Since it was discovered in the late 1980’s, Paraiba tourmaline’s striking neon blues and greens have electrified the gem world. The gem’s unique vivid coloring instantly set it apart from other tourmalines. The stone was discovered by Heitor Dimas Barbosa, who spent years digging in the hills of the Brazilian state of Paraiba on his personal hunch that he was going to find something completely different under the “Paraiba hill”. Mr. Barbosa began digging in 1981 and it was in the autumn of 1989 that the first crystals were being brought out. Mr. Barbosa was getting over an illness at the time and never saw the first crystals as they were sold before he saw them!
Michele Della Valle Paraiba tourmaline and pink sapphire ring.
In just a few decades, Paraiba tourmaline has taken on an almost mystical quality. Almost every shade of tourmaline can be found in Brazil, but none has the vivid glow that the Paraiba tourmaline, also known as cuprian elbaite has. Normally, iron, manganese, chrome and vanadium are the elements responsible for the beautiful coloring in tourmalines. The Paraiba tourmaline is different, it owes its splendid color to copper which is what gives the stone its startling turquoise to majestic blue-green, bright glow. In some specimens, there’s so much copper that inclusions of native copper—almost pure metal—highlight the gem’s interior. Scientists speculate that the native copper inclusions took shape in the early stages of cooling, after the gems started to crystallize. Scientists have discovered that the tourmaline often also contains manganese.
John Matty Paraiba tourmaline and diamond ring.
Leon Mege Paraiba tourmaline and diamond ring.
Paraiba tourmalines are almost always quite small since the beautiful cupriferous tourmaline crystals from the ‘noble hill’ in Paraiba were almost all fragments when they were discovered. Larger raw stones are rare, expensive and usually have eye visible inclusions. This should have been the end of the story but…..
Martin Katz Paraiba tourmaline and diamond bracelet.
Enter the sequel. In 2003, a new wave of luminous blue green tourmalines entered the market, mined by hand in the copper rich mountains of Mozambique and Nigeria. An alternative to the Paraiba! The crystals were found to be “Paraiba like” in every way with only minute chemical differences to those unearthed in Brazil. There were two differences. The first being that the crystals found often weighed more than five carats. The second difference being that the african tourmalines were a tad lighter in color. Scientists have been working hard to find bigger differences between the two finds. There simply are not big differences, the two tourmalines are nearly identical in their properties. How did this come to be? If you believe it, it would seem to be a case of continental drift. To explain this, we have to take a world map and look at the outlines of the South American and African continents. If we shift the coastline of South America eastward, we will find that it fits the west coast of Africa like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Nigeria nestles nicely by the northeast of Brazil. So, we could suppose that the radiant copper tourmalines from Nigeria came into being under the same conditions as those from Paraiba, Brazil, before the continents drifted apart, back to when they were still co-joined. Which means, at one point, the copper-rich mountains of Brazil were probably a whole lot closer – and quite possibly right next door – to the copper-rich mountains of Mozambique and Nigeria than they are today. That is certainly one fairly plausible theory.
So, what do you call the tourmalines from Africa? Should they be called Paraiba because a market already exists for the stone and the name immediately calls to mind the specific color? This is an ongoing issue in the gem industry. Both sides completely understand the power of name association as we have seen with Burma ruby, Kashmir sapphire and Colombian emerald. The name creates a strong brand and is a very powerful marketing tool. The Brazilians (among others) believe that only the stones from the Brazilian state of Paraiba can be called Paraiba. The traditionally smaller stones go for very high prices and their African counterparts get to go along for the ride for free. Those who have a stake in the African find, feel that the name describes the stone, its properties and its unique color. Gem labs are attempting to come up with proper sourcing documents and lab procedures but in the meantime, I would say the word is used to describe all tourmalines with this color. If you are buying a stone, be sure to ask for origin and sourcing specifics, ask for paperwork. There is no clear resolution to this problem at this time. Buyer beware, make sure you buy from a reputable dealer.
Martin Katz Paraiba tourmaline and diamond drop earrings.
Fantasy cut Paraiba tourmalines and diamond necklace.
A Paul Wild (to be made) bracelet of Paraiba tourmalines and other tourmalines.
I have a Paraiba tourmaline ring that I love and wear frequently. I purchased it many years ago, long before the African find from a Brazilian dealer. I adore the color and as you can see, the stones are great alone or combined with different colored stones.