Tourmaline is a fabulous gem which comes in a range of over one hundred dazzling colours. Its name comes from the Sinhalese word ‘turmali’ (name in the past used by jewellers to refer to all stones from Sri Lanka, Ceylon at the time), translating roughly as ‘stone of many colours’ referring to the extensive variety of shades which characterises this splendid crystal. Some call this the ‘chameleon gem’ as its colour spectrum ranges from black to yellow, green, pink, blue, magenta, to indigo. There are even multicoloured varieties, for instance those green on the outside and pink on the inside, no doubt a spectacular natural wonder.

What is Tourmaline?

This is a complex borosilicate mineral, essentially sodium aluminium borosilicate with the frequent presence of other elements (such as iron, chromium, lithium, manganese, calcium or any other alkaline metal) which are responsible for the plethora of pigmentation.

The structure of Tourmaline crystals typically is an elongated pyramid shape with vertical striations. Crystals can measure up to a few centimetres long and specimens of exceptional translucency and vitreous lustre are not uncommon and very sought after among collectors and jewellers alike.

Characteristics of Tourmaline

In gemmology, Tourmaline is particularly suitable and versatile for being chiselled and sculpted thanks to its astonishing array of colours, its vitreous lustre and its hardness (measuring 7 on the Mohs scale). Varieties suitable for jewellery are however quite rare.  

Pyroelectricity is one of the peculiarities of Tourmaline, which temporarily acquires an electric charge if heated or if rubbed. One end of the prism will be positively charged and the other end will bear the negative charge, thus the rock will attract (or repel) fine iron dust or small shreds of paper.

A further typical characteristic of this mineral is piezoelectricity, by which Tourmaline stores electricity if exposed to certain types of pressure. For this reason, some Tourmaline crystals are employed in the construction of manometers and other instruments for the measurement of high pressure.

Types of Tourmaline

‘Noble’ varieties of Tourmaline are those most appreciated and used by jewellers. These are the translucent type, which once cut become fabulous and sought after gems.

The following are the most popular and in demand varieties identified by colour:

  • Rubelite Tourmaline – which ranges from red to pink because of the presence of iron and manganese
  • Indicolite (Indigolite) Tourmaline – which is a deep neon blue shade thanks to particles of iron
  • Verdelite Tourmaline – from light to rich green due to traces of iron and titanium
  • Paraiba Tourmaline –mainly extracted from Mina da Batalha in Brazil, these are small, rare and precious gems of a vivid turquoise colour, this is the most valuable and precious variety
  • Dravite Torumaline – better known as ‘brown Tourmaline’ due to its colour
  • Black Tourmaline (or Schorl) – this is the most common variety as it accounts for 95% of Tourmaline available on the globe, though it is often not a pure black colour as it presents traces or streaks of blue or brown

There are also polychromatic varieties, typified by multiple pigments within the same crystal. The ‘watermelon’ is a distinctive and greatly sought after variety. Cutting a cross section of these crystals will reveal sensational shades of colour: pink in the centre, fading into white and then into green around the outside,  just like the colouring of a slice of watermelon.

Colourless Tourmaline, also known as Acroite or white Tourmaline, is exceptionally rare but also less sought after than other varieties.

Identifying Tourmaline

To date, Tourmaline is one of very few gems which has not been artificially recreated in a laboratory, therefore there are no fakes on the market. However, some of the more opaque and rougher stones are often heated to around 700° to obtain brighter and more translucent gems, in order to increase their value and render them more sought after. At times, gems of a lesser value can be treated to enhance their colour or even lighten them, again to render them more commercially desirable.

As Tourmaline is found in such a wide spectrum of colours, this mineral is often mistaken for other precious stones. However a few key characteristics will help identify genuine Tourmaline gems:

·         Check for double refraction as all Tourmaline crystals have one of two hues of colour: a darker shade and a lighter one, depending on the angle they are observed at

·         Tourmaline is also characterised by minute inclusions which render each gem totally unique, these are more visible and noticeable in lighter-coloured varieties such as Paraiba and Rubelite

·         As already mentioned above, pyroelectricity and piezoelectricity are distinctive features of this crystal, for this reason also known as the ‘Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) magnet’

Where can Tourmaline be found?

