Tourmalines: worldwide sources, color suite (from 3 to 12 cts). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
Tourmaline is a mineral supergroup that consists of three groups, multiple subgroups, and over thirty different species. With new discoveries, the list of tourmaline species continues to grow. They all have the same trigonal (hexagonal) crystal structure but different chemical formulas.
The Victorian writer John Ruskin’s quip from 1890 still applies to tourmalines today:
The chemistry of [tourmaline] is more like a medieval doctor‘s prescription than the making of a respectable mineral.
The basic formula is:
X, Y, Z, T, V, and W can represent different elements, so many substitutions and, hence, variations are possible. This chemical complexity can create a vast array of appealing colors in tourmalines, including multi-color patterns.
A custom shield-cut tourmaline with a pink-and-yellow bi-color combination. 1.50 cts, 10.4 x 7.8 mm, Nigeria. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
In addition, tourmaline crystals occur in abundance worldwide, often cuttable and sometimes large and well-terminated. These factors keep tourmalines priced low in general and highly popular with consumers.
A Celtic-inspired ring with a deep green tourmaline (pear cut) surrounded by white opal accents. © CustomMade. Used with permission.
Tourmaline colors can satisfy just about any fashion requirement. With no cleavage and only slight brittleness, these gems make excellent jewelry stones for everyday wear.
Tourmalines are also suitable for carving cameos and intaglios as well as all manner of shapes and figures.
All members of the tourmaline supergroup are considered tourmalines. The properties of some species are so close that separating them proves difficult. For gemological purposes, it’s sufficient to identify them all as tourmaline.
Distinguishing tourmalines into specific species may require advanced gemological tests, like laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS).
Tourmalines are piezoelectric as well as pyroelectric. They generate electricity when placed under pressure and heated, respectively. They also generate an electrostatic charge when rubbed.
Tourmalines come in all colors, from colorless to black. Crystals are frequently color zoned along their length (bi-color, tri-color, parti-color, and so forth) or concentrically zoned (watermelon tourmaline).
Bi-color tourmalines: Brazil (4.92, 23.90, 14.32). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
The vast majority of cut tourmaline gemstones belong to the elbaite species. Other species you might find cut or in jewelry are dravite, liddicoatite, schorl, and uvite. You’ll rarely encounter other tourmaline species cut as gemstones, but they do show up occasionally.
The following table breaks down the difference in optical and physical properties between various species. (Note that all tourmalines have the same optic character and dispersion. Hardness can vary from 7 to 7.5). The species most commonly encountered as gemstones are listed in bold italic type.
Variations in Properties by Tourmaline Species
Although you might find specimens described as buergerite, the correct name for this tourmaline species is fluor-buergerite. The “W” site in its chemical formula is fluorine (F). (“Buergerite,” with oxygen-hydrogen (OH) in the “W” site, has not been found).
These rare, dark brown to black crystals may have a bronze-colored iridescence under the surface.
Also known as chromium-dravite or chromian dravite, this is a chromium-rich (Cr) dravite variety. This tourmaline has an intense, dark green color.
Dravite colors can vary, from yellow, brown, black, and greenish black to dark red, pale bluish green to emerald green, and even colorless. It has many sources.
The most common tourmaline species, elbaite comes in all colors from many sources.
The rare, dark brown to black iron member of the uvite subgroup.
A bluish black to dark indigo tourmaline with purple tints.
Foitite crystal from Mt. Mica, Maine. The backlighting highlights its purple tints. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.
Although the name refers to tourmalines with complex, multi-colored zoning, these stones may belong to two species. For years, scientists believed liddicoatite was a type of elbaite. In 1977, it was determined to be a calcium analogue to elbaite (with Ca in the “X” site). Years later, liddicoatite was redefined. Fluor-liddicoatite is F-dominant (“W” site), while liddicoatite is OH-dominant (“W” site). Investigations to determine if OH-dominant liddicoatite exists in nature continue. For now, it’s not an approved species name. However, the term “liddicoatite” is still popularly used to refer to stones that are actually fluor-liddicoatites.
