Digging bucket and gear in hand, I took a moment to enjoy the expansive views from atop the northeastern slope of Chief Mountain, a stone’s throw away from scenic Pala, California. I was there to rummage through old mine dumps from the Pala Chief Mine and its various nearby prospects. Specifically, I was on the hunt for some of the world’s most prized tourmaline, known for its rich colors and clarity. The ol’ Pala Chief didn’t disappoint.
The exact origins of tourmaline are not well documented, and it is likely that the mineral has been known and used for thousands of years. The name “tourmaline” is derived from the Sinhalese word “turmali,” which was used to refer to a variety of colored gemstones found in Sri Lanka. However, the modern scientific recognition of tourmaline as a distinct mineral species is usually credited to the Dutch mineralogist Abraham G. Werner, who first described the mineral in his 1707 treatise “An Introduction to Mineralogy.” Werner was one of the leading mineralogists of his time and was instrumental in advancing our understanding of minerals and their properties.
Tourmaline is a mineral species that is highly prized for its beautiful and diverse array of colors. It belongs to a group of minerals known as silicates and is valued for its ornamental and gemstone use in jewelry. It can be found in various shades of green, pink, blue, black, red, yellow, and more. Some varieties of tourmaline have been found to have useful electrical properties, such as pyroelectricity and piezoelectricity.
Tourmaline is formed through the process of crystallization in high-temperature and high-pressure metamorphic environments, such as those found in pegmatites, metamorphosed limestones, and granitic rocks. It is also commonly found in contact metamorphic zones and in hydrothermal veins.
The exact formation process of tourmaline is still not well understood, but it is believed to be related to the presence of boron, lithium, and other trace elements in the rock. These elements combine with aluminum, silicon, and oxygen to form the mineral. The specific colors and patterns found in tourmaline are believed to be the result of variations in the chemical composition of the mineral, such as the presence of iron, titanium, or other trace elements.
Tourmaline is a widely distributed mineral and can be found in many different countries and regions around the world. Some of the major tourmaline-producing countries include Brazil, Madagascar, Afghanistan, Mozambique, Nigeria, Russia, and the United States. In Brazil, some of the most famous tourmaline deposits are found in the states of Minas Gerais and Bahia, where large and high-quality specimens of all colors can be found.
In the United States, specimens have been found in California, Maine, and New York, among other states. Additionally, tourmaline can be found in many other countries, including Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Kenya, Madagascar, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
Tourmaline is typically mined using either underground or open-pit methods, depending on the location and nature of the deposit. In underground mines, tunnels are dug into the earth to reach the tourmaline-bearing rock, which is then removed and brought to the surface. In open-pit mines, the overlying rock and soil is stripped away to expose the gem-bearing rock, which is then removed using heavy machinery.
Once the tourmaline-bearing rock has been extracted, it is typically crushed into smaller pieces and processed to separate the gemstones from the other minerals in the rock. This is typically done using techniques such as gravity separation, magnetic separation, or flotation. After the tourmaline has been separated, it is sorted by color and quality, and then cut and polished into gems or mineral specimens, as appropriate.
In the video below, the ‘Crystal Collector’ spotlights a beautiful tourmaline dug by the author, Will Adams, while visiting the Pala Chief Mine.
Historic Tourmaline Mines
The largest tourmaline crystal ever found was discovered in Minas Gerais, Brazil in the early 1980s. The crystal weighed approximately 19 pounds (8.62 kg) and was nearly 12 inches (30.48 cm) in length. This specimen was highly prized for its size and the quality of its deep-pink color, and it is one of the largest and most significant specimens ever found.
Minas Gerais is one of the world’s most important tourmaline-producing regions and is known for producing large and high-quality specimens of many different colors of tourmaline, including pink, green, blue, and black. The state is home to several active mines, and it is likely that other large specimens of this mineral will be discovered in the future.
Historic Pala, California Mining District
Pala, California is a historic mining district located in San Diego County, and it is known for producing high-quality tourmaline gems and mineral specimens. Tourmaline was first discovered in Pala in the late 1800s, and the area was soon developed into one of the world’s most important tourmaline-producing regions.
Pala tourmaline is prized for its rich colors and high clarity, and it is often used in jewelry and as mineral specimens. The district is known for producing a wide range of colors, including pink, green, blue, and red, and some of the world’s most famous specimens have been found in Pala. In recent years, Pala has become a popular destination for rockhounds and mineral collectors, and it is one of the best places in the world to find high-quality tourmaline.
In the following video feature, join veteran mineral dealer Thomas Nagin as he explores San Diego’s La Jolla’s sea caves, visits the birthplace of kunzite, and the Pala Gem mining district, renowned for bluecap and pink tourmaline. He also visits the Gemological Institute of America and views a top mineral collector’s private collection.
The Pala Chief Mine is a historic tourmaline mine located in Pala, California, and it was one of the most important mines in the district. The mine was first developed in the early 1900s and produced high-quality gems and mineral specimens until it was closed in the mid-1940s.
The Pala Chief Mine was known for producing some of the finest and most highly prized tourmaline in the world, with rich colors and high clarity. Today, the Pala Chief Mine is considered a legendary mine in the world of mineral collecting and gemstones, and its tourmaline is highly prized by collectors and enthusiasts. The mine has been re-opened several times over the years, and limited mining activity continues to take place, but it is not known to be operating on a large scale.
The Pala Chief Mine is currently owned by Oceanview Mines, LLC and is not open to the public except for special fee digs held in the cooler fall, winter, and spring months. Despite this, the legacy of the Pala Chief Mine remains an important part of the history and culture of mining in Pala, California, and its tourmaline is still considered to be some of the finest and most highly prized in the world.
It is difficult to determine who imports the most tourmaline, as its trade is often conducted through a complex network of intermediaries and may involve multiple countries. However, some of its major consumers are likely to include the United States, Japan, China, and India, which are all significant markets for gemstones and mineral specimens.
The Chinese Imperial Court has a long history of collecting and using precious gems, including tourmaline, as symbols of power and wealth. Throughout the dynastic period, the Chinese Imperial Court acquired gems and minerals from all over the world, including tourmaline, and used them to adorn their palaces, clothing, and other items of personal adornment. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), for example, the Imperial Court was said to have a collection of tourmaline, jade, and other precious gems that was considered one of the most extensive in the world.
Additionally, countries in Europe, such as France and Italy, are also significant markets for tourmaline and other gemstones, and may also import large quantities of this mineral.
The value of tourmaline depends on several factors, including its color, clarity, size, and rarity. In general, it is valued for its rich colors, which can range from green, blue, pink, red, yellow, and brown, among others. The most highly prized colors are the vibrant and intense pinks and greens, which can command high prices.
Tourmaline is also valued for its high clarity, which can be transparent or translucent, and it is a relatively hard and durable mineral that is well-suited for use in jewelry. Its value also depends on its size, with larger gems generally commanding higher prices than smaller ones.
Rarity is also an important factor in determining its value. Some colors of are rarer than others, and specimens with unique color patterns or features can also be highly valued.
Overall, tourmaline can range in value from a few dollars per carat to several thousand dollars per carat, depending on its quality and rarity. However, it is important to note that value can be affected by fluctuations in the market and other factors, and it is best to consult a professional gemologist or appraiser for an accurate assessment of its value.
In addition to its beauty, tourmaline is also prized for its durability and hardness, making it a practical choice for everyday wear. Its high clarity and smooth surface also make it well-suited for use in jewelry, as it can be cut and polished to create gemstones with a high level of brilliance and sparkle. Whether set in a simple solitaire or combined with other gems, it’s a beautiful and enduring choice for jewelry.