This astounding gem is considered the National gemstone of the United States, where copious amounts of the rock have been mined for centuries. Though the record for Tourmaline extraction is nowadays held by Brazil, the largest specimen was found in Madagascar, a record breaking 40cm long and 9cm wide Rubelite gem weighing 6 kilograms.

This important mineral is extracted in several locations across the world, though the largest and most notable mines are found in Brazil (Minas Geraes and Bahia). Other large mines lay in Afghanistan (mainly Verdeline and Indicolite gems), Australia, Burma (Myanmar), India, Italy (mainly on Mount Capanne on the island of Elba, while black gems have been found on the Giglio Island just off the southern coast of Tuscany), Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia (on the Ural mountains), Sri Lanka, Switzerland (in the canton of Ticino), Tanzania (mainly Verdelite gems), the United States (in California and Maine), Congo, Zambia (where magnificent specimens of Rubelite and Canary Tourmaline have been found), and in Zimbabwe.

The exquisite Paraiba variety is mainly extracted in Brazil, and in the Nineties further deposits were discovered in Nigeria and Mozambique. However, the colours of gems extracted in the African states are not as bright as those found in Brazil, and are therefore less in demand.

Tourmaline owes its popularity to the jeweller and mineralogist George Kunz, who in 1876 sold a magnificent green gem (found in Maine, United States) to the prestigious Tiffany & Co. boutique in New York.

Properties of Tourmaline

Worn as an amulet, Tourmaline has a powerful effect on our physical wellbeing by alleviating chronic exhaustion, favouring the recovery of vital energies and strengthening the immune system. It can also help purify the body, repelling negative fluxes such as radiation waves or magnetic and eclectic fields (it is in fact considered a highly protective stone).

Tourmaline can also detox and purify the organism. The beneficial effects will vary depending on the colour of the gem: Verdelite is helpful in healing a nervous breakdown and to slow down degenerative processes (such as tumours); Rubelite protects the heart, the spleen and the liver; Dravite favours digestion and stimulates the metabolism; while the Paraiba variety can benefit the functioning of hormones and of the liver.

On a psychic level, it can alleviate mental stress and help in developing creativity and memory. Tourmaline is a gem which will improve our self-awareness, which will in turn boost our self esteem and clear our minds. It will help us stay focused and undertake our commitments pragmatically, while taking responsibility for our actions.

Esoteric Tourmaline

Tourmaline is the birthstone for October.

In crystal therapy, this is one of the most powerful of crystals as it is reputed a catalyst for positive energies: thanks to the influence of this stone, the energy centres of our body are stimulated and purified. Furthermore, it favours the balancing of both of the hemispheres of the brain (left and right) as well as our feminine and masculine energies (Yin and Yang).

Holding  a Tourmaline gem in the left hand in moments of intense stress is highly recommended in order to ease anxiety and nervous tension. This stone acts rapidly and efficiently, therefore you won’t need to carry it with you for prolonged periods of time. Prior to putting the rock down, accumulated negative energies can be released by placing the gem in water for a couple of minutes.

Differently coloured gems will positively influence different chakras:

·         Red Tourmaline (Rubelite) is linked to the first chakra (Muladhara), and will influence our  sexual energy, our nourishment and our ability to be concrete and pragmatic

·         Orange Tourmaline is in tune with the second chakra (Swadhisthana) and stimulates sexual desire, enthusiasm and creativity

·         Yellow Tourmaline corresponds to the third chakra (Manipura), that is the chakra linked to the metabolism, to anxieties and to fear

·         Green Tourmaline (Verdeline) is associated to the fourth chakra (Anahata), and will impact on our ability to communicate, to reflect and to express ourselves, while on a more physical level it will balance the functioning of our thyroid

·         Purple Tourmaline stimulates the fifth chakra (Ajna), also known as the third eye this is the chakra of intuition, intellect and spirituality

·         And finally, pink Tourmaline is linked to the sixth chakra (Sahasrara), that is the chakra of the crown, this gem will influence our conscience and self awareness.

Black Tourmaline deserves a particular mention as it is thought to have special powers. In ancient times, sorcerers used this stone as a protective measure against demons and powerful spells. Today, this same variety of Tourmaline is often utilised to create protective talismans to ward off negative energies and the forces of evil. Furthermore, it is a shamanic rock, used for protection and purification during ritual work.