Californian Tourmaline

Undeniably beautiful, increasingly scarce, and highly coveted, Californian Tourmaline was discovered in San Diego County in 1892. Once a quintessentially American gemstone, today its renowned Tourmaline mines are virtually depleted. Although Southern California never regained its former prominence, sporadic small-scale mining still occasionally unearths fine-Tourmalines, wonderfully preserving this famous pedigree in the global marketplace. Ethical, environmental, and mine-to-market, our bicolors are from recent, limited mining at the Himalaya Mine (est. 1898), while the pinks were meticulously fossicked from old tailings at the Tourmaline King Mine (est. 1904).

Hardness 7 – 7.5
Refractive Index 1.624 – 1.644
Relative Density 2.82 – 3.32
Enhancement None


Mentioned as a gemological curiosity in early 20th-century texts, by the 70s Bicolor Tourmaline was desired as one of the rarest of all bicolor gems, and today, remains highly-valued. Bicolor Tourmaline typically shows either a green and pink split or a brown and green split, combinations of apricot, blue, bluish-green, colorless, green, and pink are also possible, sometimes with more than two colors in a single gem. This unique color split is due to the depletion of trace elements, caused by environmental changes during formation. These disturbances usually result in eye-visible inclusions, making Bicolor Tourmalines with little to no inclusions globally scarce. Deliberately cut to accentuate their split personality, bicolor gems should traditionally, ideally show reasonably balanced hues. Coveted for their signature, natural dual-hues and deft split, these exceptional Californian Bicolor Tourmalines feature a classic, historic quality-pedigree, that’s incredibly scarce in the marketplace, and increasingly challenging to obtain.

Californian Bicolor Tourmaline splits attractive rose pinks with rich greens, while Californian Pink Tourmaline features beautiful rose pinks, both with a highly-desirable range of medium-light to medium-dark saturations (strength of color) and tones (lightness or darkness of color). While Californian Tourmalines’ characteristic inclusions can create a beautiful look, inclusions that don’t negate beauty don’t affect value. Ours display exceptional clarity for the variety, ranging from visibly included to appearing fairly clean, with only minor inclusions visible to the unaided eye. Bicolor and Pink Tourmalines with little to no inclusions are globally scarce, but even more so from California’s heavily worked mines.

Tourmaline is challenging for the lapidary due to characteristic inclusions, areas of internal tension, dichroism (two colors from two directions), and in the case of Bicolor Tourmaline, balancing an ideal color demarcation. Our Californian Tourmaline is optimally faceted in Brazil at a dedicated lapidary in the legendary gem-town of Governador Valadares, home to some of Brazil’s best lapidaries. Brazil not only possesses much of the world’s finest Tourmalines, but also some of the world’s best Tourmaline cutters. Every gem has been faceted by experienced lapidaries who carefully orientate each crystal to maximize colorful brilliance, maintaining a high-polish/luster, as well as an attractive overall appearance (outline, profile, proportions, and shape).

While some gemstones look better in natural daylight and others artificial (incandescent) light, a gemstones’ colors should ideally remain beautiful in any light source. Despite this, Tourmalines are ‘day gems’, typically looking their very best in natural light.

One of October’s birthstones, Tourmaline frequently garners the nickname, ‘the chameleon gem’, not only because of its multitude of colors, but also because of its historic propensity to be confused with other gemstones. Tourmaline is derived from the Sinhalese ‘turmali’, which means ‘mixed parcel’ or ‘stone with mixed colors’, and are a group of related minerals whose differences in composition result in a plethora of hues. While there are 13 mineralogical varieties of Tourmaline, the main variety is Elbaite. Named after the island of its discovery (Elba) in Tuscany, Italy, Elbaite is the backbone of Tourmaline gemstones. A source of minerals during antiquity, Elba is best known as the island of Napoleon’s exile in 1814. Name a color and in all likelihood, you’ll find it in Tourmaline. Even pure ‘amethyst’ purples have appeared since the discovery of the Mozambique Paraíba deposit in the Mavuco area. Tourmaline’s different colors are either identified by a color prefix, such as blue-green, green and pink, or a variety name or prefix. These include Bicolor Tourmaline (two or more colors), Canary Tourmaline (intense yellow from the African nations of Malawi and Zambia), Cat’s Eye Tourmaline (chatoyant Tourmaline), Color Change Tourmaline (green to red), Cuprian Tourmaline (non-Paraíba hues, but still colored by copper and manganese), Indicolite (blue), Paraíba Tourmaline (blue to green, colored by copper and manganese), Rubellite (purplish-red), and Watermelon Tourmaline (pink interior, green exterior, just like the fruit). Another prized, but exceedingly rare variety is Chrome Tourmaline, a vivid pure green East African Dravite colored by chromium and vanadium, the same elements that make Emerald and Tsavorite. Last is Schorl (Black Tourmaline), a variety that is naturally abundant and once popular in mourning jewelry, yet now commercially scarce because it’s rarely faceted. Interest in both Black Tourmaline and Black Spinel has increased due to the popularity of Black Diamonds.


