October’s Birthstone: Tourmaline, Gemstone of the Rainbow

Radiant Pink Tourmaline

Radiant Pink Tourmaline

Few gemstones are endowed with the reputed magical properties and ancient cultural bonds with man as those boasted by the tourmaline, October’s gemstone. Imbued with heritage, history, and a mystical aura, tourmaline gems are known for their free and vibrant colour.

The name tourmaline originated from the Sinhalese word “Turmali”, which was used to describe mixed gems and was the name given to all coloured gemstones found in Ceylon, modern Sri Lanka. The name was adopted by Dutch merchants in the 17th century who shipped vast quantities of the gemstone to satisfy growing European demand for mineral curiosities.

Tourmaline Rough PebblesKnown as the “gemstone of the rainbow”, tourmalines are found in an unmatched array of colours which, according to Egyptian legend, resulted from passing through a rainbow during its ancient journey upwards from the centre of the Earth. It is also found in combinations of two or three colours within the same stone, making it the dream of jewelry designers everywhere to work with tourmaline.

The “Ceylonese Magnet”

For over a thousand years, various cultures across the globe have had different interactions with tourmaline, shaping an intimate bond between stone and man that defines the gemstone today.

In medieval Europe, it was widely believed that tourmaline possessed medical power, such as the ability to alleviate physical and mental maladies, prevent death, induce a peaceful sleep and dispel fear, negativity and grief. Alchemists prized it for its apparent relation to the legendary philosopher’s stone due to it becoming electrically charged when heated and then cooled. It was also called the “Ceylonese Magnet” by European explorers who were baffled at the phenomenon of tourmaline attracting and repelling hot ashes, later proved to be caused by its unique pyroelectric properties.

Russian Crown Jewels

Russian Crown Jewels with Rubellite Tourmaline

Because of the wide variety of colours that tourmalines are found in, they are often confused with other gems, such as rubies. Originally believed to be rubies, the Russian Crown jewels from the 17th century were later revealed to be rubellite tourmalines.

The Empress and her Tourmaline

Aside from uses in alchemy and jewelry in Europe, a long and flourishing tradition of manufacturing luxury products using tourmaline existed in China. The Chinese have used it to produce exquisite jewellery, decorate intricate snuff bottles and statuettes, and embellish ornate buttons for robes worn by the royal court and noblemen. The gemstone found a special admirer in Empress Dowager Cixi, the last empress of China who ruled from 1861 to 1908. She was especially fond of the rubellite tourmaline, so much so that she ordered nearly a ton of the gemstone to be shipped across the Pacific from a mine in San Diego, California. Unwilling to part with her gems even in death, the Empress was laid to rest on a pillow carved from pink tourmaline.

Tourmaline Today

GIA Paraiba Colour

Electric Paraiba Tourmaline, Courtesy GIA

In 1989, Brazilian miners discovered a new kind of tourmaline unlike any before it. Known as Paraiba tourmaline, this spectacular gemstone is found in bright shades of cyan and green. It is now one of the rarest gemstones in the world and eagerly sought after by connoisseur collectors. The largest cut Paraiba tourmaline in the world, known as the Ethereal Carolina Divine Paraiba, is owned by Montreal financier Vincent Boucher. It weighs nearly 192 carats is valued between $25 million and $125 million USD.

In modern times, the gemstone is also used by tribal shamans in Africa and aboriginal groups in Australia as a talisman that protects against all dangers, while Native Americans continue a millennia-old tradition of using pink and green tourmalines as funeral gifts.

As the traditional home of the gemstone, Sri Lanka is still considered an important source of gem-quality tourmaline. However, today’s biggest suppliers of tourmaline are Brazil, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Madagascar and Afghanistan.

Treatments for Tourmalines

Heat treatment may be used on some tourmaline gems, especially pink to red colored stones, to enhance their color. Clarity-enhancing treatments using oil to make rubellite and Brazilian paraiba appear less included are not uncommon.  Clarity-enhancing treatment significantly devalues the gemstone (especially paraiba). When considering a purchase of expensive rubellite and paraiba, make sure to ask your jeweller if the gemstone has been treated and how. These gemstones should be accompanied by certification from a reliable lab such as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). While treatments are common and acceptable, they should always be disclosed so consumers know what they are paying for.

Tourmaline in Contemporary Jewellery

Tourmaline and Diamond Cross in 18 Karat White Gold, Designer Dede Marconato

Tourmaline and Diamond Cross in 18 Karat White Gold, Designer Dede Marconato

The stunning diversity of colours offered by the tourmaline affords the contemporary jeweller a plethora of design options. Beautiful autumn colours of jazzy greens, pastel yellows and deep reds make this gemstone a superb choice for striking pendants, earrings, and rings. For a more contemporary style, I love to mix the colours and use cabochons, smoothly polished, non faceted gems, in big bold pieces like the Cixi Cross. These gorgeous colours in the gems magnify the colours in the wearer’s eyes, making the gems a must-have addition to any jewellery box. Wear tourmaline with formal wear or wear it to dress up jeans. For an artful and affordable option, consider versatile tourmaline over diamond for a one of a kind contemporary engagement ring.

Dramatic Watermelon Tourmaline

Dramatic Watermelon Tourmaline

Bi-coloured tourmaline can also be given as an 8th wedding anniversary stone.

Caring for Your Tourmaline Jewellery

As tourmaline possesses many natural internal characteristics – especially the pink and red gemstones – ultrasonic cleaning machines should not be used. Tourmaline can be cleaned with most commercial jewellery cleaner or plain soap and water using a soft brush.

