Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

The Paraíba Promise

By Text & Photos By Brian Cook

View of the original Batalha Mine located in São José de Batalha, Paraíba, Brazil.

Heitor the Fool!” This was the general comment that locals used to describe Heitor Dimas Barbosa, the man obsessed with digging for gems that he believed would be completely different from anything anyone had ever seen before. Urged on by an inner guidance, Barbosa dug and tunneled for seven years in a hill behind the village of São José de Batalha, Paraíba, Brazil, a region that is famously arid, rugged and poor, with one of the lowest per capita incomes in the nation. It is a land with nearly no water and scorching dry seasons. In 1981, when Barbosa first started his quest, electricity was more than a decade away. In 1987, the first gem was found at the Batalha Mine in Paraíba. Barbosa had unearthed one of the rarest gems of the world: a tourmaline uniquely colored by copper — cuprian — that creates a mesmerizing vivid blue and blue-green hue with an electric glow.
   These startling gems emerged onto the world stage in 1990 in Tucson, Arizona, at various venues during the February gem shows. Due to their unreal neon appearance, the gems were initially met with skepticism. Nonetheless, these tourmalines from the Paraíba mine that were selling for $250 a carat at the start of the shows skyrocketed and six days later, at the end of the shows, were selling for as much as $2,500 a carat. Skepticism had been replaced by awe.
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   “Ultramarine,” “neon” and “electric” were words passionately exchanged to describe these exceptional tourmalines. A basic question that came up time and again was “Where is this stone from?” The answer, “Paraíba,” became so associated with the stone it became known as “Paraíba tourmaline.” The buzz was phenomenal.
   And while production of original Paraíba tourmaline has dwindled, today, work continues in a new section of the Batalha Mine. Ninety percent of the tourmaline production at the site occurred between 1989 and 1992. Starting around 1998, small tourmaline stones and the occasional .50-carat to 2-carat tourmaline were found sporadically as miners worked the soil and alluvium material surrounding the mine. The very mention of this stone brings hope for a new discovery of similarly saturated tourmaline at other mining sites or even, possibly, in the new section of the original mine now being explored.
   The Batalha Mine’s tourmaline commands the highest per-carat prices simply because it is superior in color saturation to any other source of “Paraíba-type” cuprian tourmaline in the world. Prices today for top-quality stones larger than 10 carats can reach beyond $100,000 per carat. A ceiling price has never been established because prices for these tourmalines continue to climb.
   Brian Cook, a geologist and co-owner of Nature’s Geometry, a gemstone trading and design company in Tucson, Arizona, and Bahia, Brazil, wrote this story based on his face-to-face conversations with Barbosa and his numerous visits to the Batalha Mine since the 1980s.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - October 2013. To subscribe click here.

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