By Brecken Branstrator
New York--In the little less than three decades since its discovery, Paraiba tourmaline has surpassed a great number of other gemstones in popularity. 

Though there isn't much material coming out of Brazil anymore, the trade is starting to make the switch to the copper-bearing tourmaline from Africa. Pictured here is a 0.59-carat stone from Brazil. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Gil & Co.)One look at the gemstone is all it takes to understand why; its turquoise to green colors are unrivaled. 

The industry and consumers alike have one man to thank for bringing this exceptional stone to light: Heitor Dimas Barbosa. Beginning the early 1980s, Barbosa was digging in the hills in Paraíba, Brazil, convinced that he would find a gem unlike any the world had yet seen. 

He was right.

The first gemstones were retrieved from the mines in the area in 1989, according to the International Colored Gemstone Association, and it was all uphill from there.

“The intense, neon greenish-blue color of a fine Paraiba is like no other gemstone. It’s captivating,” said Andrew Rosenblatt of Akiva Gil Company. “So it appeals to people who want to stand out or who may already have other fine gems in their collection. Its rarity also appeals to serious gem collectors.”

While iron, manganese, chrome and vanadium are responsible for the coloring in other tourmalines, Paraiba tourmaline is different in that its unique color is owed mostly to the presence of copper.

Even as the original area that first gave the world its new favorite neon gemstone began to run dry, sources in Africa began yielding a chemically comparable copper-bearing tourmaline, an alternative that since has become mainstream. 

These days, between major retailers and high-profile designers advertising in consumer magazines, as well as celebrities stepping out on the red carpet wearing Paraiba jewelry, the gemstone’s star has never been higher. 

Supply and pricing: Brazil
The Brazilian material, with its saturated color and high quality stones, likely will always be the favored, the preferred. Demand for the stone is sky high. But, as the story goes with gems, there is a finite amount.

There is almost no supply of new material coming from Brazil these days, according to a number of sources. Rosenblatt said that at best, there may be melee but even this is in very limited quantity and quality. There are very few fine gems floating around in the wholesale market at this point.

Ruben Bindra of B&B Fine Gems said that it’s been a long time since they’ve been able to find a new mined stone, and his company has bought more stones in recent years from old collections rather than sources closer to the supply, such as miners and cutters.

In addition to the mines running out of material, Brazilian Paraiba tourmaline also hit a supply snag this summer, when federal police in Brazil shut down two mines in Paraíba and arrested six people as part of the investigation into an alleged scheme to illegally mine and export Paraiba tourmalines, according to WWD.

Though federal prosecutors in Brazil did not respond to National Jeweler’s request for an update on the case by press time, João Raphael Lima, the federal prosecutor leading the case in the state of Paraíba, told WWD that “The police apprehended a lot of material, from rough, uncut stones to lapidated tourmalines, so we know there was a lot of production coming from those mines. The operation has definitely disrupted business.”

According to the story, Parazul, Mineracao, Comercio e Exportacao Ltda had permission to conduct research at the mine but not to explore it commercially. Yet police found evidence that they had been extracting large volumes of Paraiba tourmaline and sending them to a company that would give them certificates stating they were regular tourmalines, allowing them to export the gemstones at much lower taxes.

Not surprisingly then--with supply being what it is and continued demand from the trade and consumers alike--the price for Paraiba tourmaline from Brazil remains high. Bindra noted that prices have doubled, if not more, within the last three years or so for the material. 

In fact, pricing for Brazilian Paraiba has only gone up since its discovery. 

Adam Gil of Jerry Gil & Co. said that when the material first started hitting the market, it was priced somewhere around $100 to $200 per carat on average, and now he sees the highest quality material go for $50,000 per carat or more.

Given the high price and dwindling supply of Brazilian Paraiba, it is beneficial for the trade that there are sources that yield chemically comparable cuprian tourmaline, albeit on another continent entirely.  

Supply and pricing: Africa
There has been a number of finds of cuprian tourmaline in Africa since it was first discovered in the early 2000s in Nigeria. The major player in the industry today appears to be Mozambique. About five years ago, Gil said the trade started making the switch over to using that material. 

Demand has followed quickly.

Yet, there still seems to be some question about the quality of the stones from Mozambique and whether many of them can compare to the Brazilian Paraibas. 

Rosenblatt said at the beginning, the deposits included crystals that yielded larger, cleaner gems than the Brazilian material. But, while there were some exceptional pieces of rough that showed intense color, the Brazilian material typically still was a stronger, more vivid neon blue. 

“The newer deposit from Mozambique seems to be much lighter in color and intensity and heavily included. We’ve seen quite a few stones from this production and have not seen any clean material,” he said.

While the fine quality Mozambique gemstones that match the Brazilian stones in intensity might be few and far between, what the newer source can offer a buyer is a lower price point and larger stones. 

“A 10-carat Brazilian Paraiba is a very rare stone, but Mozambique has produced stones as large as 100 carats,” Bindra said. “I personally have sold a few 50-carat-plus Mozambique stones.”

The Mozambique supply has dwindled slightly, though there remains plenty out there. 

Rosenblatt said prices remains strong, even for the included material. The top material can cost $5,000 and $6,000 per carat at wholesale and continues to go up as demand increases.

While it might be true that a collector would likely only want Paraiba from Brazil, for many others who just want to own a slice of that neon blue color, the Mozambique material is more than worthy to fill that demand.

“At the consumer level, I feel only the real collectors and connoisseurs would like only Brazilian Paraiba, but the rest … will happily buy a Mozambique stone,” Bindra said.

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.