Tourmaline has been fascinating its owners for thousands of years, although it was not identified as a gem variety in its own right until 1703, when a parcel of mixed gems was sent from Ceylon to Holland. The package was simply labelled “turmali”, which translates from Sinhalese to “mixed precious stones”. The legend goes that children playing on Dutch streets with the stones found that they attracted dirt particles as they were heated by the sun. On showing the strange effect to their parents, they passed the stones to a local gemmologist who realised they were a unique mineral group, and he later named them after the label on the original package.
This unique ability to attract particles is known as pyroelectricity. When Tourmalines are heated or rubbed they create an electrical charge, and for this reason non gem-quality specimens are used in electrical devices.
Early observers of the gemstone believed that its wide variety of colours was thanks to the gem being formed whilst passing over a rainbow and absorbing all of its magical shades. This exquisite gemstone naturally occurs in a myriad of stunning colours and its crystal structure makes it look like it is almost pre-faceted by Mother Nature. Tourmaline is rarely found colourless. As with other gemstone families, the presence of different chemicals during the time the gem was crystallising has provided Tourmaline with an array of spectacular colours.
When a deep, vivid green, they are often rich in chromium and are sometimes named Chrome Tourmaline. Iron-rich Tourmalines are normally black to deep brown and magnesium-rich varieties can occur in a yellowish brown colour. Lithium-rich Tourmalines come in a rainbow of colours.
Members of the Tourmaline family are not from the same crystal structure and their chemical compositions also vary. What they do have in common is that they all occur in nature as long, thin, straight gems and usually have a triangular cross-section.
Tourmaline is pleochroic, which means you can see different colours when viewed from different angles. As well as being pleochroic, the crystals may grow to be green at one end and pink at the other: this variety is called Bi- Coloured Tourmaline. When found with green on the outside and pink inside, they are known as Watermelon Tourmaline.
Throughout history, Tourmaline was often mixed up with other beautiful gemstones. Green Tourmaline was said to be confused with Emerald. The folklore and legend surrounding Tourmaline has only begun to emerge in the last few hundred years. Black Tourmaline (known as Schorl) has been associated with grieving. Tourmaline is considered a good luck gem and is sometimes referred to as the “stone of wisdom”. It is also said to be “resistant to all vagaries of fate” – in other words it protects the person wearing it from ill fortune. It is the gemstone of friendship, relationships and love, and is said to help strengthen and intensify these. Believed to possess healing warmth, if you hold the gemstone it has been said it can balance your “prana,” the energy of your soul. Wear the gemstone as a talisman and it will bring to you good friends and good lovers. It is also said that Tourmalines encourage artistic intuition. In fact, Tourmaline is known to have many faces and expresses every mood!
Tourmalines are found in various parts of the world; however, most on the market today are from Brazil. That said, there is a Tourmaline mine in Maine, California that has been in operation since 1822.