As jewelry fans, we love hearing tales of gemstones coming back from far flung exotic locales around the globe. The more remote the better. We’ll probably never go there ourselves to retrieve such natural beauties. But that only adds to their allure for both the retailer and consumer.
Born In the USA
Fortunately it turns out, some stunning gems just so happen to be local home-grown beauties. Maine tourmaline is a perfect example of a born-in-the-USA jewel with myriad enthusiasts.
What is Tourmaline?
To be clear, tourmaline is actually a group of several different minerals, each containing a similar crystal structure but with different chemical formulas. That means we’ll discover tourmaline in a vast array of colors too – starting with black and colorless, then presenting some vivid blues, reds, greens, and the captivating watermelon variety. This bi-color variant is distinguished by its reddish pink tones inside of a green exterior. The unique orientation can be exploited by cutting it into charming watermelon slices. More recently in 1989, the discovery of copper-bearing Paraiba tourmaline thrilled collectors with its electric Windex Blue tint. Well-cut Paraiba seems to radiate with a neon hue, it’s claimed.
While Spanish conquistadors to the Americas first came upon green tourmaline in the 1500s, they mistook it for emerald – an idea that held until the early 19th century when mineralogists corrected its identification.
Looking to Maine
As for the Maine thing, it wasn’t until 1820, the same year that Maine became the 23rd state, that tourmaline was discovered by two boys scouting out the woods. The young mineral enthusiasts saw something green glistening in the sun at the root of an upturned tree during a tough Maine winter. When warmer weather prevailed, they returned to find several tourmaline crystals there which they sent to Yale University for identification.
Early Abundance – Modern Day Scarcity
While at one time, there seemed to be plenty of tourmaline for the taking, nowadays it’s considered quite scarce. Still today, a weekend prospector can transform themselves into a miner in many areas of the state. Hobbyists looking for tourmaline are allowed at various sites for a small admission fee. Some areas of Maine are best known for producing black tourmaline. And scattered around the state in places like the Dunton Mine, Mt. Mica, or Black Mountain (Rumford) one might turn up some fine colored tourmaline.
Maine-based cutting artist Derek Katzenbach, of Katzenbach Designs is very familiar with the material. “Maine tourmalines are available but not as abundant as tourmalines found elsewhere around the world.” He also confirms its difficulty in securing larger stones over 3 or 4 carats, as well as those very top colors. Because of that, it takes some finessing to make the most of the original crystal. “Most stones are cut to the shape of the rough rather than just cutting rough into calibrated sizes because of the rarity of the material.”
In the 1970s, a sizeable deposit of watermelon tourmaline was discovered. But that was the last of the big haul for that particular variety. “Today it’s also becoming more scarce,” he reports.
Katzenbach is mindful of Maine’s limited supplies and its collectability amongst savvy gemstone lovers. They may ask for anything, and he wants to deliver. “I try to keep a large inventory of cut local stones, so I have something close to what a customer is looking for in color, size and shape.” That keeps him on the hunt for fine quality local goods. “I’ve bought rough and finished gems for years from either miners, collectors, or other jewelers, and local gem cutters. “
Colors To Crave
Some colors definitely have greater collectability than others with gemstone fans. It follows along the lines of rarity, he points out. “The rarest colors I’d say are bi-colors and then vivid blues. The most sought after colors are greens, blues, pinks in vivid tints.” The darker blues are less desirable.
Katzenbach also sees that the brighter the tone of the gem, the faster it sells. “Maine tourmaline is fantastic for use in everyday jewelry, and it cuts really wonderfully from a lapidary perspective.”
Inspiration on Display
Miners keep hunting for the biggest crystals. The larger the rough, the more options a cutter has for working the material. Historically for Maine, tourmalines were sometimes found in massive crystals, like the “Jolly Green Giant,” a celebrated 10-inch green crystal. This impressive natural rough currently resides at the National Museum of Natural History (part of Smithsonian Institute) in Washington, D.C.
You can get your Maine tourmaline fix at other places too. Harvard University displays a Maine tourmaline necklace made from a variety of different colored stones – all from that region of its first discovery.
Local Gemstone Pride
Jewelry consumers today are more aware than ever about ethical practices for sourcing colored gemstones. So creating a ‘home-grown’ piece of tourmaline jewelry from Maine has more desirability than ever before. With its vast array of colors, consumers will find it easy to discover their personal favorite.