Tourmaline is a complex borosilicate mineral family. When certain members of that family add copper, manganese and a trace amount of gold to their composition, a cuprian or Paraiba tourmaline results. All Paraiba tourmalines are cuprian tourmalines, but not all cuprian
tourmalines are Paraiba tourmalines. Paraiba denotes a locality but, initially, only one mine was thought to exist, so all tourmalines with these neon-like colors were labeled Paraiba; however, in the mid 1990s, mines were discovered in Africa that produce material closely resembling the Brazilian material. Because the Paraiba material from Brazil is more expensive than the similarly colored African stones, the term “cuprian,” meaning copper-bearing, was coined to differentiate these stones.
Characterized by brilliant neon blue, green and violet hues, cuprian and Paraiba tourmalines are fairly new on the market. The color is so magical and in such short supply that even moderately included material is acceptable for cutting faceted or cabochon stones. Although the famous neon blue color can occur naturally, when mined from the ground, the violet hues can be heated to produce the prized and more popular neon blue color, a treatment that is permanent and undetectable unless submitted to a laboratory for Raman spectroscopy testing. Paraiba and cuprian tourmaline also can occur in bi-color and “watermelon” color configurations, although these are quite rare.
First discovered in 1987 by Hector Barbosa near Sao Jose de Batalha in the Brazilian state of Paraiba, the small mine was quickly exhausted by 1993. The debut of these intensely colored tourmalines at the 1990 annual Tucson International Gem and Mineral Show was nothing short of spectacular. The gem trade was curious about this unusually colored material, and when its natural origin was revealed, everyone wanted some of this gorgeous new tourmaline. Prices quickly rose from an initially modest sum for a 2 to 3 carat stone to much higher levels per carat for extra fine stones of the same size.
Although Paraiba tourmaline was initially discovered in Brazil, new deposits have been identified in Mozambique and Nigeria, and often in larger sizes than those in the original Brazilian deposit. Cut stones over 100 carats in size are known, and stones weighing 1 to 20 carats are typical. These newer Paraiba-type tourmalines from Africa can command very respectable prices for stones from 10 to 20 carats in size. Supply remains inconsistent, and cuprian or Paraiba tourmaline will always be treasured by jewelry wearers and gemstone collectors alike.
Paraiba-type tourmaline is as hard as other types of tourmaline and is perfectly sturdy to be set and wear in any type of jewelry. Tourmaline should not be cleaned with steam or ultra-sonic cleaners.
Paraiba and Cuprian Tourmaline Properties
Varieties: Paraiba, Paraiba-type, cuprian, cats’ eye, watermelon, parti-color
Chemical Composition: Na (Li,Al,Cu,Mn)3 Al6 (BO3)3 Si6O18 (OH)3 F
Color: Blue, greenish-Blue, green, bluish-Green, Violet, bluish-Violet, or Yellow Hardness: 7 - 7 ½
Crystal System: Hexagonal (trigonal)
Refractive Index: 1.618 - 1.646 (+.018-.025)
Specific Gravity: 3.03 - 3.12