, and fashion jewelry too, including bracelets, pendants, earrings and brooches. Additionally, men's jewelry can be fashioned from the more masculine-hued gemstones.