Tourmaline Gemstone | Gemopedia

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The national gemstone of the United States, tourmaline is found all over the world and in various colors. Tourmaline is the most colorful of all gemstones because, according to an ancient Egyptian legend, it passed through a rainbow on its journey to Earth and brought all of the colors of the rainbow with it. Tourmaline is actually a group of gem species with the same crystal structure and slightly different chemical properties, which account for all of its different colors. All tourmalines are silicates that contain aluminum, boron, and fluorine, in addition to a variety of other elements that give the different species their different appearances. Major tourmaline species include liddicoatite, dravite, uvite, schorl, and the most important one--elbaite--which encompasses most gem tourmalines and the widest range of gem-quality colors.


Care

Tourmaline is a hard and fairly tough gemstone that is ideal for jewelry. It is safely cleaned with warm soapy water and a soft brush, but ultrasonic and steam cleaners can be risky. Exposure to high heat or sudden temperature changes should be avoided. Oiled tourmalines shouldn't be steamed or cleaned in ultrasonic cleaners or with chemicals.

Color

Tourmalines occur naturally in every color of the rainbow, sometimes even two colors at once. In fact, tourmaline crystals are more likely to have two (or more) colors than just one--or at least two or more tones of one color. Even minor changes in a tourmaline's chemical composition can serendipitously result in entirely different colors within the single crystal. When tourmaline grows so that the center is red with white or colorless material around it, and green around both of those, it's known--not surprisingly--as watermelon tourmaline. It's usually cut in thin slices or cross-sections to best show off its interesting color growth. Tourmalines from Malawi, known as canary tourmaline, are a vivid yellow color.

In addition to usually being bi- or tricolored, showing two or more colors from one view, tourmaline is also strongly pleochroic, meaning a stone that appears to be only one color face-up can appear to be two or more colors, or tones of the same color, depending upon which direction it is viewed. Look through the gem's table with a dichroscope and you'll see both of tourmaline's pleochroic colors.

Shape


Fancy

Pear

Round

Trillion

Heart

Marquise

Square
Cushion

Rectangular
Octagonal

Rectangular
Cushion

Value

Like most colored stones, tourmaline's value is primarily based upon the intensity and saturation of its color. The most famous, rare, and expensive tourmaline is the bright, electric greenish-blue Paraiba tourmaline.

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History

Though it is believed to have been popular with man since antiquity, tourmaline comes in so many colors that just about any other gemstone could have been called tourmaline throughout history. For this reason, true tourmaline has a brief history that only dates back to when modern gemological testing made its real identity known. We do know that stones that were likely tourmaline were appreciated for hundreds of years in the Mediterranean region before Sri Lankan tourmaline first came to Europe via the Dutch in 1703.

The most recent important discovery of tourmaline is the late 1980s discovery of Paraiba tourmaline, which shined new light on the entire tourmaline group. Tourmaline has been found in the United States for a few centuries. A good source of mostly pink and green tourmaline was discovered in Maine in the early 1820s, and about 100 years later, fine pink tourmalines were found in California. In fact, in the early 1900s, Maine and California were considered the world's primary sources for gem-quality tourmaline. Today, nearly every color of tourmaline can be found in Brazil.

Phenomenon

Cat's-eye (chatoyant) tourmaline can occur in many colors but particularly in green and pink varieties. Some tourmalines also display color change, from yellowish-green in daylight to orange-red in incandescent light.

Tourmaline is sometimes referred to as the "electric stone" because it becomes statically charged and can attract dust, lint, or small bits of paper when it's heated or rubbed. This unique characteristic is referred to as pyroelectricity (or piezoelectricity). For this reason, tourmalines and tourmaline jewelry might get "dusty" and require slightly more frequent cleaning than other jewelry and gemstones to keep them looking their best.









Name Origin and Meaning
Tourmaline is derived from the Sinhalese word turamali meaning "mixed" or "stone of mixed colors," likely because of the variety of colors it's found in and the fact that it can be bi-, tri- or parti-colored.

Tourmaline is the name for an entire group of gemstones, but some color varieties have their own names, like the raspberry-red rubellite and blue or greenish-blue indicolite. In addition to those and simple names like "yellow tourmaline" or "pink tourmaline," the gemstone industry also acknowledges other, lesser-known varieties of tourmaline with specific names, including achroite (colorless), dravite (yellowish-brown to dark brown), schorl (black), siberite (lilac or violet-blue), tsilaisite (yellow to yellowish-green), verdilite (green). However, when green tourmalines are an emerald-green hue resulting from the presence of chrome (which also causes emeralds to be that distinctive emerald green), they are known as chrome tourmaline. Most tourmalines fall under the elbaite tourmaline variety.

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In addition to usually being bi- or tricolored, showing two or more colors from one view, tourmaline is also strongly pleochroic, meaning a stone that appears to be only one color face-up can appear to be two or more colors, or tones of the same color, depending upon which direction it is viewed. Look through the gem's table with a dichroscope and you'll see both of tourmaline's pleochroic colors.

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