Birthstone October - Tourmaline
Tourmaline comes in a staggering variety of colours - the most colourful of all gemstones. Some colour varieties are so prominent and popular that they’ve gained their own trade names. For example Rubellite: Tourmaline that is red, purplish red, brownish red, orange-red, or pink, Paraiba: An intense greenish blue, only found in the state of Paraiba, Brazil and Watermelon: Pink in the centre and green around the outside. You'll find these and other varieties in our own collection of Tourmaline Jewellery.
The traditional Tourmaline Wedding Anniversary is the 8th and, it is the birthstone for October and corresponds to the astrological sign of the Libra. If you need some inspiration for that meaningful birthday or anniversary gift, view our collection of designs featuring the tourmaline.
A little bit of history
The stone was first discovered by Dutch traders off the West Coast of Italy in the late 1600’s or early 1700’s. At the time, these green tourmalines were assumed to be emeralds. It wasn’t until the 1800s when scientists realised that these stones were their own species of mineral.
The name tourmaline comes from the Sinhalese term “turmali.” It’s a term Dutch merchants applied to the multi-coloured, water-worn pebbles that miners found in the gem gravels of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The name was given to all coloured crystals on the island of Sri Lanka at that time. This all-inclusive name indicates the inability of ancient gem dealers to differentiate tourmaline from other stones. In fact, at one time in history, pink and red tourmalines were thought to be rubies. Pink tourmaline tends to be pinker in colour than ruby. However, their similarities in appearance are so strong that the stones in the Russian crown jewels believed to be rubies for centuries are now thought to be tourmalines.
In the late 1800s, tourmaline became known as an American gem, with Tiffany gemologist George F. Kunz doing a great deal to promote the use of tourmaline in jewellery and giving praise to the stones mined in Maine and California.
In spite of its American roots, tourmaline’s biggest market at the time was in China. The last Empress of the Ch’ing Dynasty was so passionate about this stone that she bought huge quantities of it, mostly of pink colour from mines in California, discovered during her reign. The stone was used mainly in carvings, watch chain bars or jacket buttons worn by the Imperial Court and some wealthy personalities.
The American miners became so dependent on Chinese trade that when the Chinese government collapsed in 1912, the US tourmaline trade also collapsed.
A little bit of science
Scientifically, tourmaline is not a single mineral, but a group of 36 silicate minerals related in their physical and chemical properties. A tourmaline’s chemical composition directly influences its physical properties and is responsible for its colour.
Gemmologists use a tourmaline’s properties and chemical composition to define its species. The major tourmaline species are elbaite, liddicoatite, dravite, uvite and schorl.
Most gem tourmalines are elbaites, which are rich in sodium, lithium, aluminum, and sometimes—but very rarely—copper. They occur in rare igneous rocks and a single gem pocket can produce a variety of differently coloured tourmalines. As a result, many mines produce a variety of gem colours.
A little bit about mining and production
The supply of tourmaline began to expand during the first half of the twentieth century when Brazil yielded some large deposits. Then, beginning in the 1950s, additional finds appeared in countries around the world. Madagascar and Afghanistan have produced fine red tourmaline.
Since the late 1980s, the Paraíba area of Brazil has been known as a source of strikingly intense tourmaline colours, called Paraíba tourmalines. These discoveries heightened tourmaline’s appeal by bringing intense new hues to the marketplace.
Now mining of tourmaline takes place all over the world. All colours of the tourmaline family can be found around the world. Active mines can be found in Africa, Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, Burma, Canada, Elba, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Siberia, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, and the USA.
A little bit of folklore and symbolism
The ancient Egyptians had a legend about tourmaline gemstones. They believed that these stones got their amazing colours because they broke through a rainbow while pushing their way up through the earth.
The Egyptians used tourmaline for both physical and emotional remedies. They firmly believed that tourmaline could heal the nervous system, blood diseases, and lymph glands. Far Eastern medicine used the healing powers of tourmaline to treat all illnesses. Tourmaline is still believed to have healing powers in modern alternative medicine. It is also used to promote artistic and creative expression.
Tourmalines are credited with the power to enhance one’s understanding, increase self-confidence and amplify one’s psychic energies, and aid in concentration and communication.
Tourmalines were also believed to be useful in relaxing the body and the mind, and to help in the treatment of many different diseases such as anxiety, blood poisoning, arthritis, and heart disease.
Tourmaline also has many positive attributes in the spiritual realm. It is thought to bring healing powers to a shaman or medicine man. It is what is called a “receptive stone,” which means it is soothing, calming, inward, and magnetic, promoting meditation, spirituality, wisdom, and mysticism. It creates peace and promotes communication between the conscious and unconscious minds, allowing psychic awareness to blossom.
10 fascinating facts about Tourmaline
1. Its name is believed to be derived from ‘Tourmali’, which means ‘precious mixed-colour gem’ in Sinhalese (Sri Lanka).
2. Tourmaline has pyroelectric properties, which basically means tourmaline becomes electrically charged when rubbed or warmed by heat. When charged, it can attract dust and small paper scraps. When Dutch traders discovered this property, they used warmed Tourmaline to draw out ashes from their pipes and named the stone ‘Aschentrekker’, which meant ‘ash puller’
3. Tourmaline is a uniquely pleochroic gem, which viewed from different angles, gives the appearance of different colours, even showcasing different sets of hues
4. Tourmaline has often been confused with other gemstones. From the 1600’s when many coloured tourmalines were mistaken for zircon to 17th century crown jewels that were originally believed to be rubies.
5. In 1989, a group of prospectors discovered what are regarded as the finest tourmaline crystals ever found in a small mountain range in the state of Paraiba in Brazil. Due to the presence of copper, the stones have a vivid, bright turquoise colour and have been valued at over $5,000 per carat.
6. Tourmalines are considered to be a “cognitive gem,” as they are believed to help increase one’s self-confidence and psychic energies, improve one’s ability to understand and aid in both communication and concentration.
7. One of the most unique, treasured and beautiful of tourmaline varieties is the watermelon tourmaline. These tourmalines have a green or bluish-green outside colour with a core of pink or reddish-pink.
8. The last Empress of the Chi’ing Dynasty of China was a huge admirer of the gemstone. She even bought enormous quantities of it from USA; mostly of the pink variety. After her death, her body was rested on a tourmaline pillow as a symbol of her eternal love for this gem
9. There is a rare variety of tourmaline which exhibits a special reflection of light that resembles the eye of a cat. Due to this unique feature, this gemstone is known as ‘cat’s eye tourmaline’.
10. A slender blade of pink tourmaline piercing the top of a pink-and-blue tourmaline was discovered in Pederneira Mine, Brazil in 2011. This natural wonder named “The Great Divide” is the most expensive tourmaline ever discovered and is worth a jaw-dropping $1.2 million!
Caring for your Tourmaline
Tourmaline ranks 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale and is generally stable to light and isn’t affected by exposure to chemicals, but heat can damage a tourmaline. High heat can alter the colour, and sudden temperature change (thermal shock) can cause fracturing.
Warm, soapy water is the best method for cleaning tourmaline. The use of ultrasonic and steam cleaners is not recommended.