Paraíba Tourmaline

What would you say to someone who offered you Brazilian cuprian elbaite from São José da Batalha? Say “Yes!” Cuprian elbaite is another name for copper-colored tourmaline, São José da Batalha is in the Brazilian state of Paraíba … and the vibrantly colored Paraíba tourmaline is one of the most favored colored gems among dealers.

History and romance. The material first appeared in the United States in 1987. Most gemologists who looked at the vivid blue, blue-green, and green tourmalines wondered if this was something too good to be true, and gem labs immediately began investigating the nature of the color. Researchers concluded that the rare occurrence of trace amounts of copper, along with manganese, had created these vivid, neon-like, never-before-seen electric colors.

When the stones became commercially available in the trade a few years later, prices climbed quickly to $1,000 per carat, an unusually high price for tourmaline. But the color was worth it—even when it became known that it probably was induced by heat. It has been shown, since the initial studies, that most Paraíbas are heat-treated, although the characteristic colors have been found in natural unheated Paraíba material.

Qualities. Expect to see inclusions, as you would with most tourmalines. But who cares? It’s the vibrant sapphire- and turquoise-like colors that make Paraíbas so well liked.

Color variations. This is where Paraíba tourmaline shines. The colors are vivid, sometimes described as fluorescent, electric, or neon. Unless a gemological laboratory proves otherwise, assume the stones have been heat-treated. Typical colors for Paraíba tourmaline are green, green-blue, blue, violet, and purple.

Enhancement. Heat treatment has not affected the value or stability of Paraíbas, but the possibility of fracture filling has sparked some concern. Fracture filling, though not a common enhancement technique, would be the logical next step, since commercial-quality tourmalines can show surface-reaching fissures. When examining any tourmaline, look for enhancement with epoxies or resins.

Pricing. Everyone knows they should have purchased Paraíbas long before now. Prices for fine and extra-fine stones under 2 cts. can range from $3,500 to $15,000 per carat! Stones over 2 cts. are rare and can command prices up to $18,000 per carat. Expect to pay even more for the “sapphire blue.”

Other copper elbaites and imitations. A new find of copper tourmalines was discovered toward the end of 2001 in Nigeria. These gems can be heat-treated to some of the greenish blue and bluish-green “aquamarine-like” and “mint-green” Paraíba colors. They have been labeled everything from Paraíba Nigerian tourmalines to Indogo tourmalines, named after the Edoukou mine in Oyo, Nigeria.

Vivid apatites have been seen in showcases mislabeled as Paraíba tourmaline or correctly labeled as Paraíba-like apatites.

Care and cleaning. Don’t forget that Paraíbas are still tourmalines. You and your customers should be aware that all tourmalines are piezoelectric—electrically charged by heat and/or light. Tourmalines in a jeweler’s showcase usually contain enough of an electrical charge to attract a fair amount of dust. But because the gem is only 6.5 in hardness, and most dust is 7 in hardness, it’s always wise to wash tourmalines with soapy water before wiping with a cloth. Wiping a dry, dusty tourmaline can scratch and dull the polished surface.

Bench repair and setting. Some gems become more brittle after heat treatment. While this doesn’t seem to be the case with Paraíba tourmaline, protection from heat is always a wise precaution.

Suggested reading. For more information, see:

“Gem-Quality Cuprian-Elbaite Tourmalines from São José da Batalha, Paraíba, Brazil,” by Fritsch, Shigley, Rossman, Mercer, Muhlmeister, and Moon, Gems & Gemology, Fall 1990, p. 189-205.

“Paraíba Tourmaline Update,” Gems & Gemology, Gem News, Fall 2000, p. 269-270.

“An Update on Paraíba Tourmaline,” Gems & Gemology, Winter 2001, p. 260-276.