Update on the ParaÍba Tourmaline Origin

First, some background: Paraíba is a tourmaline from the São José da Batalha in the state of Paraíba in northeastern Brazil that has a neon “Windex blue” or electric “Scope green” color. Tourmalines from Paraíba get their saturated, vivid electric color from two trace elements, copper and manganese. Mineralogists have named this variety of tourmaline cuprian elbaite.

Recent finds in Nigeria and Mozambique also produce cuprian elbaite. Most dealers contend that, while their hue is similar to lesser-quality tourmaline from Paraíba, it never matches the saturated neon and electric colors of the best stones from São José da Batalha. Nevertheless, the name Paraíba has been used to label cuprian elbaite from Nigeria, Mozambique, and other Brazilian mines north of Batalha.

The name Paraíba has also been used to describe a color. For example, Home Shopping Network has sold “Paraíba cubic zirconia.”

And on a recent Jewelry Television Network program, the hosts explained to their TV audience that Paraíba denoted one of the rarest gemstones on earth, commanding prices upwards of $30,000 per carat. The hosts then went on to sell light blue cuprian elbaites from Nigeria and Mozambique as Paraíba—for considerably less than $30,000 per carat.

In October 2005, the Laboratory Manual Harmonization Committee, which comprises seven gem laboratories, proposed that Paraíba be used as a variety name on all copper-containing tourmalines.

In February 2006, the Gemstone Industry and Laboratory Committee, meeting in Tucson, Ariz., addressed the issue of using Paraíba as a variety name. Claudio Milisenda, DSEF German gem lab, gave a presentation and suggested that the commercial name Paraíba Tourmaline be applied to all blue and green, copper and manganese varieties of elbaite tourmaline, irrespective of origin. “In our gemstone reports, we comment that these stones may be called Paraíba Tourmaline in the trade. We also identify the origin, and preliminary data suggest that there are possibilities based on trace- element geochemistry.”

Although GILC doesn’t make official recommendations, the consensus among conferees was that tourmalines from Mozambique (or other locales) containing copper could be identified as Paraíba, either as a comment or as a variety.

The Gübelin Gem Lab recently introduced new wording on its reports for blue, bluish-green to greenish-blue, or green elbaite tourmalines containing copper and manganese. They are now uniformly called Paraíba regardless of their country of origin. To distinguish between the original Brazilian sources and more recent discoveries in Mozambique and Nigeria, the report also discloses the stones’ origins.

The AGTA Gem Testing Center is taking a more circumspect approach.

Although it had recently announced a new service—identifying all cuprian elbaite tourmalines as Paraíba, regardless of country of origin—the AGTA membership voiced strong disagreement to that decision during the annual membership meeting in Las Vegas during The JCK Show. AGTA GTC is now suspending the service until its board of governors can decide if it’s proper.

“I assure you that our board of directors is actively addressing many of the points that have been recently raised concerning Paraíba,” says AGTA executive director Doug Hucker. “The board of directors and the AGTA GTC board of governors will work diligently to arrive at solutions that serve both the industry at large and the entire membership of AGTA.”

Hucker says the controversy is a normal process by which members can voice their opinion about services provided by AGTA. If there is a disagreement or question of policy, it can be kicked back into committee. “As with any such issue, when the board of directors is made aware of such concern, they try to act judiciously and responsibly to arrive at policy decisions that address these concerns in a manner that reflects the sensibilities of their entire constituency, which includes the entire market chain as well as ultimately, the consumer.”