Red tourmaline is something special. Its rich purplish-red with a pink undertone glistens like raspberry sorbet on a candlelit table. The color is deep and passionate; it stirs the emotions. You’ve probably seen red tourmaline listed under the unofficial trade name of “rubellite.”
The vast majority of red-hued tourmaline is either pink, or it has serious brown undertones sabotaging its color. Most red tourmaline suffers degradation in its color quality in the transition from incandescent light to daylight. The dominant warm rays in incandescent light support the red, but the dominant blue rays in sunlight muffle an inferior red, and leave it desaturated and brownish. A high-quality rubellite will not desaturate in the same transition, although the tone may lighten a little.
True rubellite is one the two most valuable members of the tourmaline family because of its inherent rarity and beauty. That having been said, true rubellite is rarely the most pristine member of the tourmaline family. Along with emerald, it is classified as a Type III Gemstone, so internally flawless gems are astronomically rare, although they do exist. You’ll mostly see growth tubes that look like striations, or clumps of fine, fibrous inclusions, or “silk.” Both may lead to cat’s eye stones, depending on the organization of the inclusions or tubes. Rubellite is also prone to internal feathering that may reach the surface.
The classical location from which top color rubellite has been mined is Brazil. Deposits in Russia are also productive of fine color, but like the Brazilian deposits, they tend to be highly included. Madagascar and Nigeria produce much cleaner rough, but these are usually of desaturated color, with strong brownish undertones, and virtually never produce the truly fine red primary hues for which the Brazilian deposits are known.
When shopping for rubellite, as with so many other colored gemstones, color is the coin of the realm. The term “rubellite” is not an officially recognized mineralogical term; it’s a trade name, so it may be thrown around rather loosely by some jewelers trying to upsell a particular piece. Rubellite is like padparadscha sapphire in that way. Some stones dubbed “rubellites” don’t have the depth of color to really take the name, and are merely dark pink tourmalines, but since there is no official line of demarcation, it’s a very subjective area.
Just be savvy. I’ll always bring out a tray of stones for you to look at, but if you’re not shopping at my store, always ask to see pink tourmalines and other rubellites with which you can make side-by-side comparisons to find the one you like the most.
If you’re looking for rubellite, it’s best to just stick with the deeper reds, and not attempt to split hairs over details like that. If there’s any question about whether or not a tourmaline qualifies as a rubellite, then it’s nowhere near the desirable color, so find one about which there can be no question.
Also remember that rubellites are typically heavily included. Eye-clean stones will fetch a premium, and loupe-clean stones (if you ever find one in your lifetime) will have a premium on their premium. Rubellite is much more stable than emerald, though, so its common inclusions do not usually weaken its structural integrity nearly as much as they do in emerald.
The rarity and incumbent value of fine natural rubellite has inevitably led to experimentation in treatment methods. To date, irradiation and/or heating are commonly used to improve pale pink tourmaline of high clarity. The heat-treated stones are stable, but some irradiated stones can fade when left in sunlight or other ultraviolet light sources for extended periods. The strange part is that not all irradiated rubellite acts this way. In general, it’s best to not go tanning while wearing your rubellite jewelry, or to leave it sitting on a windowsill or car dashboard (apart from the security risks those choices would create).
Both of those treatment methods are virtually undetectable, even by the most sophisticated testing. Therefore, all rubellite you come across should be considered treated unless it comes with certification stating otherwise. Since rubellite is so often included, it is also commonly oiled or treated with other fillers, much the same way as is emerald, to improve the external view of the stone and reduce the relief of inclusions.
All tourmalines make excellent jewelry gemstones because of their hardness, poor cleavage, and overall stability. Apart from the potential of irradiated stones fading, rubellite is no exception. But there is a consideration to make when it comes to cleaning rubellite jewelry. If a rubellite has been oiled or filled, ultrasonic and steam cleaning can disrupt or completely remove the oil or fillers, altering the appearance of the gem, or potentially even damaging it.
The best practice is to wipe your jewelry off with a soft, dry cloth. If there is build-up behind the stone in its mounting, please bring it into the store, and my staff will take care of it for you, free of charge.