What is Tourmaline?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tourmaline is a striking gemstone, available in a plethora of colors. Many are familiar with pink tourmaline, but the stones can also be blue, bi-color, colorless, chrome, or green. One prized formation is the watermelon tourmaline, which is generally round and has green, white, and red layers, resembling a cut watermelon. Some stones are cut to display their multi-colors. Emerald cuts of tourmaline displaying chrome, clear and green tones together are particularly desirable.

Tourmaline is a good substitute for blue topaz.
Tourmaline is a good substitute for blue topaz.

Deposits of tourmaline can be found in many parts of the world, with large deposits in Africa and Brazil. Tourmaline is a chemical combination of primarily silicate, boron, and aluminum. The stone's beautiful colors are mostly a result of its chrome, iron, vanadium and manganese, and in some cases copper components. The crystal formation of tourmaline is one of the most complicated.

Depending on the molecular structure, tourmaline has a hardness on the Mohs Scale of 7 to 7.5. The harder stones are good for everyday wear, but rings with tourmaline should probably be removed if one is doing any heavy work with the hands, as stones can crack. Resin may coat the stones, and some pink stones may be heated to produce the colorless variety. However, the colorless variety is the least valued, so pink is preferable.

Because of the play of colors in tourmaline stones, jewelers enjoy designing unique settings for them. No two tourmalines are alike. They vary in quality as well, and are evaluated based on inclusions, or flaws. The stones with the least flaws are most expensive, but tourmaline is not generally an expensive stone.

Prices for loose stones range from 25-50 US dollars (USD) per carat. Larger unflawed stones may have a slightly higher price per carat. However, in general, these stones are quite affordable, particularly as compared to other gems. The varieties of color may also make them good substitutes for sapphires, or blue topaz especially.

One form of tourmaline, rubelite, is hot pink in appearance, or can lean toward deeper red tones. Its price per carat is usually about 100 USD. Since it is considerably less expensive than rubies, it might make an excellent substitution, and does not weigh heavy on the pocketbook. It cannot, however, approximate the dark blue undertones of the highest valued rubies.

First described in the 16th century, tourmaline lore suggests that the stones promote healing. They are also supposed to foster greater joy in recreation and in work, giving the wearer the ability to play well and work constructively. While these properties may not be well proved, the sight of these beautiful gems is certain to give the wearer great satisfaction.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Tourmaline could have different names according to color, so for example green tourmaline might be referred to as verdelite, and yellow to brown as dravite. Red might be rubellite and blue might be referred to as indigolith. However, they are mostly referred to by their color.

Tourmaline is used not only in jewelry industry but in healing industry too, because it is believed that it has invigorating qualities.


What color is chrome? Chrome is a designation for a green form of a species of tourmaline called Dravite. It can't not be colorless by definition and therefore bi-colors with chrome can not exist by definition. Colorless and green bi-colors can exist in other species of tourmaline, but they are not the most desirable.

Sodium, magnesium and potassium do not color tourmaline. The three elements along with calcium, which should be included in the group, form a species of tourmaline that is colorless when pure. The chromophores in tourmaline are, iron, titanium, manganeses, copper, vanadium, chrome and color centers.

All rings with fine gemstones should be removed before heavy work. Tourmaline varies in its toughness, but does not take exceptional care in its uses in jewelry. Toughness is a separate issuer from hardness.

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