When I was younger I was always annoyed that everything October was pink. October’s birthstones are opal and tourmaline. Opal being a pricey stone and not super cheap even in lab grown options, pink rhinestones were the way to go in key chains, toy rings, and other such birthday/astrologically themed trinkets.

I mixed chrome diopside and green tourmaline for an emerald effect in this summer green tree of life pendant.

I mixed chrome diopside and green tourmaline for an emerald effect in this summer green tree of life pendant.

I was never a pink kid. (I’m still a purple girl!) But going to gem shows I got to see real pink tourmaline and can admire its natural color.


Tourmaline comes in a wider range of colors than any other gem-red, green, pink, yellow, blue, brown, black, and white. In the past they’ve been variously misidentified as emeralds, sapphires and rubies! It was first identified as a distinct gemstone in the 1800s. They’re found all over the world so have been used for centuries, just not under their own name.


They can showcase multiple colors in a single gem. These stones are called bicolor or tricolor stones.  The stones are sometimes heat treated, which can create a permanent change in color-for example, making greens richer or changing brown stones into red ones.


Bicolor and tricolor tourmaline. GIA.

Bicolor and tricolor tourmaline. GIA.

Each color variation used to have its own name, but now they’re generally all called tourmaline.


The two most desirable colors are green and the pink that’s October’s birthstone. I use green tourmaline for my green tree of life pendants, it’s such a beautiful color. Likewise it works as an emerald substitute for birthstone trees. Pink tourmaline chips in a tree pendant give it an old world rosebush feel.


One of the most striking variants is when the two occur together with a hint of white banding in watermelon tourmaline.


California tourmaline. Smithsonian.

California tourmaline. Smithsonian.

Pink tourmaline has something of an imperial history. It was discovered in California in 1892 and much of it was exported to China to make decorative objects, since the dowager empress loved the color. Pink tourmaline ranges through delicate blush and warm rose colors into vibrant raspberry shades. The tourmaline trade collapsed in 1912 when the Chinese government did. Some of the California mines still occasionally put out gem quality tourmalines today. In the US, tourmaline is also mined in Maine and is the Maine state stone.

Carved pink tourmaline snuffbottle. Christies.

Carved pink tourmaline snuffbottle. Christies.


Tourmaline is composed of complex crystals and trace amounts of metals create their rainbows of color. Manganese is what makes pink tourmaline pink.


Tourmaline, like amber, can be charged with static electricity when rubbed or heated. Ben Franklin used tourmaline in his experiments with electricity. Yale has letters discussing how to treat the stones and wondering if whether it was cut would impact how it would attract or repel cork.


Some of the color range of cat's eye tourmaline. GIA.

Some of the color range of cat’s eye tourmaline. GIA.

Tourmaline exhibits are prone to getting dusty because the heat from the lights in display cases give the stones a slight charge that makes them attract dust and lint. (Do you think I can use that as an excuse for the state of my rock collection? Note to self-I need more tourmaline. As if I needed an excuse…)


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2 responses to “

  1. Rhhissanna

    Well, they’re versatile. A pity they dropped the different names for each colour.

    • Different names sound prettier, I think it was about trying to not hide what material you’re buying. Like iolite is sometimes called water sapphire, which sounds great, but misleads plenty of people into thinking it’s a sapphire. And while pretty, it’s nowhere near as valuable or hard, and doesn’t facet nearly as well. Or else it might be to take some of the subjectivity out-calling it by the name of a similar but more valuable color or attaching 8 names for every variation in the stone. Knowing my family there’d be an all out fight if something blue green was indicolite (true blue) or green tourmaline with a blue base!

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