How I have come to love the right kind of imperfections in tourmaline.

Everyone desires and admire the perfect tourmaline with a wonderful vivid color.  But how many times do you find such a tourmaline and if you did, could you afford it.  And finding and affording quality tourmaline seems to become harder every year.  So what does a cutter/collection have to do in order to keep the quest going for more and more color?  It is the contention of this post that going included maybe the only way to go.

I have never liked gemstones that look like they have been shattered or  have any inclusions that draw attention to themselves.  But there are two types of included rough that has become more and more interesting to me in the search for unusual/exceptional tourmaline.   One type displays isolated feathers/sealed fractures and other imperfections that can correctly oriented and isolated to practically eliminate their impact on the gemstone.   The other type displays a significant number of small dispersed inclusions etc. that can not be worked around, but do not draw attention to the individual imperfection.

The biggest weapon in the fight to correctly orient and isolate individual imperfects is the purchase of a large enough piece of rough and the willingness to sacrifice material/yeild.   I try to place distracting flaws on the side of a crown and not under the table.  I also like to keep feathers, sealed flaws perpendicular to the table if they can not be position away from under the table without unacceptable weigh loss.  I have done this for years and even purchased “AAA” material with a few “minor” flaws, but when their position demanded a lower yeild to get an acceptable stone.  (But the color was outstanding so I paid the price.)

Outside of Rubellite, some pink tourmaline and a couple of pebbles of very rare yellow tourmaline, my first real experience with rough that had a sea of poorly organized inclusions was cuprian tourmaline from Mozambique.  I was driven by the wonderful colors that were coming on to the market, long before copper was discovered by the GIA in a few samples of Laurellite (reverse Alexandrite color changing cuprian tourmaline) I sent to them.  Most of the cuprian colors produced out of Mozambique were included to some degree.  My first step with this rough was to do the traditional work, as I described in the previous chapter, to diminish and isolate obnoxious inclusions/ flaws/feathers etc.  Then I tried to maximize my yield while working hard to have a table without any marks.  That lack of marks on the table is very important to me and can lead to a bit of trail and error cutting.  I adjust for the recutting of the tables by adjusting angles on the crown, usually threw aggressively polishing preliminary cut facets.

To my amazement I really like the vividly colored product of my labor, despite the inclusions, as much as many of my flawless gems.  The color of the included stones was not diminished or their crystal made hazy, even if their flash was not as pronounced as the flawless stones, in the best cases.  Of course I was not successful in every case, but the variety of color and the cost of included material verses flawless, kept me buying more included material for color.  If I hadn’t I would have miss out on so many beautiful unheated cuprian purples.

Now I want to talk about a type of included gemstones that I have been cutting  lately.  I hadn’t seen the pattern of inclusions verses the bright candy like look, I have seeing in finished pieces, until I closely inspected my trays of tourmaline to update and enhance this site.  The inclusions/flaws in the rough that ends up looking like candy are much more reflective than the comparable imperfections in the cuprian tourmaline I cut.  They are still small enough to not draw attention to themselves individual, but the impact on the gemstone can be significant.  I chose large enough pieces with good to vivid color to work on, so that I can eliminator the traditional obnoxious flaws and work toward a mark free table, but the rest came as it may.  And in a time when it is very difficult and expensive to get interesting tourmaline rough, I have fallen in love with the quest for color in tourmaline (even included) all over again.  More included, candy like tourmaline please.

One final note.  Once you learn the basics of faceting it is not difficult, on a decent machine, to produce a nice product from the perfect piece of rough.  It is the imperfections in natural rough that can make the preforming step the most important and challenging part of a good effort in getting the most beauty out a gift from nature.  I have found the rewards from working with included material (the right kind) to be very gratifying and rewarding.  It certainly takes more time, but working with included (the right kind) opens many colorful doors.







About Bruce Fry

I was born in Summit, NJ in 1947 and graduated from Summit High School in 1966. I graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in 1970 and after spending another year in graduate school, I left to see the world of Brazil. After spending some more time discovering myself, I ended up working for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for 32 years as an Air Quality Engineer in the Department of Environmental Protection. I retired in 2007 and took up faceting gemstones again after a long hiatus that reached back to my twenties. I had started cutting cabochons when I was 13 and bought my first faceting machine when I was 15, but ran out of money and time until I retired. My great love in gemology is tourmaline and the collection presented here represents my effort to get as much beauty and variety in the colors of tourmaline as I can. I was particularly lucky in being able to get unheated cuprian tourmaline before copper was discovered in gem grade tourmaline from Mozambique.
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