Rubellite Tourmaline

Rubellite jewelry from designer Henry Dunay, New York, begins with earrings set with 233 diamonds weighing 2.80 cts. t.w. and 13.99 cts. t.w. of rubellites. The earrings are surrounded by five matching rubellites—weighing 55.65 cts. t.w. and accented by 311 diamonds, 3.92 cts. t.w.—in an 18k gold necklace. To round out the suite, Dunay shows a rubellite-and-diamond ring featuring a 9-ct. rubellite with 124 diamonds, 2.12 cts. t.w. Fuchsia-colored with a magenta secondary color, the 14.85-ct. opposed bar cut and 12.01-ct. cushion cut are unenhanced Nigerian rubellites, courtesy of Pala International, Fallbrook, Calif.

Tourmaline, one of October’s birthstones, occurs in a host of colors. In fact, it’s said that there isn’t a color that can’t be found in tourmaline. As for what’s most popular, red is one of the most coveted and has been for centuries. Most colors of tourmaline have their own varietal name, and red tourmaline is called rubellite.

Name origin. While some varieties get their name from a specific locality or are named after a famous gemologist, rubellite acquired its name from its color: The Latin word rubell(us) means “reddish.”

Locality. Historically, Sri Lanka is probably the best-known source for tourmaline—in fact, it’s where tourmaline got its name. The Sinhalese word turmali means “mixed or unidentified parcel of stones.” And Sri Lanka produces a lot of tourmalines. With a few exceptions, however, Sri Lanka is not a major source for the red variety.

On the same side of the world, Burma (now known as Myanmar) isn’t known for rubellite either, but it does get honorable mention. In 1777, a Burmese red tourmaline was reportedly presented to Russia’s Catherine the Great (1729-1796) by Sweden’s Gustavus III (1746-1792). Unfortunately, the rubellite got more respect than was gemologically appropriate, being labeled “a large ruby.”

Brazil, Nigeria, and Afghanistan are the most important sources for rubellite. Southern California, while prolific in pink, has only minimal production of what can be classified as rubellite, typically containing a brownish overtone.

Color. Rubellite color actually is not as restricted to pure red as one might expect. In fact, it includes quite a range of reds, pinks, and purples. And depending upon the direction of cutting, this color can shift from a purplish to a reddish or pinkish color in the same gem. (Tourmalines are notoriously directional in color. Its strong pleochroism leads cutters on a wild chase for the best color while retaining the most weight.)

Unlike ruby, which has to have at least 50% red, rubellite must have just enough red to prevent it from being called pink tourmaline. “It really has to be pink to be called pink,” says Gabriel Mattice, gem expert at Pala International, Fallbrook, Calif. “Otherwise, it can be called rubellite.” And it usually is. The rubellite range can include reddish-pinks (including a cranberry, somewhat orangey, purplish-pinkish-red) to an almost pyrope (dark brownish) red. The majority of the rubellite in the market is fuchsia color (a saturated vivid reddish-purple-pink), which happens to be the most desirable at the moment. Like red diamond, rubellite is never found in what would be called ruby red.

Although Afghanistan produces some cranberry and dark purplish color rubellites, stones from this locality are usually heated to create the intense vivid fuchsia tones of the unheated Nigerian material. Nigeria produces some cranberry color, as well as magenta, deep purplish-red rubellites. Madagascar rubellites also are most often dark and brownish.

Clarity. Typically, rubellites are highly included. Long tubular inclusions are common in Brazilian and Afghanistan material, confirming GIA’s colored-stone grading classification of rubellite as Type III, a gem that is almost always highly included. Emerald is the only other type III gemstone.

That said, it’s not hard to find eye-clean rubellite. Thanks to the Nigerian find, eye-clean material is readily available. Afghanistan fuchsia is more included than Nigerian, with the Brazilian rubellite befitting the Type III classification. “It’s just one of Mother Nature’s tradeoffs—beautiful color, but highly included,” says Mattice.

Enhancements. Much of the rubellite in the market can be heated or irradiated (or both) to improve color. Brazilian material is said to be heated, while Afghanistan material reportedly is irradiated. Nigerian material is mostly labeled as unenhanced. If you’re concerned about color origin, be selective about your suppliers. You also may encounter clarity enhancement in rubellite—i.e., fillers in fractures.

Prices. According to The Guide, fine to extra-fine-quality 5-ct. to 10-ct. gems are priced between $125 and $300 per carat. Gems in this price range should be fairly eye-clean. You can expect to pay less for material that has nice color but is more included. Gems with known origin are preferred, since color enhancements such as irradiation and heat are undetectable.

Care and cleaning. Tourmaline has an unusual attraction for dust, caused by its pyroelectric capabilities—that is, it stores an electrical charge when heated. If rubellite is kept in a showcase that’s hot during the day but cools off at night, it definitely will attract dust.

Since the hardness of tourmaline is 7 to 7.5, and dust typically has a hardness of 7, you should wash off the gem with soapy water to remove dust. Wiping dry dust across the gem could dull the polish. Make certain your gem has cooled before rinsing. Tourmaline has a low tolerance for thermal shock and will crack, especially at the junction of two different colors.

Special thanks to Gabriel Mattice, Pala International, Fallbrook, Calif.