Tourmalines are perhaps the most fascination of gems. Not only do they have an interesting history, they also have some rather curious qualities. The etymology of the name is said to come from the Sinhalese word turamali, meaning ‘stone with mixed colours’ but other sources attribute it to turmali which means ‘stone attracting ash’ – referring to its piezoelectric properties.
The Europeans thought they didn’t know about the tourmaline until the early18th century when the Dutch East India Company brought them over to Holland from Sri Lanka.
For this reason there’s no mention of the stone we now know as tourmaline or of any folklore or traditions attached to the stone, in the various classical, medieval and Renaissance treatises on gemstones where most of our gem lore is sourced. However Dr Augustus Choate Hamlin speculates that tourmalines may well have come into Rome, along with the aquamarines, from the Urals in Siberia, since the stones are known to occur together. Because of their variety of colours they could well have been mistaken for other gems during this era. Theophrastus in the 3rd century BCE mentions a stone found in Cyprus that was emerald green at one end and jasper red at the other. This sounds a lot like the tourmaline, particularly as no other gem has this colour combination. Similar crystals of tourmaline have since been found in the iron mines of Elba in Italy, which gives the name elbaite to the variety found there.
Three centuries after Theophrastus, Pliny speaks vaguely of violet and brown stones that acquired the property of attracting lightweight particles when heated by the rays of the sun, or even when warmed by friction of the ngers. This sounds a lot like the tourmaline, even though the sapphire exhibits a similar static electric property to a lesser degree. If Pliny were referring to sapphires he would have mentioned the stone by name. Tourmalines of this shade are still found in Sri Lanka, and these same districts have been producing precious stones for two millennia.
The gem was used as a ceremonial device in India, to bring insight into that which is good, and shine light on who or what was the cause of troubles or evil deeds. The ancient Africans used tourmaline to awaken one from ‘the dream of illusion’, and even today South African children apparently play with the crystals for its static electric effects. In modern times, the stone is used by tribes in Africa, Native Americans, and aboriginal groups in Australia as amulets that protect against all dangers.
In the 18th century when tourmaline was ‘discovered’ by the Dutch it became the centre of scienti c experiments around the curious new phenomena of electricity. Not that electricity was new of course, no more than tourmaline, or the electrical planet Uranus seen for the rst time not long after Benjamin Franklin harnessed electricity in his famous experiment. Franklin also experimented with the electrical powers of the tourmaline, just as physicians and doctors were doing across the seas in Europe.
Reportedly the gem was highly valued by alchemists, perhaps again for its electrical powers, although there wouldn’t have been many alchemists left in Europe when tourmaline was of cially discovered. However, they may have been using schorl, which was found in tin mines in Germany from the 15th century onwards. Black schorl is the most commonly occurring form of tourmaline, but it was not identi ed as part of the tourmaline family until the 1800s. The iron bearing silicates in black tourmaline mean that in addition to its electrical properties it can be magnetised to a certain degree, and the characteristics that made it so appealing to alchemists now make it an excellent crystal for protection against electromagnetic radiation from computers and other devices.
Around 1818, the mineral lithium was rst identi ed due to its discovery in a particular type of tourmaline. The stone is strongly piezoelectric (producing electricity under pressure) and pyroelectric (producing electricity when heated or cooled). In 1986, Japanese researchers con rmed that tourmaline carries a faint but constant electric charge of 0.06mA.
Their research also showed that even the nest ground particles of tourmaline are still able to transmit an electric current, and that a positive and a negative electrode existed on both ends of the crystal. These electrodes did not disappear unless tourmaline was boiled to near 1000°C. The electrical charge of the tourmaline crystals produce far infrared photon energy, negative ions and alpha waves.
In the 18th century, a Dutch scientist advised that a tourmaline wrapped in silk be placed against the cheek of a feverish child to induce sleep. This seems like sensible advice, as the stone’s relaxing alpha waves and negative ions would have eased the child’s restlessness.
Considering the impact of EMF elds on the endocrine system and on the quality of our sleep, the stone’s ability to both combat negative EMF in uences, and emit calming alpha waves makes it a clear choice for restful sleep, and balancing the endocrine system.
Black tourmaline relates to the root chakra, and is a grounding and anchoring support for those who are sensitive to inharmonious energy. If you are troubled by energy vampires – those who leech or drain your energy – wear one around the neck. It also repels other’s bad intentions or attitudes towards you, in other words excellent against the Evil Eye.
Green tourmaline helps with rejuvenating and balancing emotional exhaustion, having a regenerative effect on cells, tissues and organs, speci cally for pituitary and nervous system. It encourages acceptance, hope, and tranquillity.
The colour relates to both the heart and the solar plexus chakras.
Indigo Blue coloured crystals assist with the focus of personal power, enhancing imagination and clairvoyance, while cutting through illusion, and fear, much like the special gems from Indian ceremonies, mentioned earlier. It relates speci cally to the crown chakra, and bene ts the pineal and pituitary, the nervous system, thyroid and lungs.
The red/green crystals known as watermelon tourmalines relate to the root and the heart chakra. As such they balance extremes, and harmonise con icts, bringing an understanding of the middle path. They also protect by helping to deepen our understanding of love.
Rubelite (bright red to pink) stones, enhance cheerfulness, release grief, and promote empathy and compassion so that we meet challenges with courage and optimism. With all of these qualities its clear why the stone would bene t the immune system, the heart, circulation and nerves, in addition to the endocrine system.
If you were born in October, you can choose either opal or tourmaline as your birthstone.
Tourmaline measures 7 on the Mohs scale, making it appropriate for claw settings in rings and other jewellery.
Other science stuff:
Tourmaline are one of the most complicated groups of crystals as they are made from complex borosilicates. There are six members of the tourmaline family:
• elbaite (sodium lithium aluminium rich),
• schorl and
• buergerite (both sodium iron rich) and varying from black to
bluish black, to brown
• dravite (sodium magnesium rich),
• uvite (calcium magnesium rich)
• liddicoatite (calcium lithium aluminium rich)
The magnesium rich crystals are brown to yellow, while the lithium rich crystals can occur in almost any colour – blue, green, red, yellow, pink.
Bi-coloured and multicoloured crystals are common, and they re ect variations of uid chemistry during the crystallisation process.
Some forms are dichroic, meaning they change colour when viewed from different angles.
The pink colour in tourmalines result from prolonged natural gamma radiation while they are being formed. They can also be altered by irradiation when they are cut and polished, and it is close to impossible to know if a tourmaline has been arti cially irradiated.
Tourmalines are still mined in Elba (Italy), Minas Gerais (Brazil), the Urals (Siberia), Sri Lanka, Namibia, Mozambique, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and USA. Rare forms of dravite tourmalines were found in Australia, although the mine at Yinnietharra is now exhausted.
Because of its strong piezoelectric and pyroelectric properties tourmaline has many industrial applications such as measuring the intensity of radiation emissions. During World War II it was used in the production of pressure sensitive gauges for submarine instrumentation and it was the only substance that could measure the pressure developed by the explosion of nuclear bombs.