Dede Marconato Signature

Dede Marconato, Jewellery Designer, Hong Kong

Dede at her bench in Hong Kong

Dede Marconato is a Graduate Gemologist from the prestigious Gemological Institute of America. As a goldsmith, Dede works at her studio bench in Sheung Wan.

If you are interested in learning more information about tourmalines or designing a custom piece, please contact her at info@dedemarconato.com

Wedding Bands: A Once in a Lifetime Decision

His and Hers Gold Wedding BandsHis and Hers Wedding Bands

Buying perfect wedding bands is one of the most significant decisions you will make when getting married.  Symbolically, wedding bands represent a lifetime of commitment and love, so choosing the best type of metal to last forever is important.

The noble metals, silver, gold, platinum are the traditional choices for wedding bands, but palladium is on the rise. Each of these metals have individual characteristics of hardness, durability, and scratch resistance. While one metal may be harder than the others, this does not necessarily mean it will last longer than other metals.

The decision you make depends on your budget and what colour metal you prefer. With regard to cost, consider your baseline about $1,800HKD per ring for a simple 3mm wide yellow gold wedding band.

Like you and your nascent marriage, each metal also has it’s own unique characteristics – one of them will be the perfect match as your symbol of eternal devotion.

White Metals

White Metal Wedding Bands

Silver, platinum, and white gold are considered “white” metals when used for jewellery, although they are all silver in appearance. The three metals may look similar, but they are very different in content.

Stately Silver

Silver is comprised of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals or alloys. An alloy is a mixture of metals. The alloys are added to make the silver more durable. Look for the 925 stamp inside your ring which verifies it as Sterling silver.

Are you tough on your jewellery? Silver is the softest of the three metals and prone to scratches. It can look beautiful and aged but the look doesn’t appeal to everyone. Many couples choose silver because the price is substantially lower than gold or platinum. This wonderful noble metal is a great choice for the budget conscious. For some people, adding an expensive ring to the wedding planning bill is just not affordable. Some couples will buy less expensive silver with the view to upgrading their rings to a more durable metal at their one year wedding anniversary. Silver does tarnish over time, but with frequent and proper cleaning it can look wonderful for many years to come. Silver is often plated with rhodium, a hard and shiny white precious metal, to avoid tarnish.

Wonderful White Gold

White Gold Wedding BandsWhite gold is a harder metal than silver. It does not tarnish and it holds its shine very well. To increase durability, white gold is an alloy of yellow gold and at least one white metal, usually nickel or palladium. The higher the karat of gold, the softer the alloy. Of all the colours of gold, white gold is the most durable due to the mix of alloys.

Many people are allergic to nickel.  I make sure to use white gold alloy with palladium to ensure the metal is hypoallergenic. 18K white gold is 75% gold and 14K white gold is 58.3% gold. Hence jewellery made from these metals have a slightly yellow colour. To enhance the whiteness, almost all white gold is plated with rhodium. Depending on the amount of wear and tear on your jewellery, over time the rhodium plating may wear off, revealing the original metal colour. Jewellery can be replated with rhodium to restore the whiteness, if needed.  Replating may need to be done annually,  but is quite affordable for a nominal fee of $150 Hong Kong.

Princely Platinum

Platinum is the hardest and most durable white metal. It is much denser and heavier than gold or silver.  It can take much more day-to-day abuse before needing to be repaired, whereas silver and white gold need more care, particularly if they are rhodium plated.

The stamp for platinum is 950 which means 950 parts out of 1000 or 95% pure. The other 5% alloy is either iridium or ruthenium – expensive materials in their own right. In other words, the metal is almost pure platinum unlike the other metals that have a greater proportion of alloys mixed to give them more durability.

It’s rarer than gold and silver and more expensive, but a platinum wedding ring will last forever.

Premium Palladium

If a platinum wedding ring is beyond your budget, consider buying a palladium wedding ring instead. In recent years, palladium has gained in popularity as a comparable, more budget conscious alternative to platinum. In terms of rarity and price, palladium rests between gold and platinum.

Palladium is softer than gold, but not as soft as silver. Like platinum, the metal of palladium will be displaced, rather than lost, when scratched. Palladium is much lighter in weight than platinum and will scratch and bend more easily. A plus for palladium is that it retains its original shine longer than platinum, although it will eventually acquire the same dull, matte finish over time. Like white gold and platinum, palladium can be refinished to regain its original lustre.

Yellow Metals

Yellow Gold Wedding Bands

Due to its softness and malleability, gold is rarely used in its pure 24 karat form when forging a jewellery piece. Malleability means the ability to hammer, stretch and pull metal into new shapes. Instead, it is alloyed with other metals for hardness and durability. When pure gold is combined with these metals, it takes on a variety of rich shades that have become desirable in their own right.

Classic Yellow Gold

The most popular shade of the precious metal, yellow gold is used to create a majority of the fine jewellery on the market today, especially engagement rings and wedding bands. It gets its warm, lustrous hue from the silver and copper alloys with which it’s mixed. Within the yellow gold family, there can be a marked difference in colour based on the mix of the alloys and resulting karat weight. An 18 karat yellow gold ring will be richer and more brilliant in colour than one measuring 14 karats. However, a higher karat gold will generally be softer.

Whatever ring you choose, it’s ideally for life. The above guide should get you started on making the best choice for your symbol of eternal love!

Dede Marconato Signature

Two tone wedding bands made at my bench in Sheung Wan

Dede Marconato is a goldsmith and a Graduate Gemologist from the prestigious Gemological Institute of America.

If you are interested in more information about designing custom wedding bands, please contact her at info@dedemarconato.com.