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Paraiba

papaibaIn 1989 at the jewelry fair in Tucson, Arizona, a true sensation happened. A wonderful, previously unseen gemstone was presented to the public: the paraiba. It was amazing; where could one find something like this at the end of the 20th century, when everything seemed to be already discovered, especially in the domain of gemology?

The world owes the discovery of the paraiba to Hector Dias Barbosa, a local of the Brazilian state Paraiba. Spending years in the mines and galleries, he dreamed about making his homeland famous by finding a unique mineral. For a long time he was not successful and was unable to find anything worthy, but he always believed that the Paraiban hills were hiding in their depths something absolutely unique and unknown. Finally, in 1987 he found what he was looking for. But unfortunately Barbosa himself could not witness all the triumph of the gemstone he found. When the first batch of the unusually colored stones was presented to the jewelry world, the man without whom they would probably have never seen the light was already seriously ill.

After the very first findings, the mine became a center of adventures worthy of Louis Boussenard’s imagination. Crowds of adventurers overflowed the country and in practically no time, they simply swept the Paraiban hill–65 m high, 400 m long and 200 m wide–off the face of the Earth!

So what exactly is a paraiba?

A paraiba is a tourmaline of a unique, inimitable color (its second name is Paraiban tourmaline). Tourmaline has been recognized for a very long time; it is a complex silicate containing sometimes up to 50 different elements including magnesium, calcium, manganese, iron, lithium, potassium, natrium, chrome, and vanadium. The wide variety of colors and hues that are characteristic of tourmaline is explained first of all by its complex chemical composition: it may undergo different changes within one crystal structure. It is this special peculiarity of tourmaline, which is called isomorphism, that brings to life its fantastic color palette. For example: the ions of divalent or trivalent manganese are responsible for the crimson hues; ions of trivalent chrome and vanadium bring forth the bright-green color; divalent copper makes the stone bright blue; and iron makes the stone black.

Color scale of paraibaColor scale of paraiba

Moh’s hardness for tourmaline is 7.5, like that of an emerald. Gemologists always valued green, red, and blue varieties of tourmaline, but it lacked the turquoise shade – until paraiba was discovered. Price of a five-carat cut tourmaline depends on its color and may fluctuate from $150 to $500 per carat.

But paraiba is another story. Prices of this mysterious gem may easily beat those of similar brilliants, and when it comes to a 10-carat crystal, prices can soar as high as $20,000 dollars per carat. A five-carat stone of a noble color, without any inclusions, will cost $10,000-15,000 dollars per carat. But even the eight-carat crystals are considered unique, because such stones cannot be found in shops, and very few jewelers are able to afford to work with these gems.

Paraiba is still shining the colors of Rio carnivalParaiba is still shining the colors of Rio carnival Roubellite – a relative of tourmalineRoubellite – a relative of tourmaline

The biggest paraiba I have ever seen weighed 48 carats. However, the crystal did not have any visible inclusions. The largest paraiba ever –65 carats– was sold in North America in 1989 for a preposterous sum of $2,000 dollars per carat. It has been resold recently, and the price has already soared to $25,000 dollars per carat.

Paraiba is, in fact, a blue tourmaline with its color varying from rich neon blue to green neon. There are emerald green, turquoise, sky blue, sapphire blue, violet, and purple paraibas. The crystal of this stone contains copper, manganese, and magnesium. Also, this is the only precious stone that also contains traces of gold. The required characteristic of any paraiba is the presence of copper, which gives the stone its peculiar color unseen in any other minerals. Magnesium gives the stones a red touch, but there are enough beautiful red stones in the world already. So why does the paraiba stand out among all other stones? Why does it fascinate us so much? Why, unlike all other tourmalines, did it get a name of its own?

Paraiba on a frog’s bodyParaiba on a frog’s body papaiba_04 Combination of paraiba and sapphires let show the natural color of a forget-me-notCombination of paraiba and sapphires let show the natural color of a forget-me-not

Due to its mysterious neon color, the paraiba is a true feast for our eyes. No picture is able to reproduce it, and it is no wonder that people who are not experts in gemstones usually gasp when they first see a paraiba. It strikes straight between the eyes – like Brazilian samba, like Carnival, like a hot tropical sun. Paraiba bites like a piranha; it does not delight, but rather shocks. One might try a little experiment: put in a dark room a ruby, a brilliant, an emerald, an imperial, a sapphire, and a Paraiba. When one opens the door, the first thing one will see is the paraiba. Open the door fully, and it will burst out with light, easily outshining its noble neighbors.

The unique coloring of paraiba becomes especially obvious when a stone is cut, as cutting reveals its shine, its internal flame. Once a Paraiba is cut, there is no question as to why when speaking about paraiba, such adjectives as “neon” and “electric” are used.

A very rare size of paraiba – 42,06 ctA very rare size of paraiba – 42,06 ct Paraiba from SafoParaiba from Safo

Paraiba has already been found in Madagascar and Mozambique. The most ardent buyers are Brazilian miners, who take away African stones and sell them in Brazil as local ones, because stones with Brazilian origin command higher prices. Very recently, paraiba was also found in Nigeria. This is quite understandable; if you look at the world map, you will see that the coastlines of Western Africa and South America are a perfect match. At one time, they were parts of a single continent, and the fault that happened about 100 million years ago went straight through the deposits of paraiba. Therefore, it is not surprising that the gemological laboratories cannot tell the difference between stones from Brazil and those from Nigeria.

Paraiba are certified by almost all the laboratories. The structure of this stone is very delicate. Sometimes a pink-shaded paraiba is heated at 500° so that it gets rid of the trivalent manganese and acquires a perfect neon coloring. But the presence of such a treatment is impossible to identify as this temperature level is very near to the natural conditions.

Now paraiba has become a trend. This vulture of a jewel tops all records as far as the price increase is concerned. The largest jewelry brands have already estimated its true value and now give it a wide promotion. The pieces featuring this stone already grace the catalogs of Tiffany, Cartier, Carloff, and Harry Winston. The biggest demand for paraiba exists in Japan; the U.S. comes second.