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I have been up to my ears with Christmas commissions, gifts for my family, and etsy orders, which is a happy malady to have, but the Gemstones of the Week have again been neglected.  But hark! While I cannot post the neat gifts I have been making (for fear their recipients will see them before Christmas), there will be lots of gems posted each week to catch up!

tourm2Tourmaline beads.  Image by ollieandjo at http://www.etsy.com/shop/ollieandjo

There is just something magical about tourmaline.  Though sapphires also come in an array of colors, tourmaline’s cheerful and delicate pastels always make me happy.  There is an Egyptian legend that tourmalines traveled along rainbows on their way up from the center of the earth, gathering the colors along the way.  To the Arabs, tourmaline was a stone of the Sun that gave strength and protected its owner from nightmares.

Their name comes out of Sri Lanka, from a Sinhalese word believed to mean “mixed”, in reference to their many colors, or “attractor of ashes” because when rubbed, tourmalines have mild electrical properties similar to amber.  It is believed Moorish traders to the land led to the gemstone’s spread across the ancient world.  In the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company began importing the gemstone from Sri Lanka, causing a surge in tourmaline’s popularity.  Today, most tourmaline comes out of Brazil and Africa, with deposits across the Middle East and even in the United States.  My husband and I have some black, or “Schorl” tourmaline, from the North Carolina mountains.

Tourmaline is a complex aluminum borosilicate, with the colors stemming from a sprinkling of different elements.  Vanadium and chromium ions lead to green, iron species result in blues and browns, and manganese causes yellows and pinks (often with a dash of natural radiation to enrich the color).  The common bicolored or watermelon varieties are from the environment and the elements changing during the crystal’s formation.  Irradiation and heat treatments can enhance the color and clarity, respectively, but these usually do not change the stone’s value.

Tourmaline is pretty hard (7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale), making it a great all-around stone for jewelry, and though considered merely semi-precious, it is making a comeback in popularity.  I have a couple of tourmaline cabs that I have been saving to brighten up a rainy day.