Rubellite is a red form of the mineral tourmaline. The name Rubellite stems from the Latin word ‘Rubellus’ meaning simply ‘reddish’. The most highly prized rubellites range in colour from a rich dark red to a deep pink, or some have a purple tinge. Poorer quality stones that are less valued in jewellery have an orange or brown undertone. Rubellites can be treated by irradiation to deepen the colour of pale stones. This treatment is commonly used in the jewellery industry to enhance a stone’s natural colour and optical properties. The treatment is, however, undetectable as it irreversibly alters the gem’s atomic structure.
Rubellites have a hexagonal crystal structure and vitreous lustre. They are transparent or opaque with a type III clarity. African Rubellites typically produce cleaner roughs but African Rubellites tend to have a brown or orange tint. The most desirable rich red stones are sourced from Brazil. Other sources of Rubellite can be found in Russia, Burma, Madagascar, Afghanistan and Maine on the upper east coast of the United States.
Red to pink Rubellite stones have been used in jewellery since antiquity. Early examples of Rubellites were often mistaken for rubies due to their similar colouring. A historic jewel known as Caesar’s Ruby was believed to be a magnificent ruby until 1922 when it was identified as a rubellite tourmaline by mineralogist Aleksandr Evgenevich Fersman.
In recent years Rubellites have had a Renaissance in contemporary jewellery. They are well suited to setting in jewellery, particularly in rings, due to their durability and vivid colour. They are becoming increasingly popular as a more affordable alternative to rubies.