The history of tourmaline is slightly vague and somewhat recent. The reason for this is tourmaline has through the ages been mistaken for many other gemstone varieties, and in turn the reason for that is tourmaline comes in such a dazzling array of colours. By all accounts a Spanish conquistador found a vibrant green gemstone in Brazil in the 1500s, confused it for emerald, a mistake that was only righted three centuries later in the 1800s when scientists for the first time recognised tourmaline as its own mineral species. The ‘Caesar’s Ruby’ in the Russian crown jewels, long thought to be corundum, is in fact a red (rubellite) tourmaline.
The name comes from the Sinhalese toramalli, meaning mixed gems with many colours. And indeed tourmaline is the gem species that displays the largest variety of colours representing nearly every hue known in the gemstone world, including dazzling and different colours in one crystal alone. No wonder it is known as the artist’s gem, and believed to inspire creativity of all sorts. And as such it is a complex gem variety. The tourmaline species share a crystal structure with varying physical properties, but it is the chemical properties that are off the scale, and which makes this one of the most popular and unique gemstones in the world. Like a chameleon it can take on any colour.
And as artists are prone to be, the chemical properties are too varied, and way to complicated to communicate to us mere mortals. And so the jewellery trade has employed a language to explain the art, and not the artist. Red tourmaline is known as rubellite, blue is indicolite, green as chrome tourmaline. Black is sold as schorl, while the ever popular pink with green on the outer edges of the crystal is named watermelon tourmaline. Any other colour not covered just takes its own name, followed by tourmaline. And of course the most famous is the Paraiba tourmaline, a Brazilian endemic to pegmatite pockets in the mines of the states of Pairaiba and Rio Grande do Norte. Often imitated and passed of as the original, but not worthy of the name if it is not from the area, or shows the bright blue and green hues of tourmaline’s palette.
Other than Brazil, Afghanistan and Pakistan have good gem quality crystals, while Maine in the United States is an important historical producer. Sri Lanka obviously has. And here in Africa Namibia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Madagascar are good sources. Tourmaline comes in at 7 to 7.5 on Mohs Hardness scale, which make it good for all kinds of jewellery, but perhaps not full-on gardening with a ring on.
We have some lovely pieces on our website, my favourite in the photos below with links in the captions. Jay also has a vast collection of faceted and cabochon gemstone tourmaline for sale, so please do not hesitate to contact us. We have added more to the Pendant and Silver & Stone page, and are updating rapidly ahead of Christmas, so please keep browsing and bear us in mind for your gifts this year. We sell gift vouchers to any amount, and will deliver locally for free, and arrange national and international delivery.
Until then keep getting jabbed, stay safe, and be at peace,
JD and Jay