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This fall I have been exploring tourmaline.  I began with rough crystals.


After months of looking at them, I cut them into gems.  


The first thing that impacts me about tourmaline is its three-fold symmetry.  Tourmaline crystals seem to grow in layers and spirals of triangles.  Three-fold symmetