Raw columnar and large faceted Paraiba tourmaline: intense blue! (Source)
Appearing to glow from within, the Paraiba tourmaline is an incomparable gemstone. Nearly three decades ago, this vivid blue stone captivated the world! This tourmaline quickly became one of the most sought-after gems in history.
Biannually, we invite gemstone expert and vendor James Alger to bring a selection of Paraiba tourmaline to Greenville. Gemstone Roundtable attendees get the rare opportunity to learn about and handle loose, genuine Paraiba. If you’re new (or even if you’re not!) to this stunning stone, here is a background on the origins, properties, and journey of Paraiba from the mine to our table in Greenville, SC.
An Origin Story
Paraiba tourmaline has the ultimate fairy tale beginning, complete with a hopelessly optimistic visionary and a buried treasure.
Paraiba, pronounced pah-rah-ee-bah, is a region in Brazil. Located along historic fault lines and sitting atop billions of years of geological activity, Brazil had long been known for its incredible reserves of amethyst, aquamarine, quartz, topaz, and tourmaline.
In the 1980s, a Brazilian gem prospector named Heitor Dimas Barbosa set on a quest to find something “totally new” in an abandoned old mine in the state of Paraiba. His obsession resulted in nothing for over six years, until a tourmaline deposit was finally excavated. What emerged was an electric blue stone that seemed to glow in its rough form.
Unlike traditional tourmaline, which is compounded with iron or sodium, this glowing crystal was formed in heavy concentrations of copper and manganese. Heitor Dimas Barbosa discovered the ultimate treasure and shared it with the world. However, the stones remain rare and quite difficult to find.
Paraiba Properties & Colors
According to The Jewellry Editor, there is only one Brazilian Paraiba tourmaline mined for every 10,000 diamonds. Until 2003, Paraiba were thought to come exclusively from Brazil, which provided the unique copper-rich environment required to generate these gems. In that year, however, tourmaline stones indistinguishable from the Brazilian-born gems hit the market. These stones were coming from Mozambique and Nigeria. Though the continents are an ocean apart, they were thought to once lie much closer to the same fault line, which provided volcanic heat to the copper-rich mountains.
Brazilian Paraiba tourmalines are:
- Cupriferous, or, copper-rich
- High price, low availability
African paraiba tourmalines are:
- Cupriferous, or, copper-rich
- Slightly lighter than their Brazilian counterparts
- More readily available
Due to the popularity of the intense color of Paraiba, brilliant blue-hued stones of all types are being referred to as “paraiba.” Paraiba opals or paraiba topaz (which is actually painted clear topaz). The stones do not originate from the Paraiba region. Other vendors market blue indicolite tourmaline as Paraiba, but these stones lack the copper-rich characteristics of genuine Paraiba tourmalines.
Journey to Greenville
Today, the largest quantities of tourmaline are mined in Nigeria and Mozambique. Most Brazillian gemstones are already in the market, but there are still efforts to mine these stones in the Paraiba region.
Gem dealer James Alger spends a great deal of time sourcing fine quality stones with enough size and clarity to allow them to be faceted during cutting. Then, he works with award-winning lapidaries to cut the stones. This can involve delivering them a few hours away to lapidaries in the USA, or send the stones to fair trade artisans around the world.
Biannually, James brings his stones to Greenville, SC to be viewed in person at the Gemstone Roundtable.
Buying Paraiba Tourmaline
Quality Paraiba tourmalines range from $2,000 to $50,000 per carat. Because of the value and rarity of this stone, purchasing a larger number of small stones is often more feasible than finding a multi-carat, genuine Paraiba on the market.
Designing Paraiba Jewelry
Small paraiba stones can be set to create enchanting fields of color. Larger stones make incredible focal points or compliments to other colored stones, like lightning ridge opals.