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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Watermelon Tourmaline

Two posts in two days. You'd think I was inspired by the great movie I watched last night: Julie and Julia. Anyone interested in food will love it. But that's not really why I'm posting again today. Over the years I have worked with any number of both traditional and nontraditional gem materials. One of my favorite stones is tourmaline. Coming in a wide variety of colors it offers something for everyone. While not a super durable gem material (despite giving my wife one for her engagement ring I actually don't recommend it for every day wear), it can be so stunningly beautiful that it's hard NOT to put it out in all types of jewelry.

One of the really cool things about tourmaline is that crystals are routinely found that have more than one color in them. It can occur with one color on one end and another on the other, or even more interestingly, with one color in the center and another one on the outside. The crystals that occur with one color inside another are often cut into what is known as watermelon tourmaline (because often it is pink in the center and green on the outside). These are slices of the crystal, with the original rough crystal edge left on but polished on the front and back. They can be quite beautiful and they are certainly one of the most interesting gems I get to work with. Unfortunately, most of the time, high quality tourmaline crystals (those that have few to no inclusions) are cut into faceted stones, or for slightly more included stones into cabochon cut stones. This, unfortunately, means that most watermelon tourmaline slices are fairly heavily included, and often the colors are a bit muddy (again better colors will be cut into faceted or cabochon material).

Years ago, however, my primary gemstone suppliers (Jimmy and Pat) came into some material that was just stunning, both in color and clarity. While not completely free of inclusions (they never are) they were cleaner than most and the colors were quite intense. One of the first major pieces I made for my wife was a pair of earrings using some of these watermelon tourmalines with dangling tourmaline cabochons. At the time, Jimmy claimed that he would be able to continue getting material of this caliber but after a year or two the availability dried up. Since I had actually bought a fair amount of the material I didn't actually need more for quite some time. Over the years Jimmy and Pat changed directions somewhat too and weren't exactly focusing on this type of material.

Recently however, in an attempt to get out some new designs, I started thinking about this material again. I haven't seen any decent watermelon tourmaline in years. So I called Pat up and I said, you know Jimmy swore to me he could get more of this material but I haven't seen any in years. Surprisingly she actually remembered the material and where it came from and she went back to her German supplier who had originally supplied it to them. Lo and behold, the cutter had actually culled a few better ones and stashed them in his safe which he pulled out and offered to them. And they offered them to me. And I bought them all. The picture at the top is a picture of the five pairs that I got. If you've ever admired these stones, or had a desire for something different, these are probably the best that are out there right now. Come by and see them in person if you get some time. For a picture of a pair of earrings I made years ago with the same material see here.

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