International Paraiba Tourmaline Gem Guide: Brazil, Mozambique and Nigeria
Paraiba Tourmalines are among the rarest and most sought after gems in the world. Needless to say, they are also one of the most expensive.
Paraiba Tourmalines are a fairly new addition to the world’s suite of precious gemstones. Discovered in 1989, the world was introduced to the neon blue tourmaline gem through the efforts of Heitor Dimas Barbosa, a very ambitious gem miner. Barbosa began his digging efforts in the hills of Brazilian state of Paraiba where he was convinced there was something different waiting to be discovered. After five years of mining the first paraiba tourmaline crystals were unearthed.
Similar discoveries were found in Africa not too long afterwards.
In 2003, Moussa Konate, a gemstone supplier, inadvertently shipped the first Paraiba Tourmalines from Mozambique to the United States. Repeat orders for the same tourmaline material motivated Konate to dig deeper. He subsequently claimed 300 acres of land around the original mine that supplied his first serendipitous find of the Paraiba.
In 2005, the gem market was introduced to Paraiba Tourmalines originating from Nigeria. The Nigeria Paraiba's were first discovered in 2001 in Oyo, Nigeria.
Fans of the Brazilian Paraiba Tourmalines are cautious about the “Paraiba-ness” of the new gems originating in Africa. However, standard gemological testing and semi-quantitative chemical data analysis cannot distinguish between the Paraiba's originating from the three countries. Only a spectrometry test, via LA-ICP-MS, was able to reveal the slight chemical differences of the stones from Brazil, Nigeria and Mozambique.
Hype Around The Paraiba
Paraiba Tourmalines are just one of several tourmalines available on the gem market today. Included in the tourmaline family are Rubellites, Indicolites, Pink Tourmaline, Green Tourmaline, and Multicolored or Watermelon Tourmaline.
What makes the Paraiba Tourmaline popular even to the uninitiated jeweler, is its unique glow. This precious stone has a glow that can only be described as “neon” and “electric.”
The glow is attributed to small amounts of copper contained in each gemstone’s chemical composition. Hence, Paraiba Tourmalines are also referred to as Cuprian Tourmalines. A study by the German Foundation for Gemstone Research indicates that Paraiba Tourmalines have a gold content that is much higher in proportion than that of the earth’s surface. The earth’s crust has a gold content of 0.007 parts per million while Paraiba Tourmalines, contain 8.6 parts per million. Other laboratories have similarly tested for gold and found many Paraiba stones to be negative. Either way, gold or no gold it is copper that gives this gemstone its color.
Paraiba Tourmalines are invariably very expensive, and are rarer than diamonds. A stone can be priced at $5,000 per carat. Some stones are priced as high as $60,000 per carat. Wholesale prices are reported to be at $10,000 per carat for Paraiba stones larger than three carats.
Paraiba Tourmalines are rare because they have, thus far, only been found in copper rich areas such as Brazil, Nigeria and Mozambique.
Mining Paraiba stones is difficult; they are mined mostly by hand with manual tools like wedges and sledge hammers. Dynamite has also been used, but is now discouraged because of the damage it can cause to the crystals.
In Brazil, the Paraiba tourmaline mines are hand excavated, and interconnected tunnels are dug up to sixty meters deep. As if this isn’t laborious enough, paraiba tourmalines in the rough can only be found in small veins that are as thin as pencils. Paraiba tourmalines from Africa are also mined manually, with the process being almost as arduous.
The difficulty mining Paraiba Tourmalines is what makes this gem rare, and expensive.
Paraiba Tourmaline Specifications
Paraiba Tourmalines first became popular because of its spirited blue color. The copper oxide in this type of Tourmaline has produced aqua, mint green, teals, and violet stones. They also come in different levels of hues and saturation.
Paraiba Tourmalines from Brazil are very fragmented, they are rarely produced over one carat in size. Their colors range from yellow aqua to deep neon blue.
