It is interesting that both opal and tourmaline are associated with many colors. In the instance of opal there are many colors within one stone. In the instance of tourmaline there are many stones—each with its own color. Of course, to complicate matters, there are tourmaline gems with multiple colors—lots and lots of colors—all within one stone, just presented differently to the eye than opal.
No wonder the most often-used nickname for tourmaline is The Rainbow Gem. Tourmaline comes in so many colors and so many shades of each color that it is a favorite of collectors. Many serious gem collectors have separate tourmaline collections within their overall collection.
From left to right: Elbaite, Dravite, and Schorl Tourmaline
There are three main divisions of the mineral tourmaline: Elbaite, Dravite, and Schorl. Each of these types of tourmaline is slightly different chemically but each is tourmaline. Elbaite is the most important type of tourmaline for gem collectors. Elbaite is a lithium rich tourmaline that for some reason got all the beauty in the family. If Elbaite is Cinderella then Dravite and Schorl are the homely step-sisters.
Let’s Talk Tourmaline Color
As the rainbow gem, it is good to talk about tourmaline and the range of color it encompasses. Tourmaline is so versatile that it even comes in a colorless variety called “achroite” (pictured at right). Achroite can occur naturally but also can occur by means of heating lightly colored tourmaline. Colorless is a good place to begin.
Tourmaline can start out colorless and then “bloom” in multiple colors out in different directions—towards green, towards red, towards blue, towards orange, and these are just the desirable directions.
Beginning with colorless into the green palette there is an almost endless group of colors. The green colors which are prized the most are greens that have a balance slightly in favor of blue, with the exception of “Chrome” tourmaline which in its best examples is an almost even balance of yellow and blue.
Truly beautiful bluish green tourmaline comes from Brazil, Namibia, and Afghanistan. The best of the stones from these locations are not overly dark, are somewhat more blue than yellow and do not have distracting overtones of brown or gray. Gems from the Golconda mine in Minas Gerais are probably the pinnacle in this spectrum of color.
Chrome tourmaline from Voi, Kenya is the notable exception in green tourmaline. There is a lot more yellow in Chrome tourmaline than in other prized colors of tourmaline, yet this gem is quite prized—because the color is quite attractive.
Starting out again from colorless to red we have stops along the way with pink. Again within this spectrum of color purity of color and a lack of undesirable overtones is prized. Overtones that are not appreciated include brown, gray, purple, and yellow.
One thing about tourmaline is that it is the giver of color surprises. For instance, many tourmaline gems in the pink spectrum tend to look somewhat more pure in color in daylight and somewhat brownish in incandescent light.
When we get to tourmaline gems that can be considered red there are some additional issues. Most true experts in tourmaline gravitate towards red gems that have just a touch of pink. However, there is a group of people in the USA who think that red should be red and they like a red more similar to what we call “fire-engine red.” Well, the truth is that this color has some yellow in it that most of the rest of the world does not like.