With the price of fine tanzanite climbing almost to the height of sapphire, the search is on for an affordable blue gem. One gem that some dealers mention as a sapphire substitute is indicolite, a member of the tourmaline group whose name comes from indigo but whose finest colors more often suggest the menthol blue of topaz than the denim-to-dusky blues of corundum.
This isn’t to say that indicolite can’t ever pass for sapphire. It’s just that generally tanzanite and iolite do a better job of standing in for this gem. Nevertheless, the high price of fine sapphire has definitely opened doors for indicolite. Once of interest primarily to collectors, the stone has begun to find a following among jewelry buyers, principally in Switzerland, Germany and Japan.
There are several reasons why affluent jewelry shoppers are attracted to this tourmaline, reasons that have as much to do with spending smart as dressing smart. Buyers of indicolite are evidently drawn as much to its rarity as its beauty. Like it or not, a subtle undercurrent of, dare we say it, investment is creeping into the international fine jewelry market- more so in Europe and Asia than in America- that makes indicolite a logical jewelry gem option.
This tourmaline’s mineral-gel blue rivals that of the very brightest “London blue” irradiated topaz while being far, far scarcer and all-natural to boot. It will never be a mass-market stone, nor do its buyers want it to be. They like its elitist stature and its, as yet, non-elitist cost. The price of a top-grade 5-carat indicolite should seem a steal compared to that of an above average, if not quite fine, sapphire of the same size, even though the stone is far rarer.
Touches Of Green
Seeing true-blue indicolite is practically a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most collectors. That’s because many connoisseurs insist that their indicolite be a pure blue, without green overtones, a tall order for tourmaline. One Seattle gem importer who always tries to have indicolite on hand says that less than 10 percent of what is offered to him as indicolite fits this requirement. In a good year, he might see fewer than 20 stones, all under 8 carats. The vast majority of the indicolite shown to him had perceptible shadings of green. Other dealers report the same low ratio of acceptable stones from those sent or shown them.
The high number of reject indicolites raises a question of major concern to consumers: Does the presence of visible green nullify a tourmaline’s right to be called indicolite? Nearly every dealer to whom we asked this question took a hard line on the issue, insisting that no trace of green whatsoever should be tolerated.
If that’s the case, finding true indicolite might take some time. Of the stones given us to examine, a good many had noticable green. In others, the green was quite subordinate to the blue, present only enough to be characterized as something akin to a very pleasant teal color. The dealer who showed these latter stones to us was adamant about their right to be called indicolite. “If slight amounts of green disqualify a tourmaline as indicolite, there will be almost no stones dealers can sell as this gem,” he said.