Jack of All Shades

Exotic origins, vibrant colors and unique opportunities for one-of-a-kind designs make tourmaline the gemstone of choice for many designers and collectors.

By: Colton Bartel

Say you’re exploring South America in the 1500s and you happen across a green stone lying in the dirt. What is your first conclusion? Probably, like most people, you think, emerald! That is exactly what happened to a Spanish conquistador as he was traveling through modern-day Brazil. For centuries, people believed that the green stones he had discovered were emeralds. It wasn’t until the 1800s that scientists figured out he had unearthed an entirely new stone, now known as tourmaline.

Just a small part of the production during our short visit to the Cruzeiro mine. These multi-colored crystals range from rubellite to green and terminating in black

Though tourmaline was first discovered in Brazil, it is actually found in many other places around the world, including several African nations, Russia and even Southern California, just to name a few. In some cases, the origin of these magnificent stones can have a huge impact on their value. Each location provides different atmospheres for the crystals to grow, resulting in many different colors, some showing multiple colors and even some phenomenal stones like cat’s-eye tourmaline.

Bicolor Tourmaline 11.21 cts cut by John Dyer & Co. susanns_giarbtour

Brazil does remain the leading source for these gems in every color, producing millions of carats each year. One of the more notable stones would be Paraiba tourmaline. Coming from the Paraiba state, these stones are known to have a very intense, electric blue-green color, and to be very bright. In this case, both origin and color have the biggest influence price, with some stones commanding several thousand dollars per carat.

Since tourmaline occurs in every color, it lends itself very well to unique jewelry designs, most of which would normally be made using more expensive stones such as emerald or ruby. Chrome tourmalines, which are of the green to blue-green variety, can be substituted for emeralds and usually will be free of eye-visible inclusions (emeralds are notorious for having lots of those). Rubelite tourmalines are the vibrant red variety that almost everyone confuses with very fine rubies. Indicolite is the blue variety of tourmaline that can sometimes appear as if it is fine blue sapphire.

Tourmaline faceted by Bernd Munsteiner 11.18 cts susanns_giachrtour susanns_giaparaiba

Another more unusual variety is watermelon tourmaline. This stone looks exactly like you would expect it to: pink in the middle and green on the outside. Watermelon tourmaline occurs when the crystal forming in the ground changes color during growth from pink to green, making the entire stone look like a juicy watermelon. Almost all of the stones are cut into slices to really show off the colors.

There are other color combinations that can occur, as well; these are called parti-colored tourmaline. Whatever color you may want, there is a tourmaline variety to fit.

One of the best benefits of tourmaline is its availability. Though still rare, it is very plentiful by gemstone standards, and sometimes occurs in very large crystals weighing several pounds. Several years ago, one mine in Brazil uncovered a large pocket of “emerald green” tourmalines weighing over a ton! Because of this supply, it is not uncommon to see very unique and intriguing cuts, as well as large stones over 10 carats.

What you will typically find when shopping in a store for tourmaline will be larger rings, usually accented with diamonds, as well as pendants that show off the same features. Some designs will focus on a single stone, while others may take advantage of the wide range of colors and use several stones to create vibrant, multi-colored statement pieces. In some cases, you may be able to look at loose stones and use them to create your own one-of-a-kind piece.

Designers as well as stonecutters love tourmaline, too. Due to the amount of rough available and large average crystal sizes, they can have a lot of fun with shaping and cutting the stones. Unusual shapes, facet patterns and even carved stones are relatively easy to come by. Designers really like the availability of calibrated stones, or stones that are cut in traditional shapes and sizes that fit pre-made settings common in the industry. This works out especially well if a design is to be mass-produced or requires several stones of the same size and color to fit into one piece.

The cutters have more fun with the cutting process, obviously. Some will experiment with a new or different way of polishing the stones, and some will even carve the stones into random shapes or figures.

Whether you’re a designer, a collector or just someone who appreciates fine gemstones, tourmaline should be at the top of your list of stones to own. The exotic origins, vibrant colors and occasionally unusual sizes and shapes make this an intriguing stone sure to be the center of conversation for years to come.

For more information, or to see these amazing gems in person, visit Susann’s Diamond Jewelers, located at 4254 S. Alameda in Corpus Christi. You may also call 361-991-7565, visit www.susanns-jewelers.com or look for Susann’s on Facebook.

Photos courtesy of Susann’s Diamond Jewelers

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