This liddicoatite slice shows green, yellow, grayish blue, and pink zones, with a purplish pink center and a triangular core. 15.96 cts, 30.1 x 25.3 x 2 mm, Alakamisy Itenina, Fianarantosa, Madagascar. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
Dark purplish red rossmanite cabochon, 11.91 cts, 20.9 x 12.1 mm, Tanco Mine, Bernic Lake, Manitoba, Canada. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
Magnesium-dominant (Mg in the “Y” site) foitite with greenish brown to bluish gray color.
Tourmaline with colors ranging from blue to pale shades of pink, blue, or green, as well as colorless.
In 1997, researchers determined this rare tourmaline, formerly known as ferridravite, was not actually the ferric (Fe3+) analogue of dravite. It has a nearly opaque, dark brown, brownish black, or black color.
A rare, pink to tan tourmaline.
Black schorl has been used in jewelry since ancient times. During the Victorian Era, schorl frequently appeared in mourning jewelry. In modern times, this common tourmaline is seldom cut into gemstones. Schorl also occurs in brown, blue, or blue-green shades.
Tsilaisite was first proposed as a name for a hypothesized manganese-dominant (Mn) tourmaline species in 1929. In the mid-1980s, discoveries in Zambia of yellow tourmalines with high Mn content prompted some researchers to assert these were natural tsilaisites. Vendors even began using this name, despite it being unapproved and the stones falling short of the criteria for a new species. In 2006, researchers determined these stones were only Mn-rich elbaites and discredited the name. When tested in 2011, more than 200 candidate stones from all over the world failed to have the Mn content (>10.71 wt.% MnO) required for classification as tsilaisites.
However, in 2012, yellow tourmalines discovered in Elba, Italy proved to be the elusive Mn-dominant species (with Mn in the “Y” site). Thus, the tsilaisite species was finally officially approved.
Yellow, Mn-rich tourmalines from all over the world, like this 7.07-ct. oval-cut gem from Madagascar, have been called tsilaisites. However, they don’t have the necessary chemical composition to qualify as examples of this distinct species. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
Another revised and re-approved species (in 2020), uvites form a tourmaline subgroup, consisting of uvite proper, fluor-uvite, and feruvite. Most uvite specimens are actually fluor-uvite, the common, F-dominant member (with F in the “W” site).
Uvites have a wide range of colors: black, light to dark green, brown, red, and occasionally other colors, including colorless.
A vanadium-bearing dravite with dark green to black color.
Descriptive and Trade Names
There are many trade names for tourmalines, based on their color and appearance. Though their characteristics may coincide with those of specific species, the following are not species names. For example, rubellites are typically elbaites but may also be liddicoatites and olenites. Paraíba tourmalines were long thought to be exclusively elbaites, until copper-bearing liddicoatites with paraíba colors were identified in 2017.
Although an official species, the dravite name is sometimes applied to yellow and brown tourmalines, even if they don’t belong to that species.
Bright yellow tourmalines.
Cat’s eye tourmaline: Brazil (20.85). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
Chatoyant tourmalines in a variety of colors.
Colored by chromium or vanadium, these stones exhibit an intense green color. Tourmalines colored green without chromium or vanadium are called verdelites.
Extremely rare tourmalines that show a distinct color change, from daylight to incandescent light
Some tourmalines can show an Usambara effect, a type of color change that depends, in part, on the lengths of the path of light through the stone.
4.57-ct color-change tourmaline, dark green to reddish brown, mixed marquise cut, East Africa. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
Blue tourmalines. Stones with intense, neon-blue colors caused by copper are called paraíba tourmalines.
9.84-ct, emerald-cut indicolite, Brazil. A pure, dark blue body color with indigo-colored ends. Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
Intense, neon-blue tourmalines colored by copper. Originally discovered in and named after the Brazilian state of Paraíba, specimens have also been found in Nigeria and Mozambique. The gem community largely accepts the definition of paraíba tourmalines by color and copper content. However, you might find some dealers reserve the term for the Brazilian material, referring to the African material as “paraíba-like” or just cuprian blue tourmaline.
Identifying the source of paraíba tourmalines requires a LA-ICP-MS test for quantitative chemical analysis.
Tourmalines with blue colors not caused by copper are called indicolites.
Tourmalines that have more than one color.
