Paraiba Tourmaline Stone: Price and History of a Unique Gemstone
The Paraiba tourmaline stone is a fine stone still little known to the general public and yet it cannot leave anyone indifferent as its colors and the incredible story of its discovery mark the spirits.
Discovered at the end of the 80s by a solitary miner from a poor state in Brazil, its story is like a fairy tale and this stone, rarer and more expensive than diamonds, has become the fetish jewel of jewelry designers and investors.
Paraiba tourmaline rough stones showing the electric blue coloration, also called neon blue, characteristic of this stone
This article invites you to learn more about this fine stone with incomparable colors, its history and its use in jewelry.
- An Amazing Discovery of a Unique Gemstone
- Chemical Composition of the paraiba tourmaline
- Mines and Deposits
- Value and Price per Carat
- Treatments and Imitations
- Famous Paraiba Tourmaline Stones
- Data About Paraiba Tourmalines
- Unique Jewelry Set with Paraiba Tourmalines
This picture shows a rough paraiba tourmaline stone showing an array of colors characteristic of paraiba tourmalines from blue neon to green showing a gradient of concentration of Mg and Cu elements inside the crystal
The Story of a Recent Discovery
Tourmaline is a fine stone known to man for centuries and exploited in many countries and in particular in Brazil. Most of the deposits are known.
The discovery of the Paraiba tourmaline, a unique gem, is due to the tenacity, or should we say the madness, of a man: Heitor Dimas Barbosa who took it into his head in 1981 to start mining a hill near the village of Sao José da Batalha, in the state of Paraiba, located in the North West of Brazil.
Heitor Barbosa, the tenacious Brazilian miner who discovered this unique gem, here posing with a raw specimen of neon blue paraiba tourmaline
Everyone in the village took him for a madman, Heitor o Bobo, as they called him when he claimed to have discovered a stone unique in the world and still unknown in this hill.
He excavated the hill, Batalha mine, for 6 years (with his team of 13 people) before finding the very first specimen in 1987. The first gems arrived on the jewelry market in 1989.
View of the first mine of paraiba tourmaline from the Batalha village
This village is located in the northeast of Brazil, in the state of Paraiba, about forty kilometers east of the city of Patos.
The red dot marks the location of the village of Sao José da Batalha, between the towns of Patos and Campina Grande
The result of his discovery was worthy of Heitor's efforts. The tourmaline stone he discovered turned out to be a unique color, an unknown chemical composition and a remarkable luster.
So much so that when the stone was presented to the public for the first time at the Gemological Convention in Tucson, Arizona, in 1990, it had the effect of a bomb and multiplied the covetousness of gem collectors.
Selling for $250 per carat at the start of the convention, prices hit $2,500 per carat 6 days later when the event ended. The Paraiba tourmaline stone had just made a sensational entry into the jewelry gem market and that was just the beginning.
Chemical Composition and Colours
Paraiba tourmaline is a gem of elbaite, which is a subgroup of silicates whose chemical formula is as follows: Na(Li,Al)3Al6(OH)4(BO3)3(Si6O18) with the possible presence of other trace elements whose variable content is at the origin of the range of colors of the stone.
The official definition of paraiba tourmaline published by the Laboratory Manual Harmonization Committee (LMHC) is as follows:
It is a “blue” (electric blue, neon blue, blue violet), blue-green to blue-green, green (or yellowish-green) tourmaline, with medium to high saturation and a color mainly due to the presence of copper and manganese, whatever its geographical origin.
It is the presence of copper and manganese that gives its unique bright blue-green color to this fine stone which is rarer than diamonds and whose price per carat can exceed that of diamonds, for stones of good quality. The copper content can vary from 0.4% by weight up to 2.4% while the copper content can vary from 0.1% by weight up to 3.5% (source GIA). This table shows the variations of composition according to the colors of the gem.
Like all other tourmalines, paraiba tourmaline forms in pegmatite rock with however very specific conditions with high concentrations of copper and manganese which are at the origin of the blue tint of this gem. This is all the more unique since copper is not usually a coloring factor for other types of tourmalines.