Major Tourmaline sources include, Afghanistan (Kunar Valley), Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, and largely historically, the USA (California & Maine).

First unearthed in San Diego County’s Mesa Grande district, Californian Tourmaline by the turn of the 20th century had become a gemstone synonymous with America. However, years before this discovery, Native Americans valued these colorful and ostensibly, mysterious crystals. Fossicking Tourmalines in eroded cavities on high mountain slopes, they were prized amulets. San Diego County’s most famed Tourmaline excavations include, the Tourmaline Queen, Tourmaline King, Stewart, Pala Chief, and Himalaya mines. Californian Tourmalines’ rapid increase in awareness and popularity was largely through the efforts of gemologist, George Frederick Kunz. He wrote extensively about California’s Tourmaline deposits, praising the gemstones unearthed. When Pink Spodumene was discovered in California around 1902, Kunz was the gemologist credited with its identification, and it was named ‘Kunzite’ in his honor. Self-taught from books and practical research, Kunz collected 4,000 mineral specimens while still in his teens. Ultimately, his knowledge saw him employed as the resident gem expert at that iconic jeweler, Tiffany & Co., becoming their vice president by the age of 23.

One of the world’s oldest Tourmaline mines, the famous Himalaya Mine opened in 1898, stopping major production around 1912. The mine is an approximately 8-kilometer underground labyrinth of precipitous tunnelways dug, drilled, and blasted over 120 years. For 15 years, the Himalaya Mine produced more Tourmaline than any mine in the world, yielding Bicolor, Green, Pink, Tricolor, and Watermelon Tourmalines. Californian Tourmaline is found in pegmatites (a coarsely crystalline igneous rock) running 45-degrees into the earth. While several pegmatites on Mesa Grande contain Tourmaline, the Himalaya Mine is located on the largest. Today, it still occasionally yields sporadic amounts of Tourmaline, but this gem is impossibly rare and extremely challenging to obtain. All mining is done by hand, 15 – 120 meters underground. Hand-mining Californian Tourmaline directly from its host pegmatite is laborious and the yields’ low, only approximately 5 percent are gem-quality. Aside from its coveted gemstones, Tourmaline mineral specimens have also been unearthed from the Himalaya Mine, with some on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. The exact reason why the mine was named ‘Himalaya’ is unknown. Potentially coined for its size, it’s rumored the mine owners (or perhaps even Tiffany & Co.) wanted the gem to sound exotic in New York, marketing it as ‘Himalayan’. The mine was formally named by Julius Lippman Tannenbaum, a New York jeweler, who in 1901 claimed the mine and formed the Himalaya Mining Company. The Himalaya Mining Company not only mined Tourmaline in San Diego, but also Turquoise in California and Nevada.

Despite its American roots, Tourmaline’s biggest market in the late 19th century was China. Their artisans carved Tourmaline into prized snuff bottles, also faceting pieces to be set in jewelry. In 1901, the Dowager Empress ordered a large amount of Tourmaline from Tiffany & Co., with Tannenbaum (Himalaya Mining Company) supplying the majority they sold to China (1901 – 1911). With the Chinese revolution of 1911, gem mining in San Diego largely ceased until the 50s.

The Tourmaline King Mine was claimed in 1904 by Frank B. Schuyler and D.G. Harrington. Described as yielding, “Tourmaline of great beauty and large size”, significant production continued until around 1911. In 1914 none of Pala’s mines were in commercial operation, but by 1919, mining at the Tourmaline King Mined had recommenced, continuing sporadically until the late 90s. The San Diego Mining Company (SDMC) began a program of renovating the mine’s old workings in 1998. Removing debris from nearly 80 years of ongoing mining, redevelopment progressed slowly until 2017. During this period, gemmy and specimen grade Goshenite, Morganite, and Tourmaline were unearthed from previous underground workings, and also by diligently scouring old mine tailings, in the hope a few forgotten crystals will be found.

With over 90 percent of gemstones enhanced, Tourmalines are often heated and/or irradiated to improve their color. Californian Tourmaline are totally natural and unenhanced, further accentuating their desirability, rarity, and value.

Durability & Care

Californian Tourmaline is a durable gemstone (Mohs’ Hardness: 7 – 7.5), well-suited to everyday jewelry. Always store Californian Tourmaline carefully to avoid scuffs and scratches. Clean with gentle soap and lukewarm water, scrubbing behind the gem with a very soft toothbrush as necessary. After cleaning, pat dry with a soft towel or chamois cloth.


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