Flowers and their colors may wither away, but the colors of gems never fade. 30.000 years ago, cave paintings used grinded-up minerals as a colorful additive in their paint. Today it is known that certain chemical elements are responsible for these colors in gemstones. These chemical elements can be part of the mineral grid of a gemstone and are therefore an inseparable part of the gem.
For example, emeralds are green because of traces of chrome in their mineral structure. “Well, basically it works like this. First, we have to recognize that the light itself contains a wide spectrum of colors. Once the light shines on the emerald, the chrome will absorb the color green. This gives the gemstones its distinct color. The more green is absorbed by the chrome particles, the more green the gem becomes. The other colors contained in the beam of light will just pass through the gem,” explains Alexander Kreis.
Tourmaline – a rainbow of colors
To name a few other examples: The Paraiba tourmaline receives its color from copper particles. Chrome tourmaline, on the other hand, has an intense green that rivals that of the most beautiful emeralds. But the name “chrome-tourmaline” name is somewhat of a historical oddity. The color is not due to chrome, but due to vanadium. The same mineral that is responsible for the colors of Brazilian and African emeralds.
An other variety is red tourmaline. It is called rubellite and can rival the most beautiful rubies in their intensity. In fact, when it comes to tourmaline’s colors, “from rich reds to pastel pinks and peach … , intense emerald greens to vivid yellows and deep blues, the breadth of this gem’s color range is unrivaled,” writes the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
Given its clear and vivid colors, tourmaline was a gem that caused some confusion early on. When Francisco Spinoza discovered tourmaline in the jungles of Brazil, at first, he thought that he had discovered a deposit of Brazilian emeralds. “Until the development of modern mineralogy, … [people] identified it as some other stone (ruby, sapphire, emerald, and so forth) based on its coloring,” explains the GIA.
And the GIA continues by writing: “The confusion about the stone’s identity is even reflected in its name, which comes from toramalli, which means “mixed gems” in Sinhalese (a language of Sri Lanka). It’s a term Dutch merchants applied to the multicolored, water-worn pebbles that miners found in the gem gravels of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).”
Mining history and today
Tourmaline can be found in places such as Madagascar, Namibia, Brazil, Myanmar, and California (U.S.A.) to name a few.
“One of the earliest reports of tourmaline in California was in 1892. In the late 1800s … In spite of its American roots, tourmaline’s biggest market at the time was in China. Much of the pink and red tourmaline from San Diego County in California was shipped to China because the Chinese Dowager Empress Tz’u Hsi was especially fond of the color. There, craftsmen carved the tourmaline into snuff bottles and other pieces to be set in jewelry.” – GIA.
Today, the mining is mainly concentrated in Africa and Latin America, especially Brazil. However, finding exceptionally vivid, and clear gemstones is very difficult. A pertinent challenge throughout the centuries.
[Changing Clasp with white pearls and a gem from Brazil – by KREIS]
[Necklace with gems from Congo – by KREIS]