An even more astonishing anecdote is that geologists still have no idea of the source of this copper which enriched the pegmatite which gave rise to the paraiba tourmalines and the latter have for the moment only hypotheses.
Here is an example of the different blue-green hues this gem can take:
Blue color, green and bleu-green colors of the paraiba tourmaline stone (source)
The shades of paraiba tourmaline range from blue, blue-green, green to purple (due to manganese) although purple-tinted stones are less sought after and valued on the market than others. Here is an example of paraiba tourmalines of different colors and tending towards purple in particular:
Here is a summary of the characteristics of this gem shared with us by the Laboratoire Francais de Gemmologie (LGF):
Mines and Deposits
In 2023, paraiba tourmalines come from only 3 countries in the world, Brazil of course, but also Mozambique and Nigeria.
This geographical map showing the continents in the form of Gondwana (540 million years ago) helps to better understand how such distant mines can produce the same quality (to qualify) of gems.
Distribution of geological layers on Gondwana, allowing the formation of paraiba tourmalines
The discovery of the first specimens of this gem dates from 1987 in Brazil, coming from a single hill, the Batalha mine, containing an isolated vein included in an area 200x300 meters wide.
The arrival of paraiba tourmaline on the market created such demand that the exploitation of the Batalha mine intensified to the point of exhausting it in 1991, given the low capacity of the latter. The peak of the extraction of this mine took place from 1989 to 1991.
Today, two other sites further north, in the state Rio Grande do Norte are producers of such gems, the mine of Mulungu and that of Alto dos Quintos. These are close to the town of Parelhas, itself located 45 kilometers northeast of the Batalha mine, 77 kilometers by road.
In 2001, this gem was discovered in Nigeria (Edeko region, near Ilorin in Ibadan state then in 2005 in Mozambique (Alto Ligonha)
Overall, the extraction of this gem is done in an artisanal and very manual way on all the extraction sites. The batalha mine, under the impetus of Heitor Barbosa, is equipped and modernized in a more industrial way to cope with the drop in production on the site, the other remains very artisanal.
Value and Price per Carat
Valued at a few hundred dollars per carat when it appeared at the Tucson gemological fair in 1989, its price was multiplied by 10 in just a few days, to more than 2500 dollars per carat as its unique and new color unleashed passions.
Today, the finest paraiba tourmalines trade at $10,000 per carat and some stones were purchased at the incredible price of $20,000 per carat in Japan recently.
This converts it into a rarer and more expensive fine stone than conventional diamonds used in jewelry, never seen in the world of gemology.
If you take the time to take a look at this catalog of paraiba tourmalines, you will realize the current market prices, as demand exceeds mining production.
It is, however, possible to find small paraiba tourmalines weighing less than 1 carat at prices of a few hundred dollars per carat, such as these:
Example of small size and strong coloring paraiba tourmalines from the Vivalatina-Shop collection
The most expensive paraiba tourmalines are those with an intense "neon blue" color and very good clarity. For this type of stone, the color and its intensity are more important valuation criteria than clarity, which is notable.
It is not expected that the price of this gem will fall in the near future, the recent mines discovered in Africa making it possible to supply the market in just-in-time fashion and to extend the knowledge of this unique gem to a wider public, risking to further fuel demand.
It should be noted that although the official name of paraiba tourmaline does not depend on the place of extraction, the latter can have a significant impact on the selling price, hence the need for gemological laboratories to be able to certify the origin of gems.
Determining the origin of the gems is not an easy thing in the case of paraiba tourmaline and the technique currently used by the GIA consists of a laser chemical analysis of the elements and proportions of isotopes of the analyzed sample. A laser beam sublimates a tiny portion of the stone, which is then ionized into plasma and then analyzed by a mass spectrometer. I refer you to the GIA in order to have more details on this method.
Known Treatments and Imitations
Like conventional tourmalines, sapphires/rubies or tanzanites, paraiba tourmalines can be heat treated to improve their color.
Remember that natural gems form naturally exposed to the heat of the earth and that this type of heat treatment is not considered by gemological authorities as a treatment that must be reported to describe the quality of a gem.
