What do I look for when buying Indicolite (blue) Tourmaline?
Indicolite Tourmaline is probably one of the most popular gemstones available in the market today. Like all Tourmaline, Indicolite sets and wears well in almost any jewelry and is one of the most sought after colors.
Keep in mind that these are my personal opinions and experiences, other people may have different ones.
For gemological and cutting information on Tourmaline
Color – Indicolite is one of the colors in the commercial market that is often miss represented. In my opinion there are a lot of stones being called Indicolite that are not the correct color. A true Indicolite color is a light to dark saturated blue. The color grading on indicolite (blue Tourmaline) is often a judgment call and like many judgment calls in the commercial part of the gem stone trade people often use the term “Indicolite” because it generally is more recognized and they can charge more money for blue than they can green Tourmaline. So many stones that are really not blue get called Indicolite.
So how do I define Indicolite? OK, here is my working definition. The stone in question (Tourmaline) can be any shade or color as long as when you look at the stone it is more a shade of blue than any other color. In other words the stone can be blue/green, when you look at the stone it is more blue than green (see picture). Most Indicolite Tourmaline has some degree of green in it, the question to ask is… the stone more blue than any thing?
Note: A large portion of the Indicolite Tourmalines in the market are often heated and in many cases the heated (to remove green usually or lighten tone) color brings much more money than the natural color. Pariaba Tourmaline is a noted example, it has a copper element in it that when heated makes the stone a “Jolly Rancher” candy blue. There is also some of this material found in Africa.
Of course a true Indicolite will be a pure blue, but these are not common and can be very expensive. The bench mark color for about all Indicolite Tourmaline is from a region in Brazil and called Pariaba. Here are some pictures…
Clarity – I have seen a lot of people claim that high clarity IF to VVS stones are rare and not available. This is not really the whole truth, good quality and clarity Indicolites are available, you just may have to look for them. Of course the lower clarity material is more readily available in the commercial market, but better quality and clarity can be found. High clarity IF to VVS stones are very available in the high end commercial market and the American quality cut market (look at my cut stones you will see them).
Treatments – It is important to know that a major portion of the cut Indicolite stones on the market have been heated. This is a very common practice and is very widely done and often not disclosed in the market, at least not in my opinion.
How does a buyer protect themselves from undisclosed treatments? The first line of defense is deal with a quality, experienced gem dealer with a good reputation. Dealing with some one that is an honest and experienced gem dealer is the best way to go.
Also in the last few years there has been some light blue Tourmaline coming on the market that has been heated and irradiated. This is a fairly new process and not wide spread at this time, but these stones are around. As near as I can tell these stones are being done in Brazil and they are often marked using names like “Blue Ice”.
These stones are usually sold by the “Don’t ask, don’t tell…” method and the treatments are often not even mentioned, unless the customer is educated enough to ask the correct questions.
Note: There are different processes and radiation types that produce different colors, but in almost all cases with the exception or heat occasionally these treatments are done after the stones are cut. So if you are buying rough or cut stones from a custom cutter (like me) that buys the rough, then the odds of the stone being treated are extremely low.
Tips for Spotting Treatments – One tip off that the Indicolites you are looking at maybe irradiated is that all the stones have the same color tone and look. If you inspect enough of the irradiated stones you will soon get so you can recognize that particular color, it is distinctive if you know what to look for. Another tip is that the stones have NO color shift at all. Typically most natural stones will change a little as the light changes. Also is you are seeing trays full of stones that look identical, well that is a pretty obvious tip off.
Durability – Tourmaline of all types has good durability and can be set in about any type of jewelry. The only exceptions are stones of low clarity (read that as having flaws) that maybe weakened because of their flawed structure.
Sizes – Indicolites Tourmalines are available in about any size range, depending on your budget. 1 carat to 6 carat stones are not difficult to find. 8 carat to 15 carat stones are around and can be found, although not plentiful. Over 15 carat stones are available but generally more upper end or the collector market. I have cut top quality Indicolites well over 100 carats in finished weight. So they are available.
Cuts & Styles – Indicolite Tourmalines are available in about any cutting and style. I find as the stones become more saturated in color that brilliant cuts and checker boards work best. If the stone is not too dark about any type of cut you like can be done.
Cutting Quality – Is the stone cut to high custom standards? Or is the stone cutting the normal commercial quality? Cutting is very important and significantly effects the value of the finished gem stone. If the stone is a high quality cut and particularly cut by a well known cutter it will increase the stones quality and value, many times as much as double or more.
Note: There are also different levels of commercial cutting. Some commercial cutting while not any where near the standard of top quality (like mine), is significantly better than low quality commercial cutting. A sign of good quality commercial cutting is that the stone is symmetrical and the proportions (table, crown, pavilion) are correct and the stone has a good polish and reflection.
Commercial Market (trade) – In the commercial market many stones will be called Indicolite, like I said earlier this is a gray area and a judgment call. However if on first impression the stone does not strike you as being more blue than anything else I would not grade it as Indicolite.
Origin – To some collectors knowing the origin of a gem stone is important and some times it does effect the value of a stone, a Paraiba blue Tourmaline is one exception. But in most cases it does not really matter other than is is nice to know where the stone was mined.
Value – High quality Indicolites are increasing in value and I think will continue to do so. There is never any way to be certain but the way the gem stone market is trending just about any quality stone will appreciate.
Collectability – Collectors discovered Indicolite early on and quality blue Tourmaline, particularly of decent size are sought after and bring more money than almost any other gem stone.
Questions to ask when buying
Is the stone natural or man-made? – There is no man-made Tourmaline, but I have seen some substitutes in the market from time to time. This is always a good question to ask.
What is the clarity of the stone? – I would only recommend stones that are IF to VS in Indicolite Tourmaline. Be aware of the different and some times miss leading grading systems some labs and sellers use.
Is the stone heated? – Heat is some times used to lighten the color of Tourmaline or some times eliminate an unwanted secondary color or tone. I have no issue with heating as stone as long as the information is disclosed. Some purest want only a natural “unaltered” stone. This is a personal decision.
Is the stone heated and Irradiated? – Like I said, a lot of the commercial Indicolite available is heated and some are irradiated. I do not mind the heat, but when you are irradiating a stone you are putting color in that was never there in the first place. I generally do not sell or recommend irradiated stones.
Note: Heat only modifies the color of a stone, lightens or heats out an undesirable color. It does not put some thing into the stone that did not already exist. Heat is some thing that happens in mother nature, so I personally do not find it that much of a problem.