April 10th 2009
I keep reading literature on heating cuprian Elbaite with a growing sadness. I am reading about the demise, that I knew was taking place, of a new variety of Elbaite that is little recognize, appreciated or conserved. Let me step back in time a little to start my story.
When I started faceting at 15 years old in 1962 I soon feel in love with all the colors of tourmaline. I didn’t have any money, but I was able to get some rough and cut a relatively few stones until I quite cutting in my twenties for a long time. Still the colors of tourmaline were on my mind and the two I wanted the most when I got back into faceting about 10 years ago was blue/purple and orange. Not being pleased with either the price or material available in the USA, I soon started purchasing material directly from Africa. The search for color continued. Other gems were abandon and the craving for tourmaline color lead me into any color that was different. With tourmaline this can lead to many levels of saturation, clarity, cost and your sanity. Cutting a “different” tourmaline may almost be as much fun as heating some kinds of tourmaline since you’re never quite sure exactly what you’re going to get. I made some success with both oranges and purples, but blue purple escaped me. I read about Paraiba and mourned the passing of its natural colors. Still I bought on in the quest for all the colors in the color wheel.
Then it happened. I had just bought material from ******* when I received an email from him. He knew my interest in different colors of tourmaline and noticed that I had passed on a “different” tourmaline. I knew why I had passed because I had just experience a large dose of gray shock (tourmaline that basically was gray no matter what “subtle” color it was suppose to have) and was trying to temper my quest for blue/purple. Still it was only 70 dollars and ****** stated that it rather looked like lower grade iolite and that did sound interesting. When the rough arrived, I was confronted with a good sized piece of a crude crystal that had been ground to remove surface flaws, but still retained a pink rind. There was still a significant amount of work to do to get a clean stone and the deeper I went the grayer the stone seemed to become. I was able to retain only a single flame of pink and the gem on the dop stick looked pretty dead. You can imagine my shock when I took it outside after working on it under incandescent light and seeing the stone turn violet. Now I am not a brash person by nature (I like to think that) and to personally find something I had never heard of or read about in tourmaline was exciting. The change in color from a warm color in natural light to a cool color in incandescent was also so different that it made me cautious about making silly claims. I therefore had to test this color change tourmaline out on innocent people before I spent money trying to know why the color changed. For most of 2 years I accosted people at a jewelry store that I hung around and people consistently saw the color change. Money was tight and I had never worked with a laboratory so I procrastinated. Then it happened.
I received a parcel of tourmaline rough from Brian Norton. One of the stones that he included had never been shown on the internet and all I knew about it, was that it was purple. I had even failed to ask him how much he wanted for the purple tourmaline or what size it was. When I removed the stone from its packaging in my bright living room, the tourmaline flashed PURPLE and BLUE. I was ecstatic and fortunately alone, so no could dial 911 for a raving lunatic. When I finished the emerald cut I made from the piece I was a little taken back, because my blue/purple tourmaline was a color changer, like the gray/violet gem I described. Now I was really determined to know what was happening with these tourmaline. This is a long enough story so I wont digress into the major effort to get the GIA to actually look at the gems, but the bottom line is that they are cuprian Elbaite and demonstrate a reverse Alexandrite effect color change that is unique in the world of natural and synthetic gemstones. I call the new variety of Elbaite “Laurellite” and knew in my heart that it is being destroyed every day in the quest for the windex blue, paraiba type color. I love windex blue and I have an unheated cuprian Elbaite that is similar to Aquamarine, but I will never heat my “Laurellite”. I also realize that the sands of the hourglass are running out and both stones are easily clean enough to be heated. I have found other Laurellites (a bi-color one recently) and supported research, but science still does not know why Laurellite is different. I am actively seeking help with the search for answers before these unique color changers are all gone. I don’t know of any other gemstone where so much is lost in heating a gem, to make a more valuable gem.
There are many more branches to this story and even some guidance, I have gotten from knowledgeable people, about heating cuprian Elbaite, but this is the heart of my “Laurellite” story and enough for now.
P.S. The original color changers tested by the GIA were the first tourmaline to be reported as having copper, as a chromophore, in gem quality tourmaline from Mozambique. The published copper concentrations were much too low and more recent LA-ICP-MS data shows moderate levels of copper at almost .4 wt percent.