The term rubellite typically refers to tourmaline with reasonably saturated dark pink to red colors and medium to dark tones, from raspberry to ruby-like red. These stones are often strongly purplish, orangish, or brownish.
Rubellites: Pala, California (15), Brazil (22, 18), Pala (26), Africa (11) // Pala (4), Brazil (5), Africa (8), Brazil (4, 4). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
When sliced perpendicular to the c axis, trapiche tourmalines show inclusions formed from organic matter between growth sectors of its crystal structure, which resemble spokes radiating from the center of a wheel. Though these patterns may appear star-like, these aren’t star stones.
Green tourmalines. Stones with deep green color caused by chromium or vanadium are considered chrome tourmalines.
Tourmalines with a pink or red “core” or center and a green “rind” or border. Some specimens have a colorless ring between these two areas. When cut, these stones resemble slices of watermelon.
Watermelon tourmalines, Brazil (large slice, approximately 1” across). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
Although tourmalines are popular gems, other gem names may have more caché and command higher prices. As a result, some unscrupulous vendors might use evocative but deceptive combinations of gem names to sell tourmalines more easily. For example, you might encounter green tourmalines sold as “Brazilian emeralds” or “Ceylonese peridots” and blue tourmalines sold as “Brazilian sapphires.”
These terms are not acceptable trade names for tourmalines. Of course, tourmalines, emeralds, peridots, and sapphires are all distinct gem species. Emeralds and sapphires are also quite a bit more expensive than most tourmalines. To complicate matters, emeralds really do occur in Brazil, and peridots do occur in Sri Lanka. Ask vendors to clarify the names and sources of any tourmalines they sell or ask for a gem lab analysis, especially for any high-value gemstones.
The absorption of the o-ray in tourmaline is strong enough to plane-polarize light. Sometimes, this ray is totally absorbed and a tourmaline may appear isotropic, because it shows only one absorption edge on the refractometer.
Dark green and brown tourmalines display especially strong pleochroism, while pale colors have weak dichroism. Light traveling along the length of a prismatic crystal always shows a deeper color than at right angles to this direction.
This dichroic, rectangle-cut tourmaline looks forest green when viewed face up but olive green from the sides. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.
Typical Pleochroic Colors for Tourmaline Species
||very pale yellow
||medium to dark brown
||yellowish to light brown
||light pink or colorless
||yellow to olive green
||light green to purplish
||colorless to pink to purple
||dark brown to dark olive green
||light olive green to light brown
||blue to greenish blue
||yellow, yellow-brown, pale violet or colorless
||yellow, light brown, or yellowish blue-green
|Uvite (like dravite)
||pale greenish yellow
||very pale greenish yellow
Most tourmalines fall under the Type II clarity category, “Usually Included.” Green tourmalines are Type I, “Usually Eye Clean,” while red and watermelon tourmalines are Type III, “Almost Always Included.”
This 4.82-ct pink tourmaline from the Stewart Lithia Mine in California has visible inclusions. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.
All tourmalines may contain inclusions of hollow tubes, elongated or irregular thread-like cavities, sometimes with liquid or gas inclusions, sometimes two-phase inclusions, often in mesh-like patterns. The tubes usually run parallel to the length of crystals and, when densely packed, may produce a chatoyant effect in cabochons.
Red tourmalines may contain gas-filled fractures as well as flat films that reflect light and appear black.
Tourmalines may contain mineral inclusions of hornblende, mica crystals, apatite, and zircon.
The copper inclusions in this rectangular step-cut tourmaline create a schiller effect. 4.48 cts, 19 x 6.3 mm, Brazil. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
What is Tourmalinated Quartz?
Some clear quartz stones may contain needle-like inclusions of black tourmaline crystals. Referred to as tourmalinated quartz, these pieces can make attractive display crystals as well as intriguing gemstones for jewelry.
Scientists have produced synthetic tourmalines for research purposes. For example, before the discovery of tsilaisite in nature, researchers had produced it the laboratory (1984) as well as other Mn-rich tourmalines (2003).
However, is there any lab-created tourmaline commercially available for gem or jewelry use?
