Tourmaline: A Spectrum Of Colours And Meanings

Tourmaline: A Spectrum Of Colours And Meanings

Much like verdant flora that comes in various hues and personalities, the delicate tourmaline belongs to a spectrum spanning colours and types. With over thirty different naturally-occurring species of this stone, is it any wonder that it’s been so loved by jewellers across time?

Text: Trishita Khanderia | Photography: Gorkey Patwal

 Photo credits - Gorkey Patwal

The semi-precious stone can be sourced from around the world but it's etymology points to the southern part of the Indian subcontinent—the word ‘tourmaline’ comes from ‘thora-malli’ in Sinhalese and ‘tuvara-malli’ in Tamil which denote a group of gemstones.

While it's mined in diverse countries such as Brazil, Mozambique and Malawi, the gemstone first rose in global prominence when it was brought to Europe by the Dutch East India Company. For the aristocrats, tourmaline added a level of distinction in their Cabinet of Curiosities, signifying their good taste and wealth to invest in gems and objects from around the world. Moreover, as it has pyroelectric properties that could attract and repel hot ashes, tourmaline was sometimes referred to as the Ceylonese Sri Lankan Magnet.

However, before the Dutch could lay complete claim on ‘discovering’ it, it had captured the eye and imagination of Spanish conquistadors in Brazil in the 1500s. When presented with the vibrant gem, they mistook it for another precious gem—the emerald—owing to its clarity and colour. It’s not odd that such a doubt arose; due to its varying shades, it’s quite difficult to pin the ubiquitous yet ephemeral tourmaline down. While it has been used for centuries, its establishment as a separate gem only happened with the rise of modern mineralogy and was recognized as such by the renowned mineralogist George F Kunz, the Vice President of Tiffany & Co. Isn’t it lovely how beauty at times can’t be defined?

Photo credits - Gorkey Patwal

The late 1800s saw an increase in the demand for tourmaline; while much of it was mined in the United States, it wasn’t for the American clientele. In fact, most of the pink and red tourmalines were exported to China as the Dowager Empress Cixi was fond of the colour. The gem was often carved into snuff bottles and set in jewellery and was extremely popular—so much so that the collapse of the Chinese government in 1912 led to a complete collapse of the tourmaline trade in the US!

Apart from its sartorial elegance, tourmaline has featured in myths of magic; an Egyptian legend speaks of how the stone passed over a rainbow as it emerged from the earth and hence imbibed all of its colour while another legend speaks of how magicians in the Andes crafted staffs of tourmaline which held all of the ancient knowledge of the world. Moreover, common folklore surrounding the gem speaks of its ability to cure depression, aid blood circulation, attract friends and lovers and inspire creativity.

At Lune, we’re attracted to the delicate yet defined hues of the green tourmaline—which we’ve paired with the distinctive turquoise, pretty pearls and the elegant yet rooted opal in our latest collection Rooted:Routed. Tourmalines are known to be connected to the chakras; the green especially is said to be connected to the throat chakra or visuddha which symbolises purity and purification. This chakra is associated with expression, creativity, communication and intuition—sounds like a talisman for modern times too, doesn’t it?

About the author // After studying the history and culture of fashion, @trishitakd is constantly searching for meaning, even if it's at the bottom of a glass.

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