Nobody, Laurellite and the GIA.

In this post I will try and give you my point of view on the events that lead to the discovery of copper as a chromophore in gem quality tourmaline from Mozambique by the Gem Institution of America (GIA).  I have not attempted to put the story into historic perspective or with what the Gemstone Trade was doing or the GIA’s point of view.  So here we go.

Since I started cutting gemstone again, after a long hiatus, in 1998, I began to focus more and more on color in tourmaline.  I had made my decision to take up this old hobby, that I had started working with in my teens, because I realized that I could never afford my quest for color in tourmaline, in the quality cuts that I wanted, without being the creator.  I sought world wide connections threw the inter net and with the notable exception Afghanistan, I by necessity focused on Africa.

I found a couple of dealers working together in northeast South Africa that seemed to have access to a good assortment of tourmaline.  I started out with reasonably small purchases of a variety of gem rough, but I always keep my eye out for something different in tourmaline.  The two biggest sections of the color wheel that I was looking for were orange and blue purple.  The partnership broke up and I proceeded to support both dealers without changing my growing focus on only tourmaline.  I became such a noticeable buyer of the “unusual” in tourmaline, that both dealer began to actively work with me, off their usual web pages, to sell me tourmaline.

So the stage was set for the appearance of some very unusual tourmaline.  Three pieces stand out above the rest and I will describe them and post pictures of the gemstones I cut from them, in no particular order of discovery.

The first lavender tourmaline, that I had ever saw, was a well saturated though lightly toned, pastel hue , arrived from Africa to my amazement.  The rough had originally been a completely and deeply water worn pebble.  My piece of rough had been cut, from the pebble, with a diamond saw into a manageable piece.  I don’t know if the cut was made along a flaw or not, but the original pebble must have been quite large and my rough was completely flawless and with great crystal.  I cut a good sized, very deep round, (horizontal split mains on the pavilion and steep angles on the crown) and was very pleased with the results.  So pleased that i sent the finished gemstone back to the dealer in South Africa for his appraisal and enjoyment.  He had been in the rough business for years and had not see a comparable stone.  He kept it on his desk for quite a while before reluctantly returning it with more tourmaline rough.

Eye clean, deep pavilion, lavender round.  #31 This is a beautiful gemstone in a very rare color for tourmaline. Its well saturated lavender color comes from copper and manganese. It is eye clean and has fine crystal. It weighs 6.35 carats.

The second piece of rough came from a “late arrival” list of rough on the inter net that one of the dealers out of Africa seldom had material on.  I still checked it occasionally and one day it was full of a lot of beautiful medium light blue tourmaline.  And the majority were still available!  I quickly picked out the best I one I could afford and put in my order.  I really liked the material, but I usually limited myself to one of something new, because at the time, there was a lot of nice tourmaline coming out of Africa and you had to be able to keep buying inorder get at least an example of all the new tourmaline.  When the rough arrived, it was completely water worn and appear to be flawless. Frankly it would have not mattered whether it was included or not, the beautifully colored rough was immediately cut into a good sized emerald cut.  Wow!  The emerald cut had a great medium toned cyan hue that was brighter than anything I had.  I immediately checked out the “late arrival” list again and there was still material available, it was not cheap, and order the best one the dealer had left, at his discretion.  And so another piece arrived.  It too was beautiful and I began to look for more on the list of rough available from the two dealers.  Over the months I did occasionally see similar rough, but I had a competitor/competitors and he usually got there first.  Well I was able to pick up one more piece, as beautiful as ever.  Now, I didn’t just want to trust my biased opinion as to the beauty of this material, so I tried it out on  my office mates.  I consistently got a good response.  It was beautiful.

Cuprian, Bright neon look, cyan, emerald cut, Mozambique  #1088 This is a beautiful gemstone and a GEM (exceptional gemstone) It has a great medium tone, well saturated, cyan blue with that neon look. It really can be outstanding. It weighs 3.36 carats.