In 1993, Russian scientists synthesized tourmalines via a hydrothermal process. In this case, synthetic tourmaline was grown over natural tourmaline seed crystals. Curiously, in 2008, the International School of Gemology (ISG) — not the International Gem Society (IGS) — concluded that some unusual tourmalines it acquired were most likely synthetics manufactured like those in the 1993 experiment. As the news of that declaration spread, so did rumors that these synthetics had entered the gem market.
Bear Williams of Stone Group Labs debunked that rumor. In his 2009 article, he wrote that the 1993 experiment only produced a minuscule amount of synthetic tourmaline at great cost. Furthermore, he noted that the ISG had made errors comparing the Raman spectroscopy of its specimens to those examined during the 1993 research. (In a response, the ISG reported that it reevaluated its tourmaline specimens and determined they were actually natural liddicoatites, not synthetics).
Synthetic tourmaline is expensive and difficult to create. Furthermore, there’s no economic motive to synthesize this material for commercial use. Inexpensive yet gem-quality natural tourmalines are readily available. Although you can find so-called “synthetic tourmaline” for sale online, careful reading will reveal the term is usually used synonymously with “fake” or “simulated.” If the simulant is a lab-created material, vendors may claim the “tourmaline” itself is, thus, lab-created. In actuality, it’s not a tourmaline at all.
On the other hand, tourmalines can receive many enhancements. These can easily improve a low-quality stone’s appearance and color as well as change its natural color into something more attractive (and valuable).
- Heating: lightens blue and green stones, common, stable, undetectable. Can produce other colors, rare, stable, undetectable.
- Irradiation: produces red, deep pink, yellow, orange colors, and parti-colors, common. May fade on heating or prolonged exposure to bright light, undetectable.
- Acid treatment: bleaches dark inclusions, primarily used on cat’s eyes, occasional, stable, undetectable.
- Plastic or epoxy fillers: seal hollow tubes to prevent dirt from entering, occasional, stable. Detectable with hot point test and magnification.
- Dyes and coatings: usually not stable.
The following sources are some of the major producers of tourmalines, and the varieties listed are some of the most notable from those sources. Many listed sources also produce additional varieties of tourmalines. Many other sources not listed also produce tourmalines.
At Nuristan, superb gem elbaite in shades of blue, pink, green, and even emerald green.
Greenish blue tourmaline, square cushion with checkerboard top, 2.09 cts, 7.5 mm, Afghanistan. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
At Cochabamba, povondraite.
In Minas Gerais and other states, usually elbaite, in a huge variety of colors and sometimes large crystals; also bi-color, cat’s eye, watermelon tourmaline. Especially noteworthy are the immense cranberry-red crystals from the Jonas Lima Mine and the superb dark-red material from Ouro Fino.
Bi-color tourmaline, Brazil (4.90). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
At Strázek Moldanubicum, rossmanite.
At Kashmir, green elbaite crystals. RI 1.643, 1.622; SG = 3.05, birefringence = 0.021.
At Honshu, magnesio-foitite, rare.
Fine, deep red and other colors. The red is dravite; (also yellow shades). The following table describes their properties.
Liddicoatite (previously thought to be elbaite) in a huge range of colors, shades; crystals often concentrically zoned with many color zones, triangular in outline; many crystals very large. Also, fine rubellite.
Buergerite occurs in rhyolite at San Luis Potosí, rare.
Paraíba (cuprian) tourmalines. At Alta Ligonha, pale-colored elbaite in various shades; bi-colors.
Round brilliant-cut pink tourmaline, 4.44 cts, faceted from material mined in Mozambique in 1972. Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
The Mogok area produces red tourmalines, also some pink elbaites and brown uvites.
- Usakos: fine elbaite of rich green color (chrome tourmaline).
- Klein Spitzkopje, Otavi: tourmaline in many shades of green and other colors (elbaite).
Bluish green, oval-cut tourmaline. 5.98 cts, 12.4 x 10.2 mm, Namibia. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
Feruvite found at Cuvier Island, rare.
Paraíba (cuprian) tourmalines and other varieties.
5.46-ct, hot pink tourmaline, Nigeria. “RS Brilliant” cut by Loren Brown. © RSA Gems. Used with permission.
- Mursinka, Urals, also at Nerchinsk: blue, red, and violet crystals in decomposed granite.
