Lit From Within: Paraiba Tourmaline

In the decades since its discovery in the 1980s, Paraiba tourmalines have become one of the most sought-after gemstones for both consumers and collectors. The gemstone was first discovered by Heitor Dimas Barbosa when, after decades of mining for something “special” in the hills of the northern Brazilian state of Paraiba, he discovered something quite spectacular indeed. Upon first sight of the neon blue-green stone he knew he had discovered something incredibly special.

Brazil has a long history of being a prolific source of all colors of tourmaline, but until Mr. Barbosa’s discovery no one had ever seen anything equivalent to the vivid, bold hue that distinguishes the Paraiba tourmaline from others. This type of tourmaline owes its amazing color, which can range from electric blue, turquoise blue-green, vivid green to violet, to the elements copper and, sometimes, manganese. It is said that the finest examples appear to be lit from within. These stones are not only beautiful, but rare. For every 10,000 gem quality diamonds only one Paraiba tourmaline is found, and Paraiba over 3 carats from Brazil are almost unheard of.

In a surprising twist to the story, a new group of luminous green-blue tourmalines entered the market in 2003 from Mozambique and Nigeria. These stones are also copper-rich like the ones mined in Brazil and there is an ongoing debate whether they can be called Paraiba. Interestingly, 650–480 million years ago the South American and African continents were both a part of the supercontinent called Gondwana. It is not surprising, then, that similar geological forces affected both land masses to produce these spectacular gemstones.