There are glass-fill type treatments for these tourmalines which can be detected by gemological laboratories, on the other hand the treatments by irradiation or heating of certain tourmalines are not identifiable (LFG).
Some sellers present Brazilian blue tourmalines (indicolites) as being paraiba tourmalines although they do not have the characteristic copper concentration of the latter and they owe their intense blue color to the presence of iron in their structure.
The most famous Paraiba Tourmalines
On May 5, 2022, the largest cut paraiba tourmaline stone in the world was recorded in the Guinness World Record. With a weight of 196.17 carats (39.234 grams), Apollo, as it is named, narrowly beats the previous record set by the other giant paraiba: "Ethereal Carolina Divine Paraíba". It is the Thom Munsteiner cutting workshop located in Germany which currently owns this gem.
Discovered in 2009 in Brazil, the "Ethereal Carolina Divine Paraíba" was undoubtedly the largest and most famous paraiba tourmaline for several years. It is massive weighing 191.87 carats, with impressive dimensions of 36.44 mm by 33.75 mm by 21.85 mm.
This unique gem shines with its intense neon blue color and its incomparable clarity, since it is Flawless, a rare thing for a gem of these dimensions. It was recorded in Guinness World Records as the largest paraiba tourmaline from 2009 to 2022.
It is also the most expensive since in 2013 its price was estimated between 25 and 30 million dollars. Everyone agrees that its price has certainly increased since then.
Owned by the Canadian businessman Vincent Boucher, this stone is the centerpiece of a necklace commissioned by him from the Canadian jeweler Kauffman de Suisse.
The Canadian jeweler Moneca Kaufmann, is the creator of this extravagant and colorful necklace called "Paraiba Star of the Ocean Jewels"
With the discovery of these huge gems, the largest paraiba tourmaline discovered and cut weighed 59.10 carats with dimensions of 29.22 mm x 22.20 mm x 15.30 mm. You can see this gem here mounted on a platinum ring.
View of the third largest paraiba tourmaline known to date
Interesting Data About Paraiba Tourmaline Stones
The paraiba tourmaline stone was discovered "officially" in 1987. It arrived on the gem market in 1989 and the peak of extraction of the mine of Batalha, state of Paraiba, took place between 1989 and 1991.
The current production of the batalha mine has become low, around 600 grams per year of gems (3,000 carats) for an extraction of crude paraiba tourmaline of less than 50,000 carats per year.
During its peak between 1989 and 1991, the mine is estimated to produce between 10 and 15 kilograms of gemstones.
The production of gems from the Mulungu mine is estimated at 1000 grams per year.
For comparison, 10,000 times more diamonds are mined worldwide than paraiba tourmalines.
It is estimated that 80% of Brazilian "paraiba" tourmaline production does not exhibit the neon blue/blue-green "paraiba" color before receiving a heat treatment at around 500°C.
Few Amazing Jewels Set with Paraiba Tourmaline
Since its arrival in the spotlight, this gem has unleashed the world of gemology and jewelry, becoming fashionable, due to its rarity, among the ultra-rich, thus inciting the major jewelry houses to include this gem. in their unique creations, of which here are some examples.
Ring set with a paraiba tourmaline, creation of the Gucci jewelry house
Paraiba tourmaline set by designer Jochen Leen
Coomi ring set with a large paraiba tourmaline cabochon
For more information:
- Rough paraiba tourmaline stones (https://www.heritage1971.com/post/paraiba-tourmaline-from-brazil)
- Some information about paraiba tourmaline stones
- GIA data and information about Paraiba Tourmaline from Mozambique: https://www.gia.edu/doc/Spring-2008-Gems-Gemology-Copper-Bearing-Paraiba-Tourmaline-Mozambique.pdf
- Chemical fingerprints of Paraiba tourmaline stones: https://www.gia.edu/doc/SP06A1.pdf
- Gemsociety data about paraiba tourmaline stone
- Interesting facts about Batalha's mine gemstone mining
- Where is lapis lazuli found