Now I want to briefly describe how I came to possess the tourmaline that would end up being the first “Laurellite”( cuprian tourmaline from Mozambique with a reverse Alexandrite color change).  Another moment with this gemstone can be read about on the post about walking the finished gemstones.  I had been spending a fair amount of money on rough that wanted to be purple blue, but just didn’t make the grade.  It had culminated in the the cutting of three attractive bluish gray, but without purple) from a large tourmaline crystal with a skin of pink radiation burn. (The pink came from natural radiation changing Mn+2 to Mn+3 in the tourmaline.) Soon after wards I received a email from one of the deals out of Africa.  He had put an unusual tourmaline up on his site, that he thought I would be interested in, and maybe I had missed it.  I check the picture of the rough out on his site and there was a well ground part of a pebble that was rather unremarkable.  Still it could be a purplish blue gray and it was only $70 so I took a chance.  It certainly was not the first time I had done that, in the quest for something different in tourmaline.  When I received the rough, I knew I had my work cut out for me.  It had radiation burn that was so thin that it could not be retained except for one pink plume and there were still quit a few flaws that had only been partially ground out of the rough.  As I worked on the rough, it did not look very promising, but the finished stone changed from violet in natural light to a bluish gray in incandescent.  The reverse Alexandrite color change is unique in the world of gemstone.  I of course did not trust just my eyes so I would test it out on innocent people.  They consistently saw what I saw!

Original Laurellite color changer,cuprian, Mozambique A historic and unique gemstone. It changes color, lavender to blue gray and contains copper. It weighs a little over 5 carats and is a reasonable gemstone without regard to its special features. Read other posts.

Now the stage is set for the piece of rough that broke my reluctant back.  I had wanted to send material into the GIA for sometime, but I was put off by the cost and the feeling that they did not handle much tourmaline.  Also the material would be coming from a “nobody”.  I wasn’t a dealer, or a graduate of one of their courses or even given them anything for their collection, the ultimate way to get noticed.  But then I received a much stronger, cleaner, color changer in the mail from Africa and I had to do something.  The dealer out of Africa that had become my principle dealer, had sent me an email that he had a purple tourmaline for me without a size, price or photo.  I immediately said for him to include it in my next order, that would be sent out soon.  When it arrived and I saw my first truly blue purple tourmaline under the mixed lighting in my dinning room I was ecstatic.  I actually danced around like a child.  I immediately started cutting it into a emerald cut and was amazed when I finish another color changer, with a better change along with better hues. (saturated violet to a blue green)

High grade Laurellite, flawless and medium toned. This is one of the original Laurellites that I sent to the GIA to be tested. It is without problems and is my best Lauellite, a name I use for cuprian tourmaline that has a reverse alexandrite color change. It weighs about 5 carats.

Now I had been working with a couple of men out of California who dealt in tourmaline rough from Afghanistan.  One of the men had a good personal connection with an Afghan family that exported rough to this country and he had collected a significant amount of really fine rough.  The other one was the manager of the site and a salesman.  They not only had a business in the Trade, but had actually donated material to the GIA.  I approached the salesman with a bargain.  I had gotten a second piece of the better color changer off the dealer out of Africa’s web pages as soon as I had appraised the first piece.  I would trade him that piece for an Afghanistan sea foam and his  help in getting a serious investigation of the color changer, I wanted to send the GIA laboratory.  He proceed to call the GIA and talk with a researcher in their library.  She was prepared to give the submission more than a casual examination. (It you don’t have the proper lighting, you can not see a gemstone’s color change properties and no laboratory had ever seen Laurellite before)

Now the stage was set for over two years of testing and two articles about what I have come to call Laurellite (after my first born child).  When the GIA researcher firts saw Laurellite, she was surprised by its stone strong reverse color change.  She showed it to her boss who’s initial reaction was that it was a synthetic. (I was told this later after I was contacted about sending more material to be investigated)  But all this pales in comparison to when I first heard that my new variety of tourmaline contained a significant amount of copper as a chromophore.  It was my birthday (June 15) and I was in the office.  I know without a doubt that this find of cuprian tourmaline in Mozambique would be a really big moment in the history of tourmaline and I think I was proved to be right.

I worked with the GIA to flesh out an article for their magazine Gems and Gemology.  I was sworn to silence about the copper content and it was a great relief when the article finally was published.  Another promised article followed after a rather protracted time, because of failures in being able to get good quality quantitative data.  Finally a group a researchers out of New Orleans produced quantitative data and the second article on Laurellite was published.  The numbers were interesting and provocative since they showed pretty low numbers for copper, when you compared them with the Brazilian material.  I proceeded to make a contact in Japan and have the stones tested with a more advanced and inclusive technology. (LA-ICP-MS)  Along with showing a large number of trace elements in the Laurellites, it showed that the original published level of copper in the Laurellites had been only about a  third of the value of the actual numbers.  This put the level of copper in the tourmaline much more in line with the Brazilian.  The final paragraph in the second article in the GIA’s Gems and Gemology talked about the apparently new variety of Elbaite(a species of tourmaline) and the usefulness of doing more testing.  They were not interested in doing it and that set me up for another adventure, to be related in another post on the continuing quest for the understanding of color in tourmaline.







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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