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Paraiba Tourmaline – the rare and enigmatic Brazilian gemstone

 

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(Paraíba tourmaline from Brazil are one of the newest & most highly prized of precious gems)

Just 30 years ago Paraíba tourmalines were completely undiscovered, now they are one of the most coveted of all gemstones. They were unearthed in 1988 by Heitor Dimas Barbosa, a man who had spent years digging in the hills of the Brazilian sate of Paraíba, based upon information that a very rare and highly prized gem was to be found there. Paraíba tourmalines come in an array of hues and tones, including greenish blue, bluish green, green, blue and violet, of which the latter two are the most popular, especially then they have a strong saturation and medium tone. As with many other precious gems, marketeers have sought to increase the saleability of these stones by giving them alternative names based upon colour, examples of which include prefixing blue with “electric,” “turquoise,” “sapphire” or “tanzanite” and green with “mint.” Many of these colours had not previously been identified with existing deposits of tourmaline from elsewhere and their strong saturation was unique. Prices for Paraíba tourmalines easily outstrip those of other tourmalines, because of their highly desirable hues, deep colour saturation and extreme rarity. Due to the high value of rough Paraíba tourmalines, they are nearly always cut and polished in a bespoke fashion. Most common are faceted brilliant cuts, usually pear or oval in shape, and they are exceedingly rare to find over one carat.

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(Paraíba State is located in north west Brazil and some stones are produced in Rio Grande Do Norte)

With Paraíba tourmalines colour is the key predetermination of price. The two carat point marks a sharp delineation in price, as above this size they are usually around $18,000 per carat and below they tend to be closer to $14,000 per carat, at wholesale prices. Clarity is a much less important consideration with these stones and eye visible inclusions are commonly accepted by dealers. The unique colouration of these gems is caused by the presence of traces of copper and manganese in their crystalline structures as they are created by chemical processes in the earth. Some Paraíba tourmalines actually come from the neighbouring northern Brazilian state of Rio Grande Do Norte but it is accepted practice for these to use the Paraíba name. Since 2001 some copper coloured tourmalines have been discovered in Nigeria and slightly more recently in Mozambique but these are generally not as vivid as their Latin American counterparts, despite some colour overlap, and a trained gemmologist with proper equipment can definitively separate the two origins by detecting the lead content that is only found in the African stones. To the naked eye however it can be difficult to distinguish the African tourmalines from the Brazilian ones, which has lead to some fraudulent practices. Some less scrupulous gem dealers have also taken to referring to the East African tourmalines as “Paraíba tourmalines from Mozambique.”

CIBJO logo

(CIBJO officially recognise Paraíba tourmaline as a registered and protected trade name)

In 1999 the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO), validated Paraíba tourmaline as an officially recognised trade name. There is a long tradition of naming gems after the place where they were first discovered so some have pointed to this as a justification for naming all copper bearing tourmalines paraíba, as opposed to Paraíba. It is crucial to note the country of origin on a stone’s certificate, as the Brazilian varieties are much more valuable and in demand. Paraíba tourmalines are elbaite tourmalines that are coloured by copper and they possess a reflective index (RI) of 1.603 to 1.648, a specific gravity of 2.82 to 3.10 and their birefringence (the optical property of a material having a refractive index that depends on the polarization and propagation direction of light) is an extremely high 0.013 to 0.024. It is very hard to tell a Paraíba tourmaline from other, less valuable, varieties of tourmaline so it is important to purchase stones that have been laboratory tested and certified by a respected authority. Virtually every type of tourmaline can be found in Brazil but it is the vivid glow of the Paraíba tourmaline (sometimes known as the cuprian elbaite) coupled with its beautiful incandescent glow that sets it apart. Armed with this knowledge the savvy buyer can either opt for the cheaper but similar African alternative or accurately identify the origin of a Brazilian stone and recognise its higher value.

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(Salma Hayek wearing a pair of beautiful Paraíba tourmaline earrings at the Golden Globe Awards)

The rarity of this stone is underscored by the fact that for every carat of cut and polished Paraíba tourmaline produced annually, over 10,000 carats of cut and polished diamonds are fashioned. Most Paraíba tourmaline are very small and stones of more than 3 carats are virtually nonexistent. Many of the African “paraíba” tourmalines, by contrast, are over 5 carats and this gives dealers a instant method of identifying a stone that has originated in Africa. Intriguingly, when one looks at the ancient geology of Africa and South America it is apparent that the two mighty continents were once locked together in a physical embrace, the evidence for which is clearly evident in the corresponding coastlines of the two land masses. Although it has never been conclusively proven, this does suggest that given the geographical proximity of the copper rich mountains of Brazil to those of Africa many hundreds of millions of years ago there may actually be a deeper connection between the two stones. Jacob Arabo, founder of the Jacob & Co luxury jewellery marque, has long stated his love of Paraíba tourmaline. Arabo’s clientele includes Victoria Beckham, rap artists Pharrell Williams and Jay Z, as well as Rihanna and Jennifer Lawrence. The future looks bright for this most enigmatic of gemstones and the increasing popularity of Paraíba tourmaline has resulted in a sharp increase in the price per carat as jewellers around the world start to work it into their collections.

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