Origins of Paraiba
Paraiba tourmaline was named after the state in Brazil in which it was discovered. The state Paraiba is located right between the states Rio Grande do Norte and Pernambuco, with the capital Joao Pessoa bordering on the Atlantic Ocean.
The gemstone, due to its unique colours, has a captivating appearance. As the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) reported: “Unusually vivid “neon” blue, green-blue, green and violet tourmalines first appeared in the jewelry trade in 1989. The colors were so striking that there was initial uncertainty over the identity of the material.”
Stefan Kreis remembers that “people could not believe, that a gem with such colours existed. It sparked great curiosity within the gem community. This growing fascination contributed to the fast establishment as a highly desired gemstone throughout the world”.
mining in the state paraiba
At first, mining efforts in the state of Paraiba did not focus on the excavation of jewellery quality gemstones.
GIA: “Mining has historically centered on industrial minerals like beryl, mica, quartz, feldspar, and kaolin clay (used in the manufacture of paper, rubber, porcelain, and other materials), as well as … rare metals like tantalum, niobium, tungsten, and gold.” Thus, finding especially valuable gemstones was not necessarily the main concern as compared to parts of the Sudeste region of Brazil.
Mining and discovery of paraiba tourmaline
However, starting in 1982, the Brazilian national Heitor Dimas Barbosa set out to find precious gems in the northeast of Brazil. An area, quite contrary to the lush vegetation and jungles of Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais. Moving further into the countryside, a drier climate compared to the humid areas of Minas Gerais awaits. This climate has unique consequences for mining operations. Wood, which is needed to stabilize mining shafts, is in short supply. Some of the shafts are without any artificial support structure. And this in depths of around 230 ft. (70m), causing the mining efforts to be fairly dangerous. Despite taking on all these dangers, it should be an arduous journey for several years before the first paraiba gemstone was destined to see daylight.
FOLLOW THE PEGMATITES
Finding paraiba tourmaline is as much a matter of experience as it is luck. In order to find it, miners follow gem bearing pegmatites. “These are granite formations containing tubes of tourmaline”, explains gemologist Vanessa Kreis. Miners interpret these formations like roads and hope they might lead them to bigger, gem quality bearing pockets of pegmatite. The key is to determine, based on experience, which pegmatite to follow and which one to discard.
the current state of affairs
After Barbosa found paraiba tourmaline in 1987, he filed a claim to excavate the gems. At first, his efforts seemed to be successful and he established a claim on the territory in combination “with the formation of a government-registered mining” (GIA) corporation in 1988. However, his claim was swiftly challenged by others and a legal battle ensued. This caused the mining of paraiba tourmaline to stall from 1992 to 1998 until the dispute was resolved. The solution conferred upon the disputing parties was a split of the territory in roughly three equally sized parts.
“Since the early 2000s, production has been limited, with much of the recovered material coming from processing the tailings from previous mining. In spite of this, … [miners were] sinking new shafts to deeper levels in the hope of finding fresh tourmaline mineralization”, writes the GIA in one of its latest reports.