The name "tourmaline" comes from the Sinhalese words tura mali, which mean "stone of mixed colors." As its name implies, tourmaline stands apart from other gemstones with its broad spectrum of colors in every shade of the rainbow. Tourmaline is not one mineral, but a fairly complex group of minerals with different chemical compositions and physical properties. Certain trace elements produce distinct colors, and many resulting varieties have their own names: Black tourmaline, known as “schorl” is rich in iron, which causes dark shades from deep brown to bluish-black. This variety makes up 95 percent of all tourmaline, though most of it isn’t gemstone-quality. Dravite or brown tourmaline is rich in magnesium, which causes colors ranging from brown to yellow. It’s named for the Drave District of Carinthina (now Slovenia) where this stone is found. Elbaite offers the widest range of gem-quality tourmaline colors, due to lithium traces combined with other coloring elements. Rubellite or red tourmaline is caused by manganese, but if the color becomes less vibrant under different light sources, it may be called pink tourmaline, and many others.
Tourmaline is mined in Brazil, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Mozambique, Madagascar, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S.—primarily Maine and California.
Tourmaline is desirable because of its sheer range of color options. Combined with a good hardness of 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale, tourmaline makes very wearable birthstone jewelry.
One of this gemstone’s most impressive traits is its ability to become electrically charged through heat (pyroelectricity) and through pressure (piezoelectricity). When charged, tourmaline can act as a magnet by oscillating, and by attracting or repelling particles of dust. Ancient magicians used black tourmaline as a talisman to protect against negative energy and evil forces. Today, many still believe that it can shield against radiation, pollutants, toxins, and negative thoughts.