Tourmaline: The Other October Birthstone

A variety of Tourmalines in shapes and colors showing the color spectrum of tourmalines
Photo Courtesy of GIA.edu

It’s easy to remember that the birthstone for Octoer is opal: both words begin with the letter “O.” But the other October birthstone, tourmaline, is no less memorable…and beautiful. Tourmaline has become a favorite gemstone among jewelry designers and gem collectors the world over. Let’s take a look.

Colorful Tourmaline

Available in a great variety of colors, tourmaline appeals to almost every gemstone lover’s taste — birthstone or not. From deep reds to pastel pinks, dark emerald greens to bright yellows and deep blues, the range of tourmaline’s colors is wider than that of any other gemstone.

 pink-tourmaline-and-diamond-ring-1stdibs

According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), “tourmaline’s colors have many origins. Traces of iron, and possibly titanium, lead to green and blue colors. Manganese produces reds and pinks, and possibly yellows. Some pink and yellow tourmalines might owe their hues to color centers caused by radiation, which can be natural or laboratory-induced.”

Dazzled and Confused

Tourmaline was not recognized as a distinct mineral species until the late 1800s. People had probably used it in jewelry for centuries before, but until the advent of modern mineralogy they mistakenly identified it as ruby, sapphire or emerald, based on its coloring.

blue-tourmaline-and-diamond-ring

The GIA website reports that the confusion about tourmaline’s identity gave rise to its name, which comes from toramalli, meaning “mixed gems” in Sinhalese (a language of Sri Lanka).  Dutch miners applied this name to the multicolored pebbles they found in the gravels of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

An American Gem

One of the earliest discoveries of tourmaline was in California in 1892. It became known as an American gem through the efforts of Tiffany & Co. gemologist George F. Kunz, who wrote about deposits in Maine and California.

paraiba-ring-1stdibs

As recently as the 1980s and 1990s, large Brazilian discoveries have enhanced tourmaline’s popularity and brought a new variety of colors to the gemstone marketplace.

Tourmaline also is known for displaying several colors in the same gemstone. These bi-color or tri-color tourmalines are found in many combinations; those with clearest color distinctions are most highly prized.


One multicolored variety is known as watermelon tourmaline, and features green, pink, and white color bands. These tourmalines are typically cut into “slices” to display the qualities of their namesake.

GIA Report: Many tourmaline color varieties have inspired their own trade names.

  • Rubellite is a name sometimes applied to pink, red, purplish red, orangy red, or brownish red tourmaline
  • Indicolite is dark violetish blue, blue, or greenish blue tourmaline.
  • Paraíba is an intense violetish blue, greenish blue, or blue tourmaline from the state of Paraíba, Brazil.
  • Chrome tourmaline is intense green. In spite of its name, it’s colored mostly by vanadium, the same element that colors many Brazilian and African emeralds.
  • Parti-colored tourmaline displays more than one color. One of the most common combinations is green and pink, but many others are possible.
  • Watermelon tourmaline is pink in the center and green around the outside. Crystals of this material are typically cut in slices to display this special arrangement.

To learn how to clean and care for a tourmaline, click here.

Sources: This article is adapted from the Gemological Institute of America website, gia.edu.
Special acknowledgements to: 1stdibs.com and palmbeachdaily.com

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