Paraíba Tourmaline Buying Guide
Paraíba tourmaline’s neon blue hues stunned the gem world in the 1980s. These intense colors finally allowed tourmaline to claim its space in the gem market on its own terms. No longer are tourmalines judged simply as imitations of better-known gems or as collector’s items.
Since their discovery, these gems have risen consistently in price. Geological rarity and laborious mining keep the paraíba tourmaline supply low. However, demand is high and rising. Because of their rarity and unique colors, the quality and value factors for these gems differ from other varieties of tourmaline. Be sure to understand these factors before beginning the paraíba tourmaline buying process.
What is a Paraíba Tourmaline?
Paraíba is a variety of elbaite tourmaline with copper content. The name comes from the Brazilian state of Paraíba, the original source. Subsequent discoveries of similar stones in Nigeria and Mozambique caused some controversy over the use of this name. The gem community largely accepts paraíba as a variety name. Nevertheless, some gem dealers may refer to the gems that come from Africa as “paraíba-like” or cuprian tourmalines. However, laboratory reports from major gemological laboratories note that paraíba refers to copper content, not locality.
Furthermore, GIA’s identification of cuprian liddicoatite in 2017 from unknown sources may expand the definition of paraíba tourmaline to include other cuprian gem species of tourmaline.
Paraíba Tourmaline Buying and the Four Cs
The IGS tourmaline value listing has price guidelines for paraíba tourmaline.
Paraíba tourmalines are copper-bearing, and the copper content in these crystals imparts the intense neon blue hues that make paraíba tourmalines so desirable. These gems also tend to be medium in tone and highly saturated, making them the most valuable variety of tourmaline.
Secondary green hues are common. They arise from manganese or iron content. When slight, they don’t significantly impact price. However, blue stones with a strong green hue hold less value than a more visibly pure blue.
Gems with a green primary hue are less valuable than their blue counterparts. These gems can be slightly yellowish or have a minty hue. These stones can also exhibit highly saturated “electric” colors.
Rare violet and purple paraíba tourmalines also occur but prove difficult to find. However, despite their rarity, these gems hold less value than their saturated blue and green counterparts.
Paraíba tourmalines are a Type III gem, which means they usually contain eye-visible inclusions. Thus, very rare eye-clean gems will command premium prices. However, inclusions don’t detract significantly from value.
Some gems have inclusions of native copper, which appear as reflective sparkles in the gem.
In very rare instances, paraíba tourmalines have inclusions of hollow tubes and can display four-ray stars. These gems show chatoyancy, or the cat’s eye effect, more commonly than asterism. However, they rarely appear on the market because faceted gems generally command higher prices than cat’s eye cabochons.
Although some gems contain inclusions that make them unsuitable for faceting, they can still make beautiful cabochons with excellent color. Cabochons are less expensive than faceted gems.
Due to their rarity, paraíba tourmalines receive custom cuts. They’re unavailable in standardized sizes. The best cuts will enhance the stone’s color and brilliance. While oval cuts are the most prevalent, many other designs are available.
Look for a cut that is symmetrical and has the proper proportions. Check for dark areas and windows, which detract slightly from value. Cut quality isn’t a very important value factor in paraíba tourmalines, but a well-cut gem will be more attractive.
Brazilian material is rare above one carat and even scarcer above two. On the other hand, gems from Africa are larger, with stones up to 20 carats possibly available. Paraíba tourmalines experience price jumps at one, two, three, ten, and twenty carats.
Although spectacular material can come from any source, Brazilian stones sell at a premium. The origin of these tourmalines can be determined by quantitative chemical analysis, available at most major gem laboratories. Any stone advertised as Brazilian in origin should have an accompanying laboratory report to confirm this.
Paraíba tourmalines from Brazil are generally small, with poor clarity but excellent color. Nigerian material usually exhibits somewhat less saturated color, but Mozambique produces large, high-clarity crystals with excellent color.
Heat and Clarity Treatments
Most paraíba tourmaline undergoes heat treatment to lighten color. This treatment is routine, stable, and generally undetectable.
Prior to heat treatment, this paraíba tourmaline rough is grayish purple. After heating, it displays a bright greenish blue color, which the faceted gem shows off beautifully. © JL White Fine Gemstones. Used with permission.
Due to the prevalence of inclusions, some gems receive treatments to improve clarity. A report from a major gemological laboratory will note evidence of such treatments. Sometimes, dark inclusions may be removed with a laser, or surface fractures may be filled to diminish their appearance. A stone with evidence of clarity treatment will hold less value than an untreated gem of similar appearance.