Journey to the Sone podcast with Don Kogen about tourmaline


 Today in Journey to the Stone, I’m going to talk about one of the most colorful gems in the whole color gemstone world. This is a gem that has a lot of differentiations to it, found in a lot of locations; it’s actually quite remarkable because it not only has normal type gems, it also has gems with superpowers. I’m going to get into the world of tourmaline.

Let’s try and break this down so everybody can understand how this basically works. The king of tourmaline is the indicolite. It is one of the rarest varieties of tourmaline, period. It always has been. It’s found in a lot of locations throughout the world—a very small quantity in Brazil, some are found in the Panjshir Valley of Afghanistan, you get some that come out of Nigeria—but it’s very uncommon. The predominant amount of tourmalines are not blue, making it the king of all tourmalines. Now, you always have to take into consideration that there is a Superman, and a Wonder Woman, in the world of tourmaline. Superman being Paraíba. Paraíba tourmaline is basically tourmaline with the presence of copper and manganese. This is its superpower: the ability to disperse light with that metallic element in the crystal structure makes it superhuman.

The Wonder Woman of tourmaline is titanium-bearing tourmaline. Once again, a metallic element within the crystal structure that is found within that. There are less than 200 titanium tourmalines on record globally. Only 1 discovery ever, in a pegmatite host rock deposit next to Jwaneng diamond mine in Botswana. There were less than 200 stones ever discovered. They range in colors—pinks, blues, a couple of yellows—I mean, if you look at indicolite titanium’s blue, there’s less than 5 in the world. I think pinks, less than 20 in the world. They’re very, very rare. I discovered this deposit. It was one of the biggest things I had ever done, to bring titanium tourmaline into the world. Because this is the tourmaline that rivals Paraíba. But let’s not get sidetracked with the superheroes. So the superheros are the Paraíba and the titanium tourmalines. So let’s put those aside and talk about the tourmalines that are found in different locales across the world.

So you got your indicolites, you get some out of Brazil, predominantly the Mutuca deposit. You also find them in Santa Rosa. But only one in 10,000 tourmalines that are found in the Mutuca or Santa Rosa deposit are blue. They are predominantly green. They don’t have the blue that you need to identify it as indicolite tourmaline, to raise it to that king status. The queen of tourmaline is the rubellite. Rubellite is discovered in certain countries in the world, but it’s all about the color and the clarity. The famous and notable mines of the world that produce rubellite are: the Cruzeiro mine in Brazil, that was predominantly one of the most important discoveries of rubellite in history. That material is mind-blowing. You get a nice pink red color. It pops. It’s electric. You get some good clarity out of it, because rubellite is usually not clean—unlike other tourmalines, it tends to have more inclusions within the crystal structure. But the color is what counts. Then you have the Chimoio deposit, which was very short-lived, coming out of Mozambique. This deposit was one of the cleaner varieties of rubellite that was discovered. I discovered that deposit around 15-16 years ago. It is not something that we see anymore of, and it’s very very rare to see it in the market, period. You’ve got rubellites that come out of Madagascar, but to be honest with you, they’re more purplish-red. So they’re not as attractive as the material that comes out of Cruzeiro.

But the king of them all—and I’ll tell you a little bit of background. I was hunting tourmaline in Nigeria; I was the guy who actually discovered tourmaline in the state of Oyo in Nigeria. There we were in the middle of there, and they brought out these crystals, and we’d never seen crystals of this size before. It was really really remarkable. The Oyo discovery of tourmaline was amazing with the range of colors. You got bicolors in there, greens, all different types of saturations. Didn’t have a lot of rubellite in the Oyo region, until about a year later, when we discovered the most important color to ever come out, period. Nigerian rubellite will blow your head off. It is electric. If you can get this material clean, it is as rare as Paraíba. But it is so difficult to get clean. But the saturation of red is popping. It is in a world of its own. It is alive, it is electric, and it is special. Nigerian tourmaline, for me, is the most important rubellite out there, followed second by the Mozambique material, or the Cruzeiro material. And then everything else tends to have more of a secondary of purple, or when you put it under a yellow lamp, it turns a little brownish, which diminishes the value of that particular type of material.

So you’ve got the king, which is the indicolite. You’ve got the queen, which is the rubellite. Those are the two rarest tourmalines in the world. So that’s the royalty. Besides, of course, the superheroes. Now, let’s talk about the long-lost cousin.

