Tourmaline: The Birthstone of Many Colors

teardrop earrings“Between tourmaline (whose color depends on trace elements in its chemical makeup) and opal (which diffracts light to show a play of multiple colors), October’s birthstones offer a full spectrum of gems to suit anyone’s personal tastes.” Ancient legends told that both stones came to earth via a rainbow (hence their multi-colored tones).  What makes these stones fascinating is their colorful histories that, perhaps, overshadow their varied hues.

Last week, we explored the history and legends of the ominous opal; this week, we’re looking at the technicolor tourmaline, October’s alternate birthstone.

Celebrating an October birthday or anniversary or do you just love the colorful variety of these stones? Gallery Byzantium offers select pieces set with tourmaline.

See another piece you that you love but would like set with an opal or tourmaline? Give us a call at 800-798-6173 or e-mail us at info@gallerybyzantium and we’d be happy to customize one of our pieces for you!

The Technicolor Birthstone

Necklace. 19th-20th century. Pink Tourmaline. European. Via

Much like its opal counterpart, tourmaline encompasses every color of the rainbow.  Those born in October are especially fortunate as this birthstone is available in a vast array of colors – more-so than any other gem.

The word “tourmaline” is derived from the Sinhalese term “turmali,” or “gem of many colors.”  “Egyptian legend tells that tourmaline found its famed array of colors when, on its journey up from the earth’s center, it passed through a rainbow. Because of its colorful occurrences, tourmaline has been confused with other gems throughout history.”  

It was first discovered in the 1500s in Brazil by a Spanish conquistador who mistook the green gemstone for an emerald (Brazil remains a major source of tourmaline to this day).  Pink and red variations were often confused with rubies – the similarities are so striking that the rubies in the Russian crown jewels are now believed to be tourmaline (a helpful hint: pink tourmaline has a pinker tone to it than the blood-red ruby. It is also rarer than ruby!).   It wasn’t until the 19th century that tourmaline was identified as its own mineral species.

The 1800s brought on a surge of popularity for the rainbow stone.  In addition to receiving its own mineral categorization, its popularity soared.  Green tourmaline was abundant in Maine and a fad was launched when mineralogist George Kunz sold a large quantity of the New England stones to the exclusive Tiffany & Co..  Across the globe, Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi was obsessed with pink tourmaline, importing an abundance of it from deposits in San Diego.

While opal has been associated with luck and good fortune, tourmaline was thought to boost creativity and bring insight.  Pink stones, in particular, represented love and humanitarianism.

The Magnetism of Tourmaline

Brooch. 1908. John Paul Cooper. Gold (15 kt), Abalone, tourmaline, moonstone, pearl, amethyst, and chrysoprase, jade (?). England. Via

The world’s finest tourmaline is mined in the Paraiba region of Brazil.  The world’s largest tourmaline, weighing over 190 carats, was discovered there.  The colors of the Brazilian stones are especially vivid and striking, making them highly desirable.

Perhaps most popular, and commonly seen in jewelry, is the watermelon variation.  These stones are green at one end and pinkish-red at the other, with the colors divided by a white stripe.  “While plenty of tourmaline is mined around the world, it’s rare to find fine gem-quality tourmaline in bright colors. This range of material means that the price of tourmaline can vary almost as much as the color.”

In addition to its array of color, this gemstone is also unique as it is, in a way, magnetic.  Tourmaline can “become electrically charged through heat (pyroelectricity) and through pressure (piezoelectricity). When charged, tourmaline can act as a magnet by oscillating, and by attracting or repelling particles of dust.”

Because of this attraction, tourmaline requires regular cleaning to keep it looking its best.  A simple wiping with warm, soapy water is all it really requires.  Like other gemstones, tourmaline should not undergo ultrasonic cleaning.  Otherwise, the stone is pretty durable, ranking between 7 and 7.5 on the Mohs scale.

Main image: mineral: turmalin elbait, origin Madagascar; author of the photo Spirifer Association 10.07.2006r. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Multicolor Tourmaline –
October Birthstones –
Tourmaline Meaning –
Tourmaline Gemstone Information –
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