All you need to know for buying a piece of tourmaline jewelry
Whether you’re a jewelry buff looking to add to your collection or just after a unique and exquisite gemstone, the tourmaline might just be what you are looking for. This is an extremely diverse semi-precious stone and comes in every color of the rainbow as well as black and white! No wonder it is called the Rainbow gemstone. In this article, I’m going go through what makes the tourmaline a special gemstone, and why it might be exactly what you are looking for.
What is tourmaline?
The tourmaline is a crystal silicate. It was first found in the East Indies about 300 centuries ago, but today the gemstone comes from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America. This gemstone has good durability and its hardness varies from 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale. This makes it a good choice for regular wear. It has been a popular gemstone throughout the ages and due its wide range of colors, it suits every skin tone. Since the early 1990s, the stone has increased in popularity and its value has skyrocketed.
Types of tourmaline
There are many diverse types of minerals that come under the tourmaline umbrella. These differ from each other in color, clarity, value and other aspects. It would be too exhaustive to go through each type of tourmaline in detail here, but let’s take a quick look at some of the most popular types:
This is one of the cleanest tourmalines, meaning green tourmalines have high clarity and are often eye-clean and free of inclusions. Whether it is yellow or blue tinted, if the dominant color is green, then you have what is called a verdalite. Vendors may try to pass off a blue-green verdalite for the price of an indicolite (blue tourmalines) which are more expensive. If you are looking for a green tourmaline, the mint color is often considered the best. Brilliant or checkerboard cuts are best for this type of tourmaline, so before buying check the symmetry, proportions and reflection to find out if the stone has been cut properly. In addition to this, green tourmalines are available in almost any size and it can be relatively easy to find large multi-carat stones.
Green tourmalines do not receive heating or radiation treatments, as these processes do not give great results.
This is actually the rarest type of green tourmaline. It has an intense green color, which comes from the element chromium present in its formation. Chrome colored tourmalines often have more inclusions so make sure you check that it is eye-clean. Because of its special tint, it needs expert cutting to ensure that it will not appear too dark. They are generally found in smaller carat sizes.
Blue tourmalines, also called indicolite, is considered a precious stone whereas the other colors are semi-precious. They can have green tones (which can be removed with special treatment) but clear blue are more expensive. These generally have inclusions but this can be minimized by good cutting.
Be careful when you shop for an indicolite. They can be treated with heating and radiation. Blue Ice is a heated and irradiated stone that can be passed off as a blue tourmaline. Make sure you purchase from a reputable store.
Paraiba gemstone is a gemstone of great value and contains copper in its composition. Paraiba gemstones are valued for their rich neon green/blue color. A carat can cost upwards of $2000 with the richer colored stones valued at about $8000 per carat.
Red and Pink tourmalines
This is an unusual gemstone, deriving its name from its colors. It is a green and red stone, separated by a strip of white color, exactly like a watermelon. Cutting this stone requires skill. The best appearance is if the stone retains 50% of each color but this depends on personal preference.
This type is associated with the canary bird, as it is a gemstone with strong yellow color. These are mostly about one or two carats, and are extremely rare and therefore come with a premium. If you come across a large canary tourmaline, make certain that it is not a fake.
The 4Cs of a tourmaline
Just like diamonds, tourmalines are evaluated using the 4cs.
this refers to the quality of the gemstone and its overall appearance. Is it eye-clean or does it have flaws? Often, because tourmalines are formed in liquid-rich areas, liquid can be caught within during the process of crystal growing. The liquid runs parallel with the crystal, creating inclusions in the stone. Often, the color compensates for the clarity, but if the stone is of a light tone and has low color intensity then the inclusions will be noticeable, bringing the value of the stone down. Usually, pink and red tourmalines are tolerated with inclusions, but with other colors, low clarity decreases the value.