Deep in the Erongo region of Namibia, there are random, sporadic discoveries of yellow tourmaline. This material sells for huge money. We’re talking $5,000-$10,000 a carat. But it is canary-yellow. Extremely rare to find tourmaline in yellow. But this material is really electric. Very, very few in the world, so please note—there’s not a lot of availability out there. But it is a rare, rare color to find coming out of this particular locale. There is a tremendous amount of green tourmaline that comes from all different locales. We get it out of Nigeria, we get it out of Tanzania, we get it out of Mozambique, we get it also out of Namibia. We also get it out of Brazil, we get it out of a lot of different locales—green. The key with green tourmalines is—is the color open? If it’s too dark, stay clear of it. If you get the open, vibrant colors, that is what everybody’s looking for. Green: the most common of all the tourmalines out there.

Don’t get me wrong, you still got some amazing greens that come out of Brazil that will set you back over 4 digits a carat. And you’ve got a lot of different tourmalines that come out of Afghanistan that will actually shock you how the luster travels through the crystallization of the stone. And when that stone is cut perfectly, it pops like you’ve never seen before. So you do get some green tourmalines that are electric and vibrant, that also come out.

You also get this salad-like, mixed color if you ever go to, for example, the Jaipur markets, where they buy a lot of the lower-grade tourmalines of the world. What they do is they sell what’s called a “mixed salad,” which is a little bit of green, a little bit of pink, a little bit of yellows, a little bit of this and that—but they’re all included grades. But they’re an array of all the different colors—sort of like a fancy mix, a fancy color mix of tourmalines. But if you specialize in looking for the fine grades, and look, the reason why I touch on these points of different markets is because I sell a lot of rough to these markets, I sell hundreds and hundreds of kilos of tourmaline to gemstone cutters all over the world. It is a very, very popular gemstone, and it is bought at every different grade, whether included grade, whether perfectly clean, there is a demand for it, some of the best quality tourmalines in the world. I sell to Idar-Oberstein in Germany—they are one of the biggest cutters of the finest quality tourmalines. The lower grades go off to India.

The best quality rubellite ends up being sold in Thailand. I sell a lot of rubellite rough in Thailand, and then it’s cut and sold off to the Chinese market. The Chinese are crazy about rubellite, as well as the bicolors. All the Nigerian bicolors—and bicolors, I’m talking about a nice green, with an orangey-pink or something like that, on the other half—that’s extremely rare. Bicolor is one of the rarest geological phenomena in the world of tourmaline. People like it. Some people don’t like it, but in the rarity factor, it is extremely uncommon. To find bicolor is extremely rare, especially if the split is centralized. If you can get a 60/40 split, or a 50/50 split, you’re talking big money. Especially in China. They love it. They pay big dollars for it. And they’ve raised the price of that material over the last decade, from $400, $500, $600 a carat up to $2,000-$3,000 a carat in many cases.

And if you want really rare color bicolors, you’ll get them in Brazil, where you’ll see nice Mutuca blues: indicolite on one side, and a pink tourmaline on the other side. The problem with the Brazilian material—full transparency—it’s hard to find very clean stones in these fine colors. You can get them in some of the dark colors clean, but very rarely do you find the very fine colors, unless you’re getting indicolite on one side, green on the other side. There’s a little bit more of that. But once again, all bicolors are extremely, extremely rare. I’ll cover the other rarities, like the chatoyancy that comes out of the tourmaline cat’s eye, in another episode of Journey to the Stone. I’ll cover asterism, chatoyancies, different varieties of stars and cat’s eye that come in chrysoberyls, ruby, sapphires, because they’re a whole different species. They’re formed and created in a different route. So I’ll get into that later.

But right now, when you’re looking for tourmalines, what you’re looking for in my world is open. I want open color, I want perfectly clean. If you can get clean, it’s the money. Because clean is actually extremely rare. It is not something that is common. If you get open and clean, it is only increasing in value. I mean, look, collectors love this gem, because you can get size. Tourmalines you can get size. Right? So even the titanium discovery that came out of Botswana—a lot of the stones were 5.00 carat, 10.00 carat, 15.00 to 20.00 carat, which made them extremely collectible. So even though there’s less than 200 stones in the world, the rough material was big. The crystals were significant. And that’s amazing, because you can get a 20.00 carat pink tourmaline that’ll blow your head off, and the color is amazing.

You’ll pay a little bit for it—you’re not going to pay ruby prices, by any means, you’re not going to pay anything like that—but you are gonna pay a little bit. But they are rare, and if you can get them, they’re definitely worth holding on to. Because the supply in the world market is diminishing, the supply of this fine-quality tourmaline. And I’ll tell you why. They’ve had discoveries in the Congo, they’ve had discoveries in Nigeria—we’ve had discoveries in Tanzania, we’ve had discoveries in Brazil. But something about this tourmaline: we’re seeing less and less of it in the rough supply. So they’re basically tapping it out. They’re basically tapping out on tourmaline.

Let me explain to you how tourmaline forms, and how these gems actually grow in the ground. So usually they’re found at around 30, 40 meters depth. They can go from 10 meters also, but you can also go all the way down to 50 meters. But basically, how they’re actually formed, is you have to actually dig a shaft to get to them. So how they’re actually formed is through volcanic events. So this process, what happens is: magma comes up from the Earth’s mantle, and then it comes into the Earth’s crust. Now this hot magma in the Earth’s crust gets trapped within the Earth’s crust. So there’s crevices—imagine a tree with roots going… Let’s say the tree is where the Earth’s mantle in the center of the world is. Imagine the bottom of a tree with those roots. That’s how the Earth’s crust actually is. There’s a lot of crevices in there, et cetera. So when magma comes up, it fills all those crevices. Now what happens is, when magma starts to cool down, it creates pegmatite host rock. Now when it cools down and that magma gets trapped within an area, it creates steam, and if the presence of boron—different trace elements that create tourmaline—are present within the soil, then tourmaline is created.

Now you need different elements to create different things. For example, for Paraíba tourmaline, you need copper and manganese. The titanium tourmaline—that there’s less than 200 in the world—there was titanium physically present within the Earth’s crust when that magma cooled down, and that’s why those tourmalines got their superpowers, you know, the Wonder Woman capability. And that is what is really, really unique about it. But it’s formed in rare occurrences through volcanic events. You also get tourmaline out of California. To be frank, the quality is not the best. We have—it’s highly included. It does have the US branding capability, if you like American gemstones, but the quality isn’t in line with its Brazilian counterparts. And it really all depends on how this magma came up, how long it stayed there, how long it took to cool down—the trace elements, what was present—what happened in the ground 500 million years ago, when these gems were created. And ultimately, it’s Mother Nature’s decision how much and how beautiful she wants to make these stones.

They are rare, they are collectible. I love tourmaline because you’ve got the superheroes, I compared them with humans, tourmalines: you’ve got superheroes, you’ve also got stones that don’t have a lot of pop to them, and then you’ve got stones that just go bling bling bling bling bling. Just like some humans! They just go bling, baby. They just go bling bling bling bling. Exciting stuff if you like big gems, big color.

Kat Florence only deals with perfectly clean tourmaline. So if you ever see any of the tourmalines in the Kat Florence collection or anything like that, she is so picky. And she also puts the most difficult cut on tourmalines. If you’ve ever seen the cutting that she does with her engineers on the tourmalines, she’ll take a 50.00 carat and cut it to a 26.00 carat, 25.00 carat … lose 50% of the weight, put it into a diamond cut. Nobody’s crazy enough to lose that kind of weight. But she brings out the beauty. She brings out the pop. She brings out the sparkle. And that is what Kat Florence likes to do.

It’s hard on me, because I give her the 50.00 carat and it comes back from—I call it the “Kat Florence spa,” it’s sort of like reducing the weight—if you want to lose weight, you go to the Kat Florence spa. You come in, you come out with a sharp booty. That’s what happens at the Kat Florence spa. And that’s what happens to tourmalines, tanzanites, and a lot of gems that go to the Kat Florence spa. She even does it with 10.00 carat blue sapphire sometimes. She sends them to the Kat Florence spa, they come back as 5.00, 5.00 and a half carats, but oh my goodness, is that booty sharp, and that dispersion and fire will rival a diamond. And that is what you’ll see in the Kat Florence collection.

It’s quite interesting because I sell hundreds and hundreds of kilos of tourmaline, and the guys who buy from me know that I cherry-pick-out the rare, top gem quality, perfectly clean rubellite. Because nobody in the world has a top gem quality perfectly clean rubellite. You can go through a million rubellites and never see one, because rubellite is never clean. It’s a type 2, type 3 gemstone, like emerald. It’s not clean, like emeralds aren’t clean. You’re not going to find a Loupe Clean rubellite. I collect Loupe Clean rubellite. I collect titanium tourmalines. I collect yellow tourmalines. Because when I see yellow, I get excited. Because there’s not a lot of yellow in the world. And that is a reason to get excited.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the education on tourmalines. And I hope I was pretty clear on trying to explain them. Once again, thank you for listening to this episode. Love educating all you guys, love your questions, love helping out where I can, and sharing my life experiences with you. And everything like that. A lot of crazy stuff has happened around the world of tourmaline, especially in the discovery in Nigeria. I remember being there, in the mid-90s, oh my goodness. It was crazy times. There was the rebels against the government, the government against the rebels… I didn't know what the heck was going on. We were going through … what happened in Nigeria stays in Nigeria. Crazy times. Hope you enjoyed the show. Love to everyone.

Click here to discover more episodes 

Size chart