Q & A With Paraiba Tourmaline

What is a paraiba tourmaline?

Due to their highly variable chemical compositions, members of the tourmaline family are celebrated for their wide color range: orange-brown to yellow, green, red, pink, peach, blue, and bi-colored (think watermelon tourmaline).

The most sought-after—and rarest—color of the gemstone is a specific blue caused by the presence of copper in the gem’s chemical composition. These cuprian tourmalines, with their vivid blue to blue-green hues, are called paraiba tourmalines.

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What does “Paraiba” mean?

Admired for centuries, the blue tourmaline known as indicolite (from the word “indigo”) gets its color from the presence of iron in its chemical composition.

Copper-bearing, or cuprian, blue tourmalines, however, were not reported until 1989. Mined in the state of Paraiba in northeastern Brazil, these cuprian stones displayed a vivid ‘neon’ tourquoise color that had never before been seen. Gem-quality material from these Brazilian mines quickly came to be known as Paraiba tourmalines.

In about 2000, a similar cuprian tourmaline, although not as color intense, was found in Nigeria. This was followed in 2005 by discoveries of blue-green cuprian tourmaline in Mozambique.

The naming of these African gemstones has been contentious. Finally, in 2012, the International Colored Stone Association, the American Gem Trade Association, and the Gemological Institute of America decided that because Paraiba was a place name, only Brazilian stones could be called “Paraiba Tourmaline.” African tourmalines containing copper could be called “Paraiba-type Tourmaline.”

A Ring designed and made by Sydney Strong, featuring an indicolite tourmaline center stone surrounded by diamonds and paraiba tourmalines.

What is the difference between Brazilian and African paraiba tourmaline?

To the naked eye, paraibas mined in Brazil and Africa are indistinguishable. The Gemological Institute of America, which grades and evaluates all kinds of gemstones, explains that Nigerian and Mozambique cuprian tourmalines that show saturated blue-to-green colors can only be definitively distinguished from their New World counterpart by quantitative chemical testing of their elements.

Why is paraiba tourmaline rare?

It’s been said that for every 10,000 diamonds mined worldwide, there is only one paraiba tourmaline. And while there are extensive mining operations for diamonds on various continents, there are only three places where paraiba tourmaline has been mined. The first mines, in Paraiba, Brazil, are now exhausted, and new finds in that country tend to be small stones. The Nigerian deposit played out soon after it was discovered. Mining operations in Mozambique are currently the only source, and since 2005 there have been no new discoveries of copper-bearing tourmaline.

Mer-Bird Brooch featuring a free-form Australian boulder opal accented by a paraiba tourmaline.

Why is paraiba tourmaline so expensive?

Rarity and demand. Due to the availability of low to mid-quality Mozambique stones, prices for these can be affordable. The prices of finer quality stones, regardless of origin, continue to rise, while the intense neon-like colors of Brazilian Paraiba command substantial prices over other sources. As stated by the Gemological Institute of America, “Fine-quality tourmalines that have documentation of their Paraiba origin from an independent laboratory like GIA command a premium.”

What should I consider when purchasing a paraiba?

Color, cost, carat, and personal taste are all important factors to consider.

What is the cost per carat of a paraiba?

The price of a paraiba tourmaline depends on the color, cut, carat weight, brilliance, and origin of the stone. Currently, paraibas with neon blue colors and strong saturation command the highest prices. Blue-green paraibas hold less value. In general, Brazilian stones command higher prices than comparable stones mined in Africa.

A custom pendant featuring an Australian black opal surrounded by alexandrites and aqua blue diamonds and accented with paraiba tourmalines.

There is blue material on the market now that is being called Paraiba but isn’t.

A true paraiba tourmaline, whether from Brazil or Africa, must be a cuprian tourmaline. That is, its chemical composition must contain copper. There are tourmalines that are similar in color to a paraiba, but do not contain copper. These are sometimes referred to as “paraiba-color” tourmalines, but these are not paraibas.

Fun Fact:

Our resident Graduate Gemologist, Sydney Strong, has an oval faceted Brazilian Paraiba Tourmaline as the center stone of her engagement ring/wedding set (first image above).

A custom cuff bracelet made in oxidized sterling silver, 18k yellow gold, 22k yellow gold, and 24k gold featuring an Australian boulder opal and carved paraiba tourmaline “bubbles”.

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