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Usable Gems... and a little opinion.
Gem tourmaline from Brazil is one of
the great colored gemstone stories... and it's still being written.
Brazil is located along the eastern coast of South
America, and dominates the continent in land mass, population, and economy.
Brazil is sometimes referred to as the face
of the continent. I assume this describes the shape, which resembles a head
looking toward the Atlantic Ocean.
We can use this description to easily locate
the important tourmaline producing states:
Paraiba is represented by the nose
Bahia by the area just below the nose
Minas Gerais by the mouth/chin area
While tourmaline is mined in other areas,
these three are the primary producers.
Gem tourmaline is a multi-colored wonder. It
comes in just about 100 different hues.
The same pocket or vein can yield tourmalines
of different colors. This is somewhat unusual
because the different colors are caused by tiny amounts of different elements,
such as iron, chromium, vanadium, or manganese.
On occasion a single crystal displays two,
or more colors. The most important variety of these multi-colored stones is
called Watermelon tourmaline because of their pink center and green outer
Minas Gerais seemingly yields tourmaline of
almost every color, including yellows, oranges, blues, and greens.
Intense pinks, and reds are the
most sought after of Minas Gerais tourmalines.
The neighboring state of Bahia is another strong
producer of tourmaline. Again, the array of colors is very broad.
Paraiba! The name is as well known in
the gem world today as Mogok (ruby) and Kashmir (blue sapphire).
In a short three years the intensely colored
blues, turquoise, and greens of Paraiba tourmaline took the gem world by storm.
As I can best recall, Paraiba tourmaline was
introduced to the market at the 1987 Tucson Shows.
Gem dealers had never seen anything like
these stones. The intensely colored gem stones were described as
"electric" colors in an attempt to capture the seeming inner glow.
dealers didn't even want to call them tourmaline. They too recognized the special
qualities of these gems, and wanted a unique name to aid in marketing.
Over a couple of years the gem industry
settled on the terms Neon tourmaline and Paraiba tourmaline.
What makes these stones different is a few
atoms of copper included in their chemistry. One laboratory has recently
reported finding atoms of gold as well.
When first introduced, the price was a few
hundred dollars per carat for blue stones over a carat in size. Within a few
days eager dealers had bid the price up to $1000 per carat.
These little gems are spectacular... and very
rare. They come from one hill near the town of Sao Jose de Batalha, Paraiba,
There are two mines on and in this hill. The
original mine is a hard rock, tunnel and room mine that extends as much as 100
feet down into the hill, following a few elusive, small veins.
This original mine stopped production in
about 1993 and prices have steadily increased since. Today's price for a top gem
blue Neon tourmaline can exceed $20,000 per carat.
The other mine is near the bottom of the
hill. Until recently this was a surface mine. recovering stones from the
alluvial rock that eroded from the hill and tumbled down to the stream bed
They have recently opened their own tunnels
and are now pursuing small veins.
This mine has always yielded miniscule
amounts of gem rough, said to average about 50 carats of rough per month.
The mine owner, and indeed the gem world is
hopeful that the new tunnel mining will increase that yield.
This story is the last of three describing
Brazilian gem origins.
In summary, Brazil is:
Number one producer of amethyst, citrine,
Site of the incredible Paraiba, or Neon
World class source of green, blue
tourmaline and rubelite
Source of the finest aquamarine,
alexandrite and chrysoberyl catís eye
The only producer of true Imperial topaz
Tucson in February. For those living in the cold and the
snow, it sounds like heaven.
Colored gem dealers from around the world know that it's
the closest thing to heaven for gem buying and selling.
The major Tucson Gem Shows open next week, and we'll be
there to buy, sell, and trade. We need to buy a little rough, and sell or trade
a few parcels of faceted gems.
We'll report on the shows next month.
If you're going to the Tucson Shows, let us know. We'll
try to see you there.