“The Rubellite has all of the properties of the tourmaline, and its colour varies from hyacinth to pink; sometimes, when shaded from the light, it seems blue.”
Augusto Castellani (1829-1914), Gems: Notes and Extracts
Rubellite: the raw crystal and the cut gemstone
Pink Tourmaline: the raw crystal and cut gemstone
Rubellite is the commercial name for the brilliant pink-red variety of Tourmaline, owing its name to the Latin ‘rubellos’ (reddish) and Greek ‘lithos’ (stone).
Chemical composition of Rubellite
With the exception of Ruby and Red Spinel, Tourmaline is the only naturally occurring intensely red gemstone. The chemical element responsible for the color of Rubellite is Manganese: the more Manganese present in the crystal, the darker the color and more imperfect the crystal. Thus, it is rare to find examples with intense purple hues that are also eye-clean.
Rubellite is one of the most desirable varieties of Tourmaline; in fact, there are only four significant deposits of Tourmaline in the entire world. Brazil’s first Tourmaline mine, the historic Cruzeiro mine located in São José da Safira in Minas Gerais, was an important deposit in the late 70s and early 80s, but it was Nigeria from 1998 onwards that really turned heads. The renowned Tourmaline deposits, unearthed in farming areas about 40 kilometers from the city of Ibadan in Nigeria’s Oyo state near the border with Benin (West Africa), were virtually mined out within two years and today this source is largely depleted. Nigeria is noted for yielding extremely fine Rubellite (as well as other Tourmalines with fashionable saturated colors and remarkable clarities), sometimes in larger sizes than usual. Next are the deposits near the town of Betafo, located in Madagascar’s central highlands, which were discovered around 2005. This deposit divides opinion, with some viewing its output as globally insignificant and tainted by too many brownish chocolates, and others praising its more ruby-like specimens. The most recent, albeit short-lived discovery is Tourmaline from Shimoyo (also spelled Chimoio) in Mozambique's Manica Province. Only in operation from around January to April 2008, this deposit’s Rubellite is characterized by an unusually high ‘eye-clean’ clarity and a ‘classic’ color, with very little secondary brownish tints.
The history of Rubellite
Peter the Great (1672-1725)
Bound to Tourmaline’s destiny to be historically confused with other gemstones, Rubellite was often considered a Ruby or a Sapphire in the past, due to its intense and brilliant Reds. While the 20th century has seen Tourmaline come into its own, it was also known in classical times. In the 3rd century, Theophrastus (the successor of Aristotle’s school of philosophy) called it ‘lyngourion,' and a Green Tourmaline seal stone sporting the likeness of Alexander the Great dating from the same period is believed to be the oldest known example. Believing it to possess arcane influence, the Romans apparently used Tourmaline in animal-themed carved brooches. During the 17th century, Peter the Great (1672-1725) reportedly commissioned many items of ‘Ruby’ jewelry for the Russian Imperial Court that were later discovered to be Rubellite. Today, Rubellite is a highly desirable variety of Tourmaline, sought after for its intense sheen and opulent colors.
Properties of Rubellite
Specimen of Shimoyo Rubellites
Rubellite is a doubly refractive gemstone, and strongly pleochroic; in fact, it is the most dichroic gemstone in existence. This means that every Tourmaline crystal has two colors (primary and secondary), the intensity of which depends on the angle of observation. Finished Rubellite will typically have the primary pure reds visible in combination with the secondary purples or pinks. Although the more pure the red the higher the value, Rubellite’s purplish-reds constitute the vast majority; the latter are distinctive and define this beautiful gemstone. Rubellite, like Emerald, is classed as a Type III gemstone, meaning they typically grow with many inclusions in nature. Most Rubellite is going to have eye-visible inclusions, although this can vary a little from locale to locale. Like all Tourmaline, Rubellite can be a challenging gem for the lapidary due to areas of internal tension inside Tourmaline crystals and its inherent pleochroism. However, unlike other Tourmalines, the two colors of Rubellite’s crystals are less of a concern for the lapidary than with Green Tourmaline and Indicolite because the secondary color isn’t as dark.
Varieties of Rubellite
In addition to examples of Shimoyo Rubellite, a rare and extremely pure variety, Pink Tourmaline is another variety of Tourmaline with pink shades and greater purity, being a Type II gem.
Care for Rubellite
Rubellite can be subjected to steam cleaning, but not to ultrasound.