In 1890 an author named Saxe Holm wrote a charming story entitled, My Tourmaline. The young heroine possesses a crystal of tourmaline, which she finds in the roots of a large tree. It brings her good fortune until she loses it. Bereft until she finally finds it in someone else’s collection, she and her tourmaline are eventually re-united and live “happily ever after.”
What is it about tourmaline that makes people feel so connected to it? One reason is because of all the colors it comes in. There is no other mineral that comes in as many hues. This rainbow quality translates to a lightness and happiness that appeals to all. It also suggests tolerance, flexibility and a compassionate understanding. The Sri Lankans named the gem, “turamali”, meaning a stone of mixed colors.
A rainbow of gemstones, all of them are tourmaline.
Another quality of tourmaline is its pyroelectricity. If heated, it actually has magnetic properties. As a result, the mineral has many industrial uses. You can find it in hairdryers to calm static hair, in joint wraps to promote blood circulation, and in tuning circuits for conducting TV and radio frequencies. In the metaphysical world, tourmaline is seen as a strong protector, reflecting negativity away from anyone possessing the stone. It’s also seen as a grounding stone that promotes a sense of power and self-confidence.
Finally, tourmaline is a popular gemstone, featured prominently as the birthstone for October and the anniversary stone for the 8th and 38th anniversaries. It has a hardness of 7 – 7.5 on the Mohs scale, so it’s durable enough to be set in rings. It’s not as expensive as ruby, emerald, or sapphire, but it can sometimes mimic these colors. And it’s mined on almost every continent– from the state of Maine to the island of Madagascar.
You may own a tourmaline and not even know it, because the gem has so many trade names. If you own a rubellite, an indicolite, a verdelite, a siberite, an achroite, or a paraiba, you actually own a tourmaline. You may also have a bi-colored or parti-colored tourmaline, a watermelon tourmaline, or even tourmalinated quartz! There are so many different looks to this versatile mineral. If these pictures are motivating you to own a tourmaline (or a second one), stop in our store. We’d be happy to introduce you to the ones in our showcase.
Watermelon tourmaline earrings with rubellite and green tourmaline: custom-made by our benchjewelers
Tourmalinated Quartz: The black crystals are the tourmaline, also called schorl.
Watermelon tourmaline, carved into butterfly wings, and made into a pendant by our benchjewelers
Black Opal and Rubellite Tourmaline
I’m married to a man born in October, and I can testify that he’s complicated. But I never thought October’s two birthstones had unusual complexity to them until I started to really study them. Tourmaline has a complex physical nature while Opal has a complex history and symbolic nature. Let’s see if light can be shed on these two amazing gems.
Tourmaline wasn’t recognized as a separate group of minerals until the 1800s. It comes in an unbelievable array of colors, so chrome tourmaline was often mistaken for emerald. Rubellite tourmaline was thought to be ruby. Back in the days before modern mineralogy, gem stones were often identified by their color. Chemically, tourmaline is complicated because many of its elements have the ability to replace one another in a process called isomorphous replacement. That’s why tourmaline from the Paraiba mine in Brazil can be neon blue. Copper is part of its chemical makeup. That’s why chrome tourmaline from Tanzania can be a deep, almost emerald green. Chromium is part of its formula. Pink tourmaline from Zambia has magnesium and black tourmaline (also called schorl) has iron. These gems all have the same basic chemical formula, but it’s a formula that allows for lots of substitutions.
The crystal habit of tourmaline is a unique 3-sided column, with cross sections that resemble rounded triangles. It’s not uncommon to see different colors evident in the same crystal, leading to bi- and tri-colored tourmaline. There’s even watermelon tourmaline which has cross sections that show pink centers and green boundaries. The value of tourmaline is complicated, too. A high quality Paraiba tourmaline sells for tens of thousands of dollars per carat. A large piece of black tourmaline sells on Amazon for under $10.
Paraiba tourmalines photographed from the GIA Collection for the CIBJO project from the Dr. Eduard J. Gubelin Collection.
What’s quite complex about opal is its reputation. It falls in and out of favor, depending on who writes about it, who wears it, and what superstitious stories are made up about it. From ancient mythology, the opal was said to be a symbol of purity, hope, and innocence. It was supposed to be protection against evil. But, during the Black Plague of the 14th century, opal wearers often died. The rumor circulated that it was the opal that caused death. Opals were evil! In the 1500s opinion changed. Shakespeare wrote about opal as the “queen of gems.” It became popular once again. But, in the early 1800s, Sir Walter Scott wrote a book whose character, Lady Hermione, dies soon after a drop of holy water destroys her opal’s colors. It’s uncertain what caused Hermione’s death, but the opal market was clearly dead for 50 years because of Sir Walter Scott’s book.
In 1877, an amazing Australian black opal was discovered, and Queen Victoria decided that she liked opals. Opals were good! She gave one to each of her five daughters, and her love of it made the gem popular again. Today, opals still swim in complexity. Sometimes I’ll hear customers talk about the superstition of opal only being good luck to those born in October. Or they’ll talk about Sir Walter Scott’s book. But my opal has never brought me anything but joy–and I was born in June!
If you’re born in October, be proud of the fact that your birthstones are complicated. It’s much more interesting than perfect clarity! Embrace the mystery.