Interestingly, in certain cases, this is one of the rare stones where the right type of inclusions can actually increase the value of the stone. If there are many parallel-running thin threadlike inclusions, and if the stone is expertly cut, this can result in a cat’s-eye tourmaline. Cat’s-eye tourmalines are rare and highly valued and are so named because they look like a cat’s eye when they reflect light.
You will find that most tourmalines on the market are narrow and rectangular in shape. This is because tourmaline rough is often narrow and rectangular, and cutting it accordingly reduces waste of the rough. However, it can be cut into any shape or style. Another factor that cutters consider is how the stone absorbs light. They absorb light lengthwise and not across the crystals. The depth of color, tone and saturation can be manipulated based on the direction of the cut.
Tourmaline prices per carat increases dramatically after passing the first five carats. Apart from Paraiba (more on this later) which is rarely found over 1 carat, most tourmalines can grow to several carats.
This stone, as we mentioned before, comes in every imaginable color. Bright, colorful tourmalines are the most expensive. This includes rubellite and Paraiba. Darker stones are cheaper and not as coveted. The color of tourmalines can be enhanced using irradiation or heat treatment. This will be something to watch out for if you are planning on buying one.
How are tourmalines enhanced?
Tourmalines can sometimes be heat-treated. This is done to enhance the color of the stone. This does not affects its durability. Another way tourmalines can be enhanced is through resin and oil injections to improve the overall look of the stone. These stones require more care as they can be damaged. They can also be much cheaper than unenhanced stones. Color injections are also sometimes used to increase the tone and saturation of the stone’s color, however, this fades over time due to light and heat and exposure. This type of enhancement reduces the value of the stone so ensure that you know whether the stone has been enhanced prior to purchasing it.
As we mentioned above, tourmalines have a hardness range of 7 -7.5 on the Mohs scale. This means that materials with a lower hardness scale cannot scratch the stone. One way to test whether your stone is authentic is to scratch its surface with a material with a hardness range lower than that of a tourmaline. If it leaves a scratch, then the stone may not be an actual tourmaline. Also, always buy from a reputed dealer.
How to care for your tourmaline jewelry
Tourmalines are a hard gemstone and are quite durable. However, you should wipe your tourmalines as they can attract dust. Also, use warm water and soap and wipe with a soft cloth for a better clean.
Do not use steamers and do not expose tourmalines to hot temperatures as you can damage them. When working out or doing outdoor activities, it is best to remove any tourmaline jewelry to prevent unnecessary scratches.
Tourmaline in jewelry
Tourmalines look great in any type of jewelry. They make amazing center stones for rings and are a great choice for engagement rings. If you can afford it, a stone like a Paraiba makes for a unique and classy ring. Tourmalines also look great as pendants and in other types of jewelry.
Tourmaline price guide
- Tourmalines come in a range of prices and you can be sure to find one to suit your budget. The price range depends on the quality of the stone and the color.
- Red tourmalines are between 200$ and 300$ per carat, but a rubellite tourmaline will be somewhat more costly. These can cost upwards of $300 per carat. Pink tourmalines, on the other hand, are more affordable. They range in price from 80-100$ for the first five carats. With purples tourmalines, the price depends on the strength of the color. Lighter ones are less expensive at about $200 per carat, while darker ones can cost over $300. Once over 5 carats, the price per carat is usually doubled.
- Blue stones can be quite costly and usually starts at around $300. Of course, a main factor in consideration of the price is the quality of the gemstone. The rare Paraiba tourmaline is the most expensive and a carat begins at about $2000.
- Green tourmalines generally range from $300 to $500, although lower quality stones can be found for about $100 per carat. Yellow and orange tourmalines are also priced around this range. Brown tourmaline is probably the cheapest at about $20 per carat, but if the quality is high, they can climb to about $150 per carat.
- Multi-colored tourmalines can cost $500 to about $1000. This refers to stones like the watermelon tourmaline.
Photo courtesy for all photos: overstock.com