Paraiba Gems produced in Africa tend to be larger. Many stones over five carats in size have been found there. It is not impossible for a jeweler to obtain a 50 carat Paraiba Tourmaline from this continent.
Because of their larger size, the African Paraiba tourmalines are more uniform in color than their Brazilian counterparts. Those that come from Nigeria are mostly aqua and mint green in color. Paraiba Tourmalines from Mozambique, on the other hand, have the widest range of color; ranging from teal, fuchsia, deep violet, blue, aqua, and mint green.
Brazil’s Obsession With Tourmalines
Aside from soccer, Brazil is also associated with tourmalines; a group of gemstones that come in almost all colors of the rainbow. Before the discovery of the Paraiba tourmalines the other Brazilian tourmalines being produced never had a radiant glow.
The elements responsible for the varied shades and beautiful coloring of the Paraiba variety are attributed to copper, iron, and manganese. Scientists have found that the Paraiba tourmaline contain a fair amount of copper. The copper content is credited for the Paraiba tourmaline’s splendid and glowing color.
How the copper and manganese interact with one another gives rise to color variety: emerald green, turquoise blue, sky blue, sapphire blue, bluish-violet, indigo, and purple. Different proportions in the mixture of copper and manganese have also yielded pale gray and violet blue Paraiba tourmalines.
A high concentration of copper results in radiant hues of blue, and turquoise. A high concentration of manganese results in violet and red Paraiba tourmalines. Red color in Paraibas can be eliminated through a careful heating technique used by cutters. The process involves a simple heating of the tourmaline at a control rate of temperature increase and the holding of the tourmaline at a proscribed temperature for a certain length of time. Manganese in the three oxidation state is reduced to Manganese in the two oxidation state which effectively eliminates the reddish hue. Some cuprian tourmalines from both Brazil and Mozambique do not have to be heated and in fact some of the tourmalines do not have enough Manganese to be a chromophore in any oxidation state. Unheated Paraiba stones are generally worth more then their treated counterparts.
The green hue in paraiba does not come from copper. In Rossman’s original paper on color in paraiba he proposes a Titanium/Manganese Intervalence Transfer Reaction for the green in paraiba. Other gemologists think that iron is the probably chromophore for green in most paraiba. It can not be Copper since only one of it’s oxidation states is a chromophore in tourmaline and that produces cyan not blue green hue.
Paraiba tourmalines in the rough are not vivid until they are cut. When they are cut, they seem to glow intensely even when there is very little or no light.
Paraiba tourmalines from Brazil are almost always less than one carat – quite small. Almost all of the raw stones are fragmented when discovered. It is rare to find intact raw stones that are over five grams. Very few crystals exceed 20 grams in weight.
Paraiba tourmalines from Brazil are among the rarest and sought after gems in the world. Needless to say, they are also one of the most expensive.
African Paraiba Tourmalines
Just like their counterparts in Brazil, many Paraiba tourmalines from Africa do not shine until they undergo a careful heating process. African Paraiba tourmalines are often lighter than the ones originating in Brazil.
An ordinary person with an untrained eye will hardly notice the difference between similarly colored Brazilian and African gems. Even gem experts have to make a number of tests to differentiate between the stones. Whether they are from Brazil or Africa, the Paraiba tourmalines have pretty much the same chemical composition and get their color from copper and manganese.
For gem lovers, the history of the Paraiba comes secondary to the joy of possessing this beautiful gemstone. These gems are definitely a unique part of the tourmalines family. Jewelry designers are combining differently colored Paraiba tourmalines to form exquisite pieces of fine jewelry.
You Too Can Own A Paraiba
If you are eager to own a Paraiba, then you have come to the right place. Our collection contains loose Paraiba tourmaline stones as well as gems mounted in fine jewelry. We offer Paraiba Tourmalines from all three sources: Brazil, Mozambique and Nigeria. These exquisite gems are available for you to joyfully own.
We would like to thank Bruce A. Fry for his help with this article.