- Central Karelia: chromdravite (dark green).
- Kola Peninsula: olenite, rare.
“Siberite,” an opaque, dark red variety of tourmaline. 1.1 x 1.0 x 0.7 cm, Murzinka Mine, Sarapulka District, Ekaterinburgskaya Oblast’, Middle Urals, Urals Region, Russia. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.
At Glenbuchat, Aberdeenshire, color-zoned elbaite up to several centimeters, suitable for cutting.
Yellow and brown crystals. This is an ancient source of gem tourmaline, now known to be uvite rather than dravite.
Elbaite containing Cr and V, resulting in rich green shades.
Rectangular step-cut chrome tourmaline, 3.02 cts, 10.6 x 6.5 mm, Tanzania. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
- California: elbaite in abundance at Pala and other localities, in both fine crystals and gemmy material. The pink elbaite from here is a unique pastel shade. Also, bluish black foitite, uncommon.
Custom cushion-cut pink tourmaline, 3.60 cts, 12.4 x 7.3 mm, Pala District, San Diego Co., California. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
- Connecticut: at Haddam, elbaite in small but fine crystals, color-zoned.
- Maine: at Newry, huge deposit of fine elbaite, with exquisite gem material in green, blue-green, blue, and pink to red colors.
Yellow-green (“Granny Smith”) tourmalines, 3.26 and 5.59 cts, Newry, Maine. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.
- New Jersey and New York: at Franklin and Hamburg, New Jersey, and at Gouverneur and DeKaIb, New York, uvite crystals, some with gem potential. This material had always been regarded as dravite.
At Chipata, dark red crystals similar to Kenyan dravite. RI 1.624-1.654; birefringence = 0.030; SG = 3.03-3.07 (average 3.05). Also gemmy yellow material with up to 9.2 wt. % MnO, very rare. Also, trapiche tourmalines.
Elbaite with light pink and yellow or green colors, depending on the viewing angle. 5.49 cts, 10.2 x 10.2 x 8.5 mm, Zambia. “Hexact” cut by Loren Brown. © RSA Gems. Used with permission.
In the Somabula Forest area, fine elbaite.
Other Notable Tourmaline Sources
- China; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Italy; Nepal; Pakistan; Tajikistan; Vietnam.
Radiant-cut, bi-color yellowish green/pink tourmaline. 4.57 cts, 9 x 8.2 mm, Democratic Republic of the Congo. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
Tourmalines weighing hundreds of carats have been cut out of material from various localities. Brazil and Mozambique produce some of the largest stones, but Maine and California have also yielded crystals of very large size. Most larger museums have fine tourmaline collections and display very large gems. (A representative collection of tourmaline colors would have to encompass well over 100 stones).
- Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC): 246 (pink, faceted egg, California); 116.2, 100 (pink, California); 172.7, 124.8 (champagne color, Mozambique); 122.9 (green, Mozambique); 117, 110 (green, Brazil); 110.8 (pink, Russia); 75 (rose-red. Brazil); 62.4 (pink, Brazil); 18.4 (pink, Maine); 103.8 (rose, Mozambique); 60 (blue-green, Brazil); 41.6 (brown, Sri Lanka); 23.5 (pale brown, Brazil); 17.9 (green, South Africa); 17.7 (yellow-green, Elba, Italy).
- Private Collection: 258.08 (green cat’s eye); 256 (green, Maine, very large for locality).
Tourmaline rough can challenge even experienced gem cutters. Multi-colored gems are often weak where the colors meet, but all color varieties may have stressed areas. Nevertheless, once cut and set in jewelry, tourmalines are very durable stones.
Tourmaline’s Mohs hardness of 7 to 7.5 means these gems can resist scratches from most everyday hazards, including household dust. That’s very fortunate, because due to tourmaline’s electrical conductivity, these gems will attract more dust than non-conductive stones. So, you may have to clean them frequently
Since most tourmalines have numerous inclusions, avoid cleaning them with ultrasonic or steam devices. Vibrations and heat may cause liquid inclusions to expand, shattering the stone. Instead, use a soft brush, mild detergent, and warm water.
Consult our gemstone jewelry care guide for more recommendations.