October Birthstone: Tourmaline
Mohs Hardness: 7 – 7.5
October Babies, you love your opals, but you also have a second birthstone! Tourmaline!
Tourmaline is a very special gemstone with particular American significance as some of the best tourmaline specimen in the world come from California and Maine. In fact, the Chinese Empress sent Chinese laborers to the mines in California to extract the rare and valuable pink tourmaline buried there. Huge quantities of pink tourmaline were sent to the Empress, earning the rich pink gem the nickname “Imperial Tourmaline”. It is rumored the Empress loved pink tourmaline so much, she used a large specimen as a pillow. Now, Tourmaline is softer than Diamonds, but it’s not THAT soft!
I love learning about Tourmaline. I had a very cool opportunity to visit tourmaline mines
while studying at the Gemological Institute of America in California. In groups, we stumbled through the darkness into the heart of a mountain with small flashlights, scanning the walls of deep shafts, seeing evidence of dynamite explosions and pick axes.
While we didn't find any gem quality tourmaline while in the mines, the discard piles on top of the mountain contained many amazing boulders showing tourmaline in its pre-gem quality state. I filled my backpack with large rocks, held a boulder on my lap on the trip down the mountain, and eventually brought a trunkful of boulders back to the east coast in my car--Some of my favorite gemstone souvenirs to date!
Tourmaline can come in a wide range of hues and tones. In fact, it is possible to see many colors within a single slice of tourmaline. While these gems have colloquial names like “Watermelon Tourmaline”, they are technically “Bi-Colored” if two colors appear or “Parti-Colored” if more than two colors are present. See? Tourmaline IS a party!
Tourmaline is dichroic, which means that different tones of color appear when the gem is viewed from different angles. Because of this characteristic, a lapidary (fancy word for stone cutter) must carefully cut the gem in a way that achieves the best color. Matching tourmaline for both color and tone can be extremely challenging!
The name Tourmaline is derived from the Sinhalese word "Tourmali", which means "many colors". I have been told, in Sri Lanka, the gemstone was so prevalent that small rainbow colored pebbles of tourmaline made up the paths throughout countryside.
There are two very valuable types of Tourmaline that should be mentioned: Rubellite and Paraiba Tourmaline (aka: Cuprian Elbaite Tourmaline).
Rubellite is a pink tourmaline that has achieved such high saturation that it appears “ruby-like” in its deep red richness.
“Paraiba Tourmaline” is the trade name/misnomer referring to Cuprian Elbaite Tourmaline, which is tourmaline that has a shocking turquoise color caused by the presence of copper (Cuprian) during formation. [Fun fact: Copper is also what causes turquoise's color!] “Paraiba” is a state in Brazil where this specimen was original found and, until recently, was assumed to be the only source for this incredible gemstone. Other sources have been identified and so this name is not appropriate for all tourmaline of this hue unless it is, in fact, from the Paraiba region, which would cause the gemstone to be worth a premium!
Fun Fact #1:
Tourmaline is one of the first colored gemstones used in jewelry in the United States. World-renowned gemologist Dr. George F. Kunz is credited for introducing green tourmaline to Charles Lewis Tiffany, Founder of Tiffany & Co., who then introduced the green gemstone to the world. This introduction and Kunz’s gemological prowess earned him the first Chief Gemologist position at the company.
Fun Fact #2:
Going to school in Southern California was amazing: