Watermelon, Anyone?

Posted by Karen Sugarman on

Brazil - James Elliott Photo

I have long known that almost anything I make up using toumaline sells rather quickly. It is probably the single most searched word on my website, so clearly, it strikes a chord with ladies around the world! To understand how watermelon tourmaline is formed, here is a little background.

The very first tourmaline was found in Brazil in the 16th Century. The emerald green color of the tourmaline was first confused with emeralds, but around the 19th Century, that gem was classified as tourmaline. The name comes from the Singhalese phrase, “tura mali”, which loosely translated means, mixed gems.


Steamboat Tourmaline - Duncan Pay Photo

Tourmaline is produced in pegmatites. These are voids deep under ground that are filled with a rich hot liquid that is made up of different minerals. When the liquids begin to cool, the minerals crystallize and form Tourmaline crystals. The host rock around these pegmatites is generally granite or schits. Crystals can either grow with a central core of one color and outer rim of another color, or with bands of different color along the crystal shaft. Any combination of colors is possible. The most frequently seen bi-color gem is “Watermelon Tourmaline”, in which pink or red color meets green color. Bi-color Tourmalines can show different magnetic responses within the same gem, with pink/red sections tending to be the most weakly magnetic, or diamagnetic. Since they are formed in a liquid rich environment, the inclusions can contain small amounts of liquid trapped inside the stone.


Clarissa Bracelet - Karen Sugarman Designs

When I first began making up jewelry, I also loved tourmaline, but was hesitant to purchase because of the price point. That especially applied to what is referred to as “Watermelon Tourmaline” - those juicy pink slices surrounded by a green “rim”. I distinctly remember purchasing a small strand (about 8” long) that were chunky and fat (lots of carats), with gorgeous colors in each of the gemstones. I was terribly worried that I was overpaying and that perhaps I would not be able to sell the strand. I judiciously doled out the gemstones and made them into various styles, but always conscious of the expense the small strand I had purchased. My very first Watermelon Tourmaline slices bracelet was named Clarissa - named after a dear old artist friend that used to draw room renderings of my interior design projects and show houses. That particular bracelet utilized some of the thick chunky slices from the earliest strand and incorporated a gorgeous tourmaline Byzantine box clasp.


Once that small strand began to dwindle down to nothing, I began the hunt to find more of the tourmaline slices - hoping to get them for a similar price. That idea was just not meant to be and I searched in vain. I could occasionally find a similar quality with thick slices, but the price was always astronomical! Then, just as quickly as I had become enamored with tourmaline slices, it seemed as though they were nowhere to be found. I asked one of the top suppliers known for their unique stones - especially tourmaline - why I was having so much trouble. Apparently, there was a world wide shortage and even suppliers of unique items, like herself, were only able to sell from old inventory and/or specimens they had put aside for themselves. My fear was really a FOMO (fear of missing out)! Whether this tourmaline shortage was real or self-imposed - the result was the same - higher prices/carat.


This past February Gem Show I stumbled across some lovely tourmaline slices in short strands. They had several strands to choose from, so I selected a few along with some of their smaller slices that would be perfect for earrings. The prices were not inexpensive, but the quality was very pretty. A few hours later I came across one of my favorite old suppliers and could not believe what I was seeing - they had sooo had many gorgeous strands to choose from! After dragging around multiple strands in the booth (so no one else could take them until I decided), I finally settled on a larger graduated strand that I am hoping to make into a jaw-dropping necklace and another smaller strand that will allow me to graduate the necklace. As you can see from the photos of my recent stash, I also had to find some smaller tourmalines to be used as the clusters.


Clarissa IV Bracelet - Karen Sugarman Designs

Clarissa V Bracelet


I just completed the first and second bracelets above (Clarissa IV & V) using one of the small strands. After I made them up and added the Georgian padlock heart clasp to IV and peridot Byzantine box clasp to V - I realized I should have documented the strands. . . oh well, better late than never!

Andrea Earrings

Someone in the jewelry industry recently said to me that there will soon no longer be what we now refer to as semi-precious stones (like tourmaline). The universe is being mined at a mind-numbing rate and the stones are becoming more available to everyone in any location from anywhere in the world. Perhaps there is some truth to that statement, but I feel certain it will take hundreds of years to evolve. Meanwhile, if you love watermelon tourmaline. . .don’t hesitate too long. Just remember, it takes centuries to form these blindingly beautiful mineral deposits.

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