The Definitive Guide to the World of Color in Tourmaline Gemstones

The Definitive Guide to the World of Color in Tourmaline Gemstones

Afghan mine run lot and a long path to a small gem.

Posted by: Bruce Fry Tourmaline Collection

August 14, 2021

At age 15, in 1962, I purchased my first faceting machine. I cut a relatively small number of mixed varieties of gems into my twenties. Running out of money for the hobby and facing many other obligations for my time, I did not facet again until a little over 20 years ago. The desire and need to cut small inexpensive gems led me to an offer on the internet of mine run tourmaline from Afghanistan. I purchased a good-sized lot, against the recommendation of the vendor, and played with it for most of a year without getting much out of it. It was the only time I have ever purchased mine run material for faceting.

Getting my feet under me and realizing that faceting was the craft I was looking for in my post-marriage life, I invested in modern equipment and highly selected faceting rough. This does not mean that there wasn’t some potential still left in my pile of small crystals from Afghanistan. It just turns out to be a lot less rewarding to cut small stones accurately than putting the same effort into larger rough.

This post came about because of the lack of quality rough on the market that pushed me to find work and the finishing of a small round from the ancient Afghan lot. The crystal I chose to work on had a bigger cross-section than most pieces, but it was still much less than 4 mm. It had a fine paraiba type color of cyan, but its pastel tone level and clarity were marginal.

For this small a gemstone, I depend on the power of polishing with alumina to make the faceting meets ground on the stone. Even my well-worn 3,000 grit is pretty aggressive here and I am prone to over-cutting. I certainly could not afford to waste anything with this bit of tourmaline and get the correct angles and retain some pastel color.

I am coming down the home stretch with the critical steps of positioning the rough and grinding the girdle behind me. Alumina is doing a great job and every facet is flat and flashy. Even the depth retained for the crown looks good for my preferred angle of 40 degrees. It really is a minor gem and simple cut, but I am pleased to get anything worthwhile from such a small crystal. And then it happens, my recently bought, but apparently over-aged epoxy fails to set. My small gem falls off the dope stick and I have words to say.

The chances of reattaching such a small gemstone that needs to be both flat and level on the dop are not good. And frankly, it is usually just not worth the effort. But this little gem had become important to me and I struggled to properly position it. Finally, it looked good and I put it aside while I made some progress with other gems. My negative feelings began to grow as I saw the unfinished gem sitting precariously on the end of a dop stick in a holder next to my machine. I realized there was a danger that I would not even try to finish it until two nights ago.

Finally, I put the stone to the lap with the idea that at least I could see how bad it was and free up the dopstick for a next round of effort. A quick round of eight roughed-out mains and I knew I had done the improbable. It was not perfect, but close enough to be polished into a nice little round with good angles and a proper girdle. Moments before starting to finish this post I looked at the gem for the first time. Its bright, flashy, light pastel heart has enough tone value to be a paraiba like cyan-colored gem. Even its inclusions make it look natural rather than being distracting. I could not ask for more.