What is Tourmaline?

Tourmalines are gems with an incomparable variety of colors.  The name tourmaline comes from the Singhalese words “tura mali”. In translation, this means something like “stone with mixed colors”, referring to the color spectrum of this gemstone, which outdoes that of all other precious stones. There are tourmalines from red to green and from blue to yellow. There are tourmalines which change their color when the light changes from daylight to artificial light, and some show the light effect of a cat”s eye. No two tourmalines are exactly alike.

Tourmalines are mixed crystals of aluminium boron silicate with a complex and changing composition. The mineral group is a fairly complex one. Even slight changes in the composition cause completely different colors.

In the trade, the individual color variants have their own names. For example, a tourmaline of an intense red is known as a “rubellite,” but only if it continues to display the same fine ruby red in artificial light as it did in daylight. If the color changes when the light source does, the stone is called a pink or shocking pink tourmaline. In the language of the gemmologists, blue tourmalines are known as “indigolites,” yellowish-brown to dark brown ones as “dravites” and black ones as “schorl.”

One particularly popular variety is the green Tourmaline, known as a “verdelite” in the trade. The absolute highlight among the tourmalines is the “Paraiba tourmaline”, a gemstone of an intense blue to blue-green which was not discovered until 1987 in a mine in the Brazilian state of Paraiba. In good qualities, these gemstones are much sought-after treasures today. Since tourmalines from Malawi with a vivid yellow color, known as “canary tourmalines”, came into the trade, the color yellow, which was previously very scarce indeed, has been very well represented in the endless spectrum of colors boasted by the “gemstone of the rainbow”.

Tourmaline collage

Tourmalines are found almost all over the world. There are major deposits in Brazil, Sri Lanka and South and south-west Africa. Other finds have been made in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Tourmalines are also found in the USA, mainly in California and Maine. Although there are plenty of gemstone deposits which contain tourmalines, good qualities and fine colors are not often discovered among them. For this reason, the price spectrum of the tourmaline is almost as broad as that of its color. It is not only designers who love the tourmaline on account of its inspiring variety of color. Scientists too are interested in it because of its astonishing physical qualities, for tourmalines can become electrically charged when they are heated and then allowed to cool. 

Then, they have a positive charge at one end and a negative one at the other. This is known as “pyro-electricity,” derived from the Greek word “pyr,” meaning fire. The gemstone also becomes charged under pressure, the polarity subsequently changing when the pressure is taken off. When the charge changes the tourmaline begins to oscillate, similar to a rock crystal but much more pronouncedly. In the fascinating world of gemstones, the tourmaline is very special. Its high availability and its glorious, incomparable color spectrum make it one of our most popular gemstones - and apart from that, almost every tourmaline is unique.