Walking the stone, a rite of passage. A Laurellite moment of a lifetime.

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.

I purchase most of my tourmaline rough off of the inter net and the color rendition of the rough is not the best to say the least.  When I get the rough, I may have emotions about its color and need to orient it properly, but I seldom look back or send anything back, because the cutting must go on.

During the faceting, I get tantalizing views of the stone under the various light sources that I have in the house, but with the stone in wax or epoxy on a dop stick the view is not true.  The dichroic nature of tourmaline and the different angles that I cut the table with the principle axis (c) doesn’t make the “final” look of the gemstone any easier to guess.  So I don’t spend a lot of time considering it.  My time with the stone will come.

So now the faceting is done and my moment with the gemstone arrives.  I wash it in alcohol, dry it off with a tissue and put it in its storage box.  Then we go for the walk, if possible.  Sometimes the walk has to be delayed, but every stone of any merit gets its walk.   I walk about 4 miles a day everyday, to try and keep the old bones functioning.  With a new stone in my pocket, I pause and look at it in the sun, in the shade, into the sun and with the sun to my back or maybe with no sun at all.  The walk will eventually include a stop under a pure incandescent light without ambient light and the dreaded kitchen light, old florescent lights, that kills so many beautiful visions of color.

I have had many surprises when it comes down to the subtle dynamic nature of color in tourmaline under different lighting conditions.  I am not sure that I would continue to cut without the color burst I get from tourmaline.  I am not excited by the technical challenge of complicated cuts or the development of new cuts unless they work well to display color.  A natural color that is a challenge to display properly is my cup of tea.  And tourmaline is quite a brew.

Now I would like to take you to the greatness moment in my history of walking the tourmaline.  The hardest color to get on the color wheel in tourmaline is blue purple.  I read, took some risks and basically failed to make much progress.  I read about the natural colors of Paraiba, many of them were bluish purple, before they were heated to their glorious cyan color.  And wished that I had been active in the lapidary field at the time. (of course I had the money to collect in my dream)  But that was the old days and they were gone.  Going forward I bought a rather mixed up tourmaline that was a dark mixture of blues and reds with browns, that I called bi-rich and made it the leader of the mythical tribe of blue purples to be.  I even purchased other pieces of rough that claimed a purple blue hue that usually turned out to be a blueish gray with maybe some superficial pink radiation burn.  This path to frustration finally lead to the buying of a large crystal that yielded three decent gemstones of a nice bluish gray color, but with no purple tones.

Just after I finished the cutting of the large crystal, I received a personal email from one of my suppliers out of Africa.  He had just had his pages up and I did get some material, but he wanted to point out a “different” tourmaline that I had “missed”.  Well I had not missed it, but I was still recovering from my last fiasco and was not ready to cut more blueish gray.  The piece of rough in question was heavily ground and looked rather nondescript.  But since it only cost $70 dollars and the dealer recommended it, I said sure, please include the wayward tourmaline in my order.  Now before you wonder how easy a push over I am, I will tell you the dealer’s story.  It certainly was better than most.

The dealer works with many people, but one of his oldest colleagues is what they call, in Africa, a miner.  He really does not mine the gemstone.  That is generally left to the very poorest people in Africa, but a wholesale purchaser of rough directly at the mines, (with tourmaline, it usually is a pit in deeply weathered soils or gravels)  The miner shows up, after making his rounds in Mozambique to sell material to my dealer (middle man) and then to the affluent overseas client. (ME?)  Well after getting done with normal business, the two of them had time to look threw a pouch of rough that the miner carries around, It contains material that is unusual and generally not of great quality, to see what he had.  Well when they got to the piece of rough that became the piece I bought from the dealer, the dealer instantly realized that it was a piece of tourmaline, rather than the poor quality iolite that the miner thought it was.  (The mis-identification of the tourmaline is doubtful, but makes the dealer look good)  Now that the true identity of the rough was established, it was worth cleaning up and putting it on the internet.  With a little help it sold.

Now what did I get for $70, all the way from Mozambique.  A good sized pebble that had been ground extensively to remove flaws, with a color that was sort of bluish gray with some pink radiation burns.  I figured here we go again, but jumped in without any more thinking, than how to remove the remaining flaws. (to be different, still got you a pass to the front of the cutting line)  The gemstone took a lot of work because of residual flaws and a primitive path to form its oval shape, that has since been improved with meet point.  All this time I was working under incandescent light and did not see any shade of red except for the radioactive burn on the surfaces of the rough and some flames into the rough (I even retained one flame in the finished gemstone, but not any of the surface red).  I was a bit tuckered out by the time I finished this gemstone in the middle of the winter.

So the time came to see what I had.  As I approached the front door to go on my walk I was not optimistic.  I had spent hours looking at the stone, as it was cut and I hadn’t seen anything that really said purple, let alone a nice blue purple.  Still life has its moments and when I looked down at the 5 carat oval in its plastic box, I saw lavender purple.  WOW, how did this happen?  I took it back to my work lights and it went bluish gray. WOW, how did this happen?  For several years I would show people that stone, at a local jewelry store I was working with and every time they could see the color change.  A color change that I had never seen or read about before and was the opposite spectral direction of the classic color change of Alexandrite.  I was working on how to get this amazing stone tested, when I got an even better example of the color changer.  That stone turned out to be the one I sent to the GIA (the oval was included later) in which copper was discovered in gem quality tourmaline for the first time from Mozambique.  I now call the new variety Laurellite and i have other posts on the unique substance.

Walking tourmaline lead to moment I will never forget and you should always check out any gemstone, not just tourmaline, in different white lights (even daylight is not a constant) before putting your money down on a gemstone.  Be sure that the beauty you buy under the lights in the jewelry store is still a beauty, to you, in your life.

The attached picture is of the oval that walked me to Laurellite.




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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