Tourmaline

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Tourmaline
Chemical composition Complex borosilicate
Crystal system Trigonal
Habit Trigonal prisms with convex faces
Fracture Conchoidal
Hardness 7.5
Optic nature Uniaxial -
Refractive index 1.62 - 1.64
Birefringence 0.014-0.021 (up to 0.039)
Dispersion Low, 0.018
Specific gravity 3.06 (3.01-3.11)
Lustre Vitreous
Pleochroism Weak to strong
Bi-color tourmaline
Photo courtesy of Lembeck Gems

Tourmaline image gallery


Tourmaline is an extremely complex borosilicate that occurs in more than 100 colors. It is hard and durable and very well suited for jewelry. It is a pyroelectric mineral, meaning that when warmed, it attracts dust and other lightweight particles. The Dutch later noticed this property and called the crystals "aschentreckers," and used them to pull ashes out of tobacco pipes. It wasn't introduced into Europe until the early 1700's, when it was imported from the Ceylon by the Dutch. Shortly thereafter it was declared a stone of the Muses, inspiring and enriching the creative processes. It was a talisman for artists, actors and writers. Today, it is mined extensively in South America, East Africa, and in San Diego County, California.

Tourmaline group

Tourmaline is a large group consisting of complex borosilicates.

Species

Only 5 species of tourmaline are of real importance to gemologists.

From the above 5, elbaite is the most important one. Discrimination between elbaite and liddicoatite is usually not attempted.

Varieties

There are many, mainly color, varieties of these species.

Color varieties (names apply to all species).

Other varieties.

  • Paraiba - neon colored elbaite tourmaline (color due to copper and manganese)

Diagnostics

Color

Tourmaline occurs in almost any color. Bi-colored specimens and "watermelons" are common.

Refractive index

The refractive index of tourmaline lies between 1.610 and 1.698 (usually between 1.62 and 1.64) with a birefringence up to 0.039 (usually 0.019).
nω = 1.631-1.698, nε = 1.610-1.675, optic sign is negative.
The indices of refraction increase with higher iron content.

Probably due to thermal shock (and/or heat treatment), some stones may show 4 (or even 8) different values per reading. This effect is named the "Kerez effect". Careful recutting of the stone will reveal that it is an outer-edge phenomenom [Dietrich, 1985].

Polariscope

Some dark colored tourmalines have a so called "closed axis" due to strong selective absorption in the direction of the optic axis and an interference figure may be hard (if not impossible) to find in that case.
Lighter colored stones may be cut with the optic axis perpendicular to the table and good interference figures can be found there.

Some tourmalines show pseudo-biaxial (due to internal stress) interference figures on lateral rotation with a 2V up to 25° [Nesse, 2004; Dietrich, 1985].

Magnification

Tourmalines can be of type I to type III clarity grades.
Typical inclusions are:

  • Trichites (small thread-like twists)
  • Flattened liquid channels running parallel to the optic axis.
  • Liquid Veils
  • 2 and 3-Phase Inclusions
  • Hollow tubes
Tourmaline with liquid veils, hollow tubes and phase inclusions
40X Magnification
by Barbra Voltaire
Tourmaline filled with negative crystals, oriented in random directions
80X Magnification
by Barbra Voltaire
Growth Tubes in Pink Tourmaline
~75X Magnification
by Jamey Swisher
Ends of Growth Tubes in Pink Tourmaline
~75X Magnification
by Jamey Swisher


Phenomena

  • Cat's-eyes
  • Color Change

An Unusual Variety of Color Change Elbaite ("Laurellite")

A variety of color change tourmaline has been collected and described by Bruce A. Fry.

Color Change Tourmaline
Courtesy of Bruce Fry

Treatments

Tourmalines may be heat treated to around 700° C to lighten the color, this is a stable alteration.

A process which seems to work well for deep saturated reds from Nigeria involves slowly ramping the furnace at a rate of 125° C per hour to 520° C, holding the latter temperature for 2 hours and then letting the furnace cool completely.
A deep red Nigerian stone in the gallery below has been heat treated several times as an experiment by Roger Dery with the ramping done last (following instructions by Lisa Elser on the latter part).


Other treatments are irradiation - for example with cobalt-60 - (stable) and waxing of surface imperfections. The latter treatment is not stable.
Cobalt-60 gamma irradiation gives rise to pink and hot pink colors in some tourmaline.

Gallery of Tourmaline Crystals from Paraiba, Brazil

The following crystals were collected by Jason Barrett.
All specimens are from Sao Jose da Batalha mine in Paraiba State, Brazil.
Not all tourmalines from this mine were copper bearing and these specimens have not been tested for copper content.

Crystal #1
Weight: 88.4 grams
Measurements:5cm x 4cm x 3cm
Crystal #1
Weight: 88.4 grams
Measurements:5cm x 4cm x 3cm


Crystal #2
Weight: 314.1 grams
Measurements:7cm x 5.5cm x 4.5cm
Crystal #2
Weight: 314.1 grams
Measurements:7cm x 5.5cm x 4.5cm


Crystal #3
Weight: 268.8 grams
Measurements:10cm x 6cm x 4.5cm
Crystal #3
Weight: 268.8 grams
Measurements:10cm x 6cm x 4.5cm
Crystal #3
Weight: 268.8 grams
Measurements:10cm x 6cm x 4.5cm


Crystal #4
Weight: 81.8 grams
Measurements:7cm x 4cm x 3cm
Crystal #4
Weight: 81.8 grams
Measurements:7cm x 4cm x 3cm


Crystal #5
Weight: 18.9 grams
Measurements:4.5cm x 2cm x 1cm
Crystal #5
Weight: 18.9 grams
Measurements:4.5cm x 2cm x 1cm


Crystal #6
Weight: 3.0 grams
Measurements:2cm x 1.5cm x 0.5cm
Crystal #6
Weight: 3.0 grams
Measurements:2cm x 1.5cm x 0.5cm


Crystal #7
Weight: 24.4 grams
Measurements:3cm x 3.5cm x 2.5cm
Crystal #7
Weight: 24.4 grams
Measurements:3cm x 3.5cm x 2.5cm


Crystal #8
Weight: 52.9 grams
Measurements:5.5cm x 3.5cm x 2.5cm
Crystal #8
Weight: 52.9 grams
Measurements:5.5cm x 3.5cm x 2.5cm


Crystal #9
Weight: 54.8 grams
Measurements:7cm x 4cm x 1.5cm
Crystal #9
Weight: 54.8 grams
Measurements:7cm x 4cm x 1.5cm



Parcel of Tourmaline
Courtesy Jason Barrett


The parcel above was submitted by Jason Barrett for a microprobe analysis by UNO and the MP2 research group.
The results are as follows:
SiO2:36.712%
Al2O3:42.221%
MnO:1.56%
CuO:1.471%
FeO:0.022%
MgO:0.000%
Na2O:2.365:
K2O:0.022%
F:1.182%
The 1.471 wt. % of CuO is just right in the range for the true Paraiba (Brazil) material

Sources