You don’t know this about me yet, but I’m a total geek.
Full on nerd. Ask my friends, I bore them to death all the time.
What is that gorgeous stone at the top of the page?
The basic gist of rubellite can be found anywhere on the internet. It’s the pink to red variety of tourmaline, and you might be interested to know that the term is subject of much debate and discussion. Some people will say that is “has to be of certain quality” to be considered rubellite, but like most trade terms, it’s subjective. Inconveniently enough, the name erroneously implies that this exceptional stone is a cheap imitation of ruby, the red variety of corundum. What we’re talking about today is natural pink or red tourmaline, commonly known in the trade as “rubellite” or “red tourmaline.”
I’ll go quick with the ground work so we can get into the nitty gritty.
Gem Group: Tourmaline
Hardness. All members of the tourmaline group (and there are a LOT) have a hardness of 7 to 7 1/2.
Wearability. Not well recommended for everyday wear in a ring. I’ll be honest…It’s pretty brittle. So if you wear one (and you should, look at it), be extra careful. It’s toughness is considered “Fair,” but really, what does that even mean?
Activities where rubellite is not recommended: child-rearing, biscuit baking, or bear-wrestling. More suitable for wearing to work if you don’t use your hands a lot, or to an event or date night with your lover.
Refractive Index. 1.624 – 1.644.
Claim to Fame: “Pink tourmaline” is an lesser known alternative birthstone for October. Rubellite is pretty well known in the trade but has less recognition with the consumer. Pink is probably the most commonly known color in the tourmaline group.
I’m hyped on Rubellite because I’ve been reading this book that I purchased at the Tucson Gem Show. And yes, I highly recommend it. If atomic structure and chemistry tickle your fancy, you need this book. It’s a collection of articles written by accomplished gemologists who can speak authoritatively on tourmaline. I’ve seen it on Amazon, but if you know a better way to get it, give me a shout.
Not ruby, rubellite.
Rubellite, like red spinel and other red gems, was mistaken for ruby in the past, in some cases even in significant accessories of royalty. For instance, the stone previously believed to be a ruby in the Diamond Crown of Tsar Ivan Alexeivich was actually rubellite. Maybe the disappointment from such discoveries gave rubellite it’s bad rap, or maybe it’s the name and the inevitable jokes that come with it. I’ve many a time heard red tourmaline referred to as “Ruby Lite,” falsely implying that it’s some kind of cheap knock off. This gem can look similar to ruby, but is more commonly mistaken with rhodolite garnet, another underrated gemstone.
The tourmaline mineral group is complex, having at least 40 members of it’s subgroups (hence the vast array of colors), with a large number of varieties all associated with trade terms that indicate color, but don’t necessarily indicate species. For instance, multiple tourmaline species’ have the red-pink variety that is rubellite, including (but not limited to) the well known species elbaite and liddicoatite. In garnet, the term “rhodolite” denotes a composition of almandine and pyrope, but terminology is not this simple with tourmaline.
Rubellite has a not-so-scientific attribute that I like to call “badassery” that sets it apart from pedestrian gemstones. As someone who loves to buy and wear jewelry, thinking with the mind of an educated consumer, I’ve determined there are three main “badass” characteristics that make rubellite particularly sell-able.
It’s strongly pleochroic.
Pleochroism means the apparent color can change with different directions of observation. Basically, if you watch it as you turn it in your hand, it looks like it’s changing color. In fact, one of the things a gemologist looks for when identifying tourmaline is dichroism, which is usually visible to the unaided eye if you observe the stone from two different directions. To me, this effect gives a stone depth. It gives it character and shows the viewer that there is more to this stone than meets the eye.
I think this is one of the coolest things I didn’t know about tourmaline before I read this book. In the opening article “Rubellite, A Historic Gem,” the author Gloria A Staebler talks about this extensively. The Greek philosopher, Theophrastus (circa 361 – 287 BC), actually observed that [the stone we now call tourmaline] “has the power of attraction, just as amber has, and some say that it not only attracts straws and bits of wood, but also copper and iron, if the pieces are thin.” Tourmaline takes on an electrical charge (a temporary voltage) when it is heated or cooled. Similarly, piezoelectricity (when minerals develop a charge as a result of mechanical stress), as I recently learned, exists in both tourmaline and quartz, which made both of these minerals (prior to the development of man-made alternatives) useful in a multitude of technological applications. Do you like technology? Do you like gemstones? Tourmaline may be the gem for you.
It can sometimes display chatoyancy.
I’m a sucker for the cats-eye effect. I don’t know what it is. I want to collect all the weird chatoyant gemstones: chatoyant nephrite, alexandrite of course, all of them. And of course, I would love to have a cats-eye rubellite. This is less commonly seen in jewelry stores, but if you come across a chatoyant rubellite, give it a look.
Mined in the USA
Something else you may find interesting about rubellite is that these extraordinary colored gemstones are also mined in the US. Tourmaline has been found in eight different states, most notably Maine and California. The Mt. Mica mine in southwestern Maine is quite well known, and has been mined for tourmaline since the 1820s.
Better known for it’s mining of rubellite are countries such as Brazil, Vietnam, Russia, and Madagascar, but tourmaline has actually been found in at least 32 different countries. Not that this group of complex boron-aluminum silicates is common, tourmaline is definitely still a rare and unusual stone.
I could go on and on about tourmaline, especially rubellite. If you get into reading about it, don’t let all the science and facts get to you. Rubellite is special, and science can try to explain that but they’ll never hit the mark. Rubellite has a presence, and it draws people in. It has a history, and it’s story is still being written. Get your hands on as much red tourmaline as you can. Look at it and hold it, you’ll see what I mean. The science is fascinating and it’s attributes are unique, but nothing holds a candle to seeing the stone in person.