Arríba, Paraíba

March 1999

Gemstones & Pearls:News

Arríba, Paraíba

These rare tourmalines, colored in part by copper, are poised for a comeback

'Neon" and "electric" are two of the words most often associated with the tantalizing blue and blue-green tourmalines from Paraíba, Brazil. Another is "vanished," following a sharp drop in production in the past few years. Now a new effort could change everything.

Since the gem was discovered in Paraíba in 1989, the main mine and others in the area have slowly stopped yielding any new or significant gems. In addition, vicious fighting over mine control hampered production.

"Paraíba tourmalines once appeared to be headed out of the industry and into the realm of a collector's item," says Stuart Robertson, a price analyst at The Guide, a pricing guide published by Gemworld International, Northbrook, IL. Prices for "Paraíbas" are stratospheric, not a standard by which other tourmalines can be compared. As such, they merit their own page in The Guide (prices above $10,000 per carat wholesale are reported for stones above three carats).

Now the issue of mine control appears to be settled, says Brian Cook, a geologist, gem dealer and consultant to three new exploration and mining groups that have divided the area:

  • Heitor Barbosa owns mining rights to the area that contains the original mine. Barbosa, credited with discovering the Paraíba tourmaline almost 12 years ago, formed a small, tight-knit group of miners to control production of the gem in this area.
  • A woman named Edna Silvestre and her husband own the second area.
  • American investor David Sherman and a Brazilian partner own the rest.

In addition, the miners are going deeper underground.

"I've seen all of the areas working individually and they all look good," says Cook. "I predict we will see Paraíba tourmalines some time soon." He cautions that nothing sellable has appeared yet. But he says there are good indications tourmaline is present, including concentration of lithium micas, or lepidolites, quartzes and lithium-rich clays.

Mining Paraíba tourmaline is difficult, accomplished mostly by hand with wedges, sledge hammers and occasionally dynamite, though the latter is discouraged because it can damage the crystals.

Clean crystals and sizes above 1 carat are highly prized. Known mineralogically as "cuprian elbaites," they are rare because of the coloring agent, copper, which is inherent to the region. Copper oxide renders them greenish blue, blue, green and violet, unlike any other tourmaline. This rarity, coupled with their beauty, is why a possible resurgence of Paraíba tourmalines is being greeted with cautious optimism.

Paraíba tourmalines are sought after by collectors and tourmaline enthusiasts for their unique, saturated color, which includes, greenish blue, blue, green and violet.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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