Spotlight On: Paraiba Tourmaline

The rarest gemstones are the most valuable, and usually the most beautiful as well. This is very true of the spectacularly rare and stunningly beautiful Paraiba tourmaline.

It was in 1987 that Hector Barbosa, an audacious modern-day explorer had the gut feeling that something rare and beautiful lay hidden beneath Paraiba Hill, a spot near his home in Sao José da Batalha. Barbosa and his team began digging and drilling in an old, opencast mine on the hill. A little more than five years later, the beautiful tourmalines were unearthed. Ironically, Barbosa was not present at this initial discovery as he was recovering from an illness. However, he is still credited with the discovery of the Paraiba tourmaline.

It didn’t take long for the word to spread about the uniquely brilliant gemstones hidden under Paraiba Hill. The supply of these rare and beautiful tourmalines was quickly depleted.

It would be more than 10 years later, in 2001, for more of the gemstones to be unearthed, this time at a Nigerian mine. But alas, these stones paled in comparison. They just didn’t have that neon-like blue-green brilliant sparkle. Additionally, there were not very many of the gemstones. Even so, the veins were quickly emptied of the Paraiba tourmaline’s less brilliant cousins. But all of the gemological labs and testing centers considered the beauty of the Nigerian gemstones close enough to the “real thing” to classify them together with Barbosa’s Paraiba tourmalines.

This led to quite a bit of controversy, with protesters complaining that the Nigerian-found gemstones would lower the rarity and value of the “true” Paraiba tourmalines.

It is the interplay of copper and manganese, abundant in the Brazilian hills that gives the tourmaline its brilliant color. Now obsolete, there is no indication that more tourmaline exists in the old depleted mine. Paraiba tourmaline is the world’s most rare and expensive gemstone, even more so than diamonds.

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