Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tourmaline: Copper, copper, whose got the copper?

You can't smell it, you can't taste it, you can't see it but its presence or absence can make a difference of tens of thousands of dollars in the price of a tourmaline. What is it? Copper!

By Richard W. Wise


In late 1990 copper bearing tourmaline from Paraiba first entered the market. In 1991 I wrote an article for
Colored Stone "Tourmaline, A Modest Proposal" in which I predicted that just as Paraiba had established a tourmaline aristocracy, inevitably stones that exhibited the light to medium saturation and hue similar to Paraiba stones would escalate in price. What I did not anticipate and could not predict was the discovery of Paraiba-like-copper-bearing- tourmaline in Nigeria and Mozambique. (Pictured above left 0.88 Paraiba tourmaline from Brazil from the R. W. Wise collection.)

Prices have, indeed, escalated and the hierarchy has been established. Regardless of the quality of the stone, genuine Brazilian stones from the Paraiba mining region will bring the highest prices followed by Mozambique followed by Nigeria.
(Pictured below right: 14.70 carat pair of pear shaped Mozambique cuprian tourmalines. Cutting Edge Award Winners, sold) Problem is, areas such as Afghanistan are producing vivid blue green non-cuprian gems that are superior to some of the cuprian stones. What determines the price, beauty, oh no, its all about the copper. We have become inured to such absurdities in the ruby, sapphire and emerald markets but Virgina its only a tourmaline! (pictured below left 3.97 carat Afghan non-copper bearing blue tourmaline from the R. W. Wise Collection)

So at every booth in Hong Kong showing a pretty blue green tourmaline. What was the first question? "Is it copper bearing?" Without asking that question is was impossible to price the stone.

Staggering Prices Differentials:

Price differentials can be staggering. The 14.70 pair of pear shapes pictured above right are certainly the finest of the Mozambique stones yet they sold at a price that was less than half what a comparable, if you could ever find a comparable, pair of Brazilian Paraiba stones would bring. Stones that compare in beauty but are not copper bearing bring hundreds of dollars while copper bearing look-alikes command prices into the low thousands of dollars per carat.

Whats New on our website:

Still haven't given up my day job. Just finished uploading a number of new pieces to our online catalogue. Several new tourmalines plus sapphires and some lovely new and antique jewelry pieces.

Whats a buyer to do?

Follow me on gem buying adventures in the pearl farms of Tahiti. Visit the gem fields of Australia and Brazil. 120 carefully selected photographs showing examples of the highest quality gems to educate the eye, including the Rockefeller Sapphire and many more of the world's most famous gems. Consider my book: Secrets Of The Gem Trade, The Connoisseur's Guide To Precious Gemstones.

“Wise is a renowned author... He’s
done a marvelous job of this first book, monumental work, a tour de force...My recommendation: Buy this book”.

Charles Lewton-Brain, Orchid

whether you like to know what the best colour is in Tanzanite, or how to grade a Diamond, you will find it in this book. No other book I read before dealt with this topic is such detail as Richard Wise's masterpiece."

A. Van Acker, FGA
Amazon June 2005

"Secrets Of The Gem Trade: The Connoisseurs Guide To Precious Gemstones by Richard W. Wise is an impressive new reference for dedicated dealers and collectors of gems, gemstones, and ... pearls. Introducing and descriptively exploring each and every gem covered in the easy-to-use reference, Secrets Of The Gem Trade contains an illustrated summary of each stone inclusive of its history and general information, hue and tone, saturation, which may be noticed as the finest, an understanding of the particular gems rarity, and the caution for synthetics and how to depict them, however depending upon the stone there may be description of clarity, color fading, multi-color effect, etc. Secrets Of The Gem Trade is very highly recommended to anyone interested in gemology as a superbly organized, authoritative, comprehensive, and easy-to-follow reference."

Midwest Book Review
April 2006

Only $37.95. Read a couple of chapters online:

Buy it on Amazon:


Anonymous said...

I'm happy to have found this blog. Thanks for posting your articles. I just read the whose got the copper, Do you have any info on differentiating the two.

Anonymous said...

Richard- Nice talking to you, but there are a few things I think your not picking up on: Country of origin, or origin itself. Every mine has it's own signature, just as every human does (how we tell each other apart). Because Paraiba and Mozambique cuprian elbaite (the species name that GIA applied to Paraiba when Drs. Fritsh and Shigley etal. did their marvelous research for Summer '90 G&G) share copper as trace elements does not make them the same. In fact as you admitted, they most certainly are not when you compare the "best of breeds". Not in that unique inner glow, that caused us to comment when we first saw it you might need to change batteries in your stone periodically; not in saturation (compare 2.5mm mellee in Paraiba to any of the contenders), and most importantly, not in rarity.
A good part of the reason that Paraiba commands such high prices is simple supply and demand: there is comparatively very little of the more desirable Paraiba than, well, ANY of the other "precious" gemstones. Copper not withstanding.

"What determines the price, beauty, oh no, its all about the copper. We have become inured to such absurdities in the ruby, sapphire and emerald markets but Virgina its only a tourmaline!"

That is a pasted quote I took right off your blog. I am aware of several Paraiba stones that have commanded over $30,000 per carat and this is due simply to market forces, desirability vs. supply, not copper content. Paraiba tourmaline has arrived at this price over time. Lord knows I would LOVE to have stones back that I sold in the early days for the then unheard of price of $2,000/ct. They would be EASY to sell for one hundred times that price today. Tell me another stone to appreciate that much in under 20 years.
Paraiba is unique, and we as gem dealers and gemologists need to recognize that and convey it honestly to our clients. There have been charlatans and pirates in the gem business since the days of Tavernier who would like to piggyback on a phenomenal gem that has arrived at this position honestly, and that is part of the romance we are selling. It is our responsibility as learned dealers and gemologists to protect our customers from such unethical representations, and call a spade a spade.

Mozambique cuprian tourmaline is a beautiful and unique gem, but it is most certainly not Paraiba. It is, perhaps, a duck of a different pedigree.