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Aside from pricey Paraiba tourmaline, rubellite is the most prized and expensive member of the tourmaline family. Although the name suggests that it is a red tourmaline, that’s mostly wishful thinking.

Thinking that may finally be becoming a thing of the past. More often than not, rubellites tend to be too violet to be considered red in the sense that a ruby is red. “Reddish” would probably be more accurate. Not that rubellites don’t on occasion look like rubies. Recently we were shown a suite of Brazilian stones from the famous but fizzled Ouro Fino deposit that were, in the words of their owner, “red, red, red.” He meant that they did not have strong overtones of violet or, as often happens, heavy interference from brown.

This isn’t to say that basically violetish rubellite isn’t deserving of a gem name that hints at red. The same dealer showed us scores of reddish-plum and cranberry-color rubellites, mostly from Africa, that struck us as sensational. Nevertheless, the red in all these stones would have to be described more as a rich highlight or overtone than a basic hue. And, in fact, the owner of these stones only regarded as true rubellites his tiny private stock of ripe-strawberry-color stones from Brazil.

Measured against this strawberry-color ideal, one has to conclude that rubellite is one of the more elastic gem names. The term covers a wide gamut of shades from violet, well into pink, with ruby red in a narrow mid-range. Complicating matters further is a controversy involving the transition point between rubellite and pink tourmaline. To us, the term rubellite, whether referring to red or violet stones, connotes medium to dark tones and fairly saturate colors. Most pink tourmalines aren’t deep enough in tone or color to qualify.

This nomenclature controversy takes on new relevance now that rubellite is thought of as much as a pink stone as a ruby substitute, the result of pink’s current popularity as a fashion staple. We won’t try to settle this controversy here. But it seems far less like stretching terms to sell what is essentially a reddish-violet gem as pink rather than as red.

Clarity Problems

Even when rubellites qualify as true ruby stand-ins from a color standpoint, chances are great they won’t be as clean as kindred-color rubies. Due to its crystal structure, most rubellite is imperfect to some degree.

Yet the fact that rubellite is generally included has not stopped it from attracting a wide gem collector following. Jewelers and consumers have been considerably less tolerant of the stone’s commonly glaring inclusions. “Americans think about colored stones the way they do about diamonds,” explains one dealer. “So they expect colored stones to be 4Cs-clean. And that’s an expectation rubellite finds hard to meet.” For this reason, notes a Brazilian gem specialist, “It is very hard to sell commercial-grade rubellite.”

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