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For centuries people were confused as to what the gem tourmaline was. Until the development of modern mineralogy it was identified as some other stone, such as a ruby, sapphire, emerald, and so on because of its coloring.

This 376.85-carat tourmaline in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is carved by O. Hansen, using the colors of the tourmaline as part of the design.


It’s easy to understand why people confused the tourmaline with other gems: Very few gems match the gem’s dazzling range of colors. From rich reds to pastel pinks and peach colors, intense emerald greens to vivid yellows and deep blues, the breadth of this gem’s color range is unrivalled. Brazilian discoveries in the 1980s and 1990s heightened tourmaline’s appeal by bringing intense new hues to the marketplace. (

Soon the gem was identified in the late 1800’s in California and it was known as the American gem by the Tiffany gemologist George F. Kunz.

Tz’u Hsi was the Chinese Dowager Empress and was very impressed with the color of the tourmaline. He started a relationship with the American. The pink and red tourmalines from San Diego County in California were shipped to China. China became the biggest market during that time. Skilled craftsmen would carve the tourmaline into snuff bottles and other pieces to be set in jewelry.

San Diego County’s famed tourmaline mines include the Tourmaline Queen, Tourmaline King, Stewart, Pala Chief, and Himalaya. The miners became so dependent on Chinese trade that when the Chinese government collapsed in 1912, the US tourmaline trade also collapsed. The Himalaya mine stopped producing large volumes of gemstones. Other mines in San Diego County, like the Stewart Lithia mine at Pala, still produce sporadic supplies of gem-quality tourmaline. (

The tourmaline’s color comes from a chemical composition that directly has power over its physical properties and is responsible for the color. The tourmaline shares the group of mineral species that has the same crystal structure but do have different chemical and physical properties. Although, they do share the elements silicon, aluminum, and boron.

Tourmaline is the birthstone for October, along with opal. Tourmaline is the gem of the 8th Anniversary.

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