Friday, May 20, 2016

Mainely Tourmaline

We were recently on a hiking trip in Maine, where we got to take in the lovely scenery that can be found in the Acadia National Park. Our trail lead us to the top of Gorham Mountain, at which point we were standing on the last bit of cliff before the Atlantic Ocean engulfed all of the space beyond. Talk about a breathtaking experience!
Once back down from our perch, we got more familiar with the landscape down below and we went on the hunt for some gemstones. While Maine is primarily known for its delicious blueberries, epic lobster and the horror master Stephen King (all of which are, by the way, totally boss), it also happens to be a very gemstone-bearing state. Due to the metamorphic rocks that have formed in the region, Maine is home to numerous types of gems including Apatite, Amethyst and Beryl. However, the state gemstone remains Tourmaline and local jewelers were happy to tell us why.


Interesting finds in the Dunton mines. Photo courtesy of  www.treasuremountainmining.com
According to our newly-found friends, Tourmaline is the first gemstone to have been commercially mined in the US. The story goes that in 1820, two young students and avid explorers  were out on a mineral prospecting trip near Mt. Mica when they noticed a glint of green shining from under the upturned roots of a tree. To their surprise, they had found a beautifully formed green crystal that was loose in the dirt. The following day, there was a massive snow storm which prevented the two from further exploring their findings. In the spring they returned to find crystals in all kinds of colors. When they found enough specimens, they sent them to a mineralogical expert at Yale who would later identify them as Tourmaline.
Mine owner Mr. Merrill in 1911 in one of the larger gem-bearing chambers. Photo courtesy of www.yankeemagazine.com
Since then, people have been fascinated by the mineralogical prospects in Maine. In time, the mining would make way to the Mica and Feldspar industries. However while searching for these minerals, the residual ore would contain gem quality Tourmaline, and more recently Apatite and Amethyst.
It's easy to see why there would be a revival of Tourmaline in Maine. I like to call Tourmaline a chameleon stone because it comes in any possible color (tone, hue and saturation) you could think of.  To say that it comes in all of the colors of the rainbow would simply not do it justice.
''Eureka Blue'' teal tourmaline from Maine. Photo courtesy of  www.crossjewelers.com
Parti-colored tourmaline. Photo courtesy of www.4csblog.gia.edu
Not only that, Tourmaline can also be bi-colored, meaning that it will display numerous colors in a single crystal (hence the name parti-color). The most common example of this is watermelon tourmaline. As the name suggests, the crystal grows with pink in the core structure and green on its outer layer. It looks pretty gnarly when it's sliced but even more so when its properly faceted.
Watermelon Tourmaline slice. Photo courtesy of www.durginsofmaine.com
Faceted watermelon Tourmaline. Photo courtesy of www.indulgy.com 
Outside of color, Tourmaline is a gem enthusiast's guilty pleasure because its fairly reasonable price allows for the collection of many interesting and colorful specimens.

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