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A Brief History of Tourmaline

Tourmaline has been in use since the heyday of ancient Egypt, and as such it has a rich history in terms of its origins, use, and relevance in older culture. However, as time goes by and more gemstones (such as the diamond) gain relevance, tourmaline sort of faded into the background. That means that people ended up forgetting about it or they don’t even know of it at all.

The colourful history of tourmaline

The story behind tourmaline is rather beautiful, and it was narrated by pharaohs and Egyptian scholars alike. According to legend, tourmaline gemstones gained their trademark colour when they broke through a rainbow while rising up through the Earth. With a colourful story like that behind it, some say that tourmaline is far more than a gemstone, and is actually a rainbow fragment. That’s a great story to tell your kids someday!

Long after the ancient Egyptians discovered and praised tourmaline, the Spanish conquistadors found the breathtaking gemstone in Brazil after exploring the land in the 1500s. But the lack of proper research caused them to confuse it with the common emerald. By the 1800s, geologists and researchers finally determined the distinguishing characteristics of tourmaline and formally gave it a proper classification to be written down in history and in scientific literature.

A few things you need to know about it

Legend and folklore aside, the reality of tourmaline is no less special than its mythological counterparts. Majority of tourmalines are actually elbaites, which are minerals that are rich in sodium, aluminium, copper, and lithium. They are characterised by their stunning array of colours. Typically, tourmalines are formed in pegmatites that contain granite and are chock-full of exotic elements. In most cases, tourmalines that are outfitted with unique colours can be found within the same slab of pegmatite, which explains how tourmaline mines can produce a wide range of colours.

Common types of tourmaline

Speaking of colours, tourmaline has such a wide range of them that researchers and scientists gave them different names to encapsulate their beauty while making them easier to recall. Here are some of the most common types of tourmalines by colour:

Rubellite: This type of tourmaline is either red, purplish-red, orange-red, brownish red (also known as “rust”), or pink, which all trace similarities and their respective origins to a reddish pigment.

Paraiba: Best known for its greenish-blue or aquamarine hue, this type of tourmaline can only be found in the town of Paraiba in Brazil, and can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Chrome: Contrary to its name, chrome is actually known for its intense green colour instead of the grey hue that people usually expect when they hear the name. This type of tourmaline is often confused with emeralds when viewed by the untrained eye, but can easily be identified when chrome tourmaline and emerald gems are compared side by side.

Watermelon: Just like its namesake, the watermelon tourmaline is characterised by its light to dark pink centre or core, with a layer of green on the outside.

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