Updated: Jan 3, 2022
Tourmaline dates all the way back to ancient Egyptian times and the legend behind it is captivating. The Pharaohs said that tourmaline crystal gained its beautiful flush of colours when it broke through a rainbow while rising through the earth. Therefore, tourmaline is more than just a gemstone - it is a fragment of a rainbow.
In 1702 the Dutch started importing an unknown mineral from Sri Lanka to Holland. They gave it the name 'Tura mali', which translated to 'mixed gems' or 'gem pebbles' in Sinhalese. The name came about because the first packages to arrive in Holland had exactly this written on them and the name stuck! However, it wasn't until the 18th century that tourmaline was recognised as a distinct gemstone. Before then, the green and red varieties were mistaken as ruby or emerald.
Tourmaline is a family of borosilicate minerals of variable composition, but all with the same basic crystal structure. Tourmaline crystals generally form pencil-like prisms with a rounded-triangular cross-section, and, unlike the rocks in which they often form, they are resistant to weathering.
No other precious gemstone has such richness in colour variation as tourmaline. There are more than 30 dazzling mineral species in the family, many named after their colour. These include indicolite (blue), achroite (colourless) and rubellite (pink or red). Besides being in every colour of the rainbow, tourmaline may also be bi-coloured or multi-coloured in one piece. The diversity of this gemstone is nothing short of astonishing! Tourmaline crystals vary from opaque to highly transparent, and many types once faceted have incredible lustre and sparkle. Rating 7 - 7.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, tourmaline is suitable for everyday wear.
Watermelon Tourmaline - The most dramatic of the tourmaline family. When sliced across the crystal, these colour-zoned gems show a red or pink centre surrounded by a rim of green. Watermelon tourmaline looks as delicious as it sounds. A candy-coloured balance of two distinct colours results in a unique and visually appealing gemstone. A true feast for the eyes! The price point for Watermelon Tourmaline starts at $90 NZD per carat with exceptional examples fetching $1500 per carat.
Paraiba Tourmaline - Discovered in 1989, this tourmaline contained elements of copper and manganese, giving it an otherworldly incandescent glow. Paraiba tourmaline ranges from vivid blue and green to turquoise, through to neon blues and greens and electric blues and greens. Paraiba tourmaline is rare. To put into perspective just how elusive this gemstone is, for every ten thousand diamonds mined in the world, one Paraiba tourmaline is mined. Superb quality Paraiba Tourmaline over 5 carats in weight is priced at NZD 70,000 (New Zealand dollars) per carat. That's NZD 350,000 for a 5-carat gemstone!
Rubellite - This is the trade name applied to red and strong pink tourmaline. The discovery of pink tourmaline in Southern California in 1989 helped to popularise this gemstone. Pink and red tourmaline is commonly irradiated and often heated to intensify the colour of the stone. This is because the stronger shades of pink and red are more sought after. Rubellite price point begins at $180 NZD per carat with exceptional examples fetching in excess of $1900 NZD per carat.
Green Tourmaline - This variety is popular and plentiful and comes in a wide range of green hues. Perhaps the most sought after is those of an intense green that approach the colour of emerald. Prices begin at $220 NZD per carat and approach $4380 NZD for fine colour Chrome Tourmaline.
Black Tourmaline - Schorl is black tourmaline and always opaque. Schorl was widely used for mourning jewellery in the Victoria era in Britain. It was said to give the wear protection properties. Today its sometimes used instead of jet or chalcedony in cheap costume jewellery. It is the most common of the tourmaline family.
Bi-colour Tourmaline - These are tourmaline gemstones that exhibit 2 differing colour tones that do not fall into the 'watermelon' tourmaline spectrum. Pink and green is the most common colour combination, but gemstones can also be pink and colourless, blue and green or yellow and brown. The most valued bi-coloured tourmalines are those with distinct saturated colours with sharp boundaries and minimal to no fractures. Prices begin at $60 NZD per carat and can reach $731 NZD per carat for exceptional examples.
Tourmaline deposits are found in pegmatites, igneous rock formed by crystallisation at high temperatures over a long time. Mining for the rainbow gemstone currently takes place in Sri Lanka, Brazil and Mozambique, these being the most productive countries. Further deposits are found in Afghanistan, Madagascar, Nigeria, Russia, Tanzania, the USA and Zambia. Some tourmaline is exclusive to certain areas of the world; an example is Paraiba tourmaline which is named after the Brazilian region in which it is mined.
Tourmaline has become a popular option as the featured gemstone used in earrings, engagement rings, cocktail rings and dress rings. Because tourmaline is more affordable than ruby or sapphire, a larger carat size can be achieved without the phenomenal price tag (this excludes Paraiba Tourmaline which rivals sapphire and ruby pricing). Tourmaline is the modern birthstone for October and is a traditional gift for an 8th wedding anniversary. The Sapphire Merchant has a beautiful collection of tourmalines available for purchase. If you cannot find your perfect tourmaline in our online store, contact us today for brokering options.