Tourmaline is a fascinating gemstone coveted for its vibrant colours and mystical allure. It has captivated jewellery enthusiasts for centuries. Tourmaline is a beautiful, diverse and versatile stone with a rich and storied history. A favourite gem of many jewellery lovers and mineral collectors, it is found in a wide range of colours, with varying physical properties and chemical compositions. Let us explore why tourmaline is so well-loved and take a look at the geological and historical significance of this incredible gemstone.
Meaning and Symbolism
Tourmaline stones elicit a myriad of symbolic meanings, particularly because it naturally occurs in a rainbow palette of colours. Believed to possess powerful protective properties, tourmaline is said to guard its wearer against negative energies and promote harmony and balance. It is thought to have strong healing properties and is said to help with issues related to the nervous system and immune system. Tourmaline may promote creativity, love, and spiritual growth.
For those born in October, tourmaline is one of their birthstones along with opal.
Each colour of tourmaline carries its own unique significance:
- Pink Tourmaline: Often associated with love and compassion, pink tourmaline is thought to foster emotional healing, promote self-love, and attract positive relationships.
- Green Tourmaline: Known as the stone of abundance, green tourmaline is associated with prosperity, success, and rejuvenation. It is believed to enhance creativity and attract wealth and good fortune.
- Blue Tourmaline: Symbolizing clear communication and psychic abilities, blue tourmaline is thought to facilitate honest expression, deepen intuition, and provide a sense of calmness and tranquility.
- Watermelon Tourmaline: This captivating variety showcases a unique combination of green and pink hues, representing the union of masculine and feminine energies. It is believed to promote harmony, balance, and a sense of wholeness.
- Black Tourmaline: The most common tourmaline colour, black tourmaline provides protection and grounding.
Different colour families of tourmaline have been given specific names to help distinguish between them. They are differentiated as follows:
- Rubellite: red tourmaline
- Indicolite: blue tourmaline
- Schorl: black tourmaline
- Chrome: used to describe green tourmaline coloured by chromium or vanadium
- Paraíba: a highly sought after blue to green tourmaline coloured by trace amounts of copper, originally discovered in the Paraíba region of Brazil
Geology and Mining
The name tourmaline refers to a large group of complex boron-silicate minerals. Tourmaline often begins its formation as igneous rock, going through several stages before ultimately crystallizing into the recognizable tourmaline crystals. Structurally, tourmalines are elongated prismatic crystals with grooved surfaces and a triangular cross section. Often these crystals have natural inclusions that may add to the interest of the stone.
Tourmaline is found in various locations around the world, and each source offers unique characteristics and qualities. The mining practices associated with tourmaline extraction can vary depending on the location and scale of the operation. Sometimes tourmaline is found in stream sediment and other times inside of cavities in other rocks. Some prominent tourmaline mining sources include:
- Brazil: Brazil is one of the largest producers of tourmaline, particularly the Paraíba variety known for its vivid blue-green hues. Mining practices in Brazil involve both open-pit and underground mining techniques, ensuring the extraction of high-quality gemstones.
- United States: California and Maine are notable sources of tourmaline in the United States. In the US, the gemstone is found in pegmatite deposits, and mining techniques involve the use of heavy machinery and hand tools. Native Americans were mining and using tourmaline before recorded history.
- Africa: Various African countries, such as Nigeria, Mozambique, and Madagascar, are renowned for their tourmaline deposits. Artisanal mining is prevalent in some regions, where local communities extract tourmaline using traditional techniques.
- Afghanistan: A country with significant tourmaline deposits, the Panjshir Valley is notable for pink and red tourmaline.
- Sri Lanka and Pakistan: These two countries have been a significant source of tourmaline for centuries. Both of these regions produce a variety of tourmaline colours.
Tourmaline has a long and fascinating history, intertwined with legend, folklore, and cultural beliefs.
The ancient Romans believed that tourmaline could help to improve concentration and mental clarity. Ancient Egyptians cherished tourmaline for its supposed ability to grant protection during the journey to the afterlife. It is said that tourmaline jewels and talismans adorned the pharaohs and were buried alongside them in their tombs. In Chinese culture, tourmaline is associated with the philosopher Confucius, who is said to have possessed a deep love for the gemstone. It was believed to enhance wisdom, knowledge, and intellectual pursuits.
During the Renaissance period in Europe, tourmaline gained popularity among the aristocracy, who adorned themselves with intricately designed jewellery featuring this incredible and—at the time— rare gemstone.
One of the first documented discoveries of tourmaline was in the 1500s, when Portuguese explorers in Brazil discovered blue and green coloured tourmaline and sent it home believing it to be sapphire and emerald.
It was not until 1793 that tourmaline’s true identity was recognized as a mineral distinct from others it had previously been mistaken with. In fact, the name "tourmaline" comes from the Sinhalese word “tōramalli” or “turmali," which means "mixed colours” or “mixed gemstones.”
In the 1800s, tourmaline gained popularity in Europe as a gemstone for jewellery. This was due in part to the discovery of a large deposit of tourmaline in Brazil. This deposit yielded large quantities of high-quality tourmaline, and as a result, tourmaline became more widely accessible and popular. It was not long after that tourmaline was discovered in Maine, which became the first commercial gemstone mine in the United States, and then in California.
A more recent point of interest is that tourmaline can carry an electrical current, developing a charge at each of its ends when heated or placed under pressure. This ability to become polarized has led to tourmaline being used in scientific instruments as well as for holistic healing.
Tourmaline's exquisite appearance as well as its geological and historical significance make it a gemstone of immense allure. From its protective properties to its association with love and abundance, tourmaline continues to captivate the hearts of jewellery enthusiasts around the world. Understanding the mining practices and historical context behind tourmaline enhances our appreciation for this remarkable gemstone. Whether you choose a pink, green, blue, or watermelon variety, you can be assured that your tourmaline jewellery will be an exquisite addition to your collection
To work with Lori to design a bespoke piece of tourmaline jewellery, get in touch now!
Hobart M. King, PhD, GIA Graduate Gemologist. Tourmaline: Earth’s most colorful mineral and gem material. https://geology.com/minerals/tourmaline.shtml
Mamut Mat, Tourmaline. https://geologyscience.com/minerals/tourmaline/#Physical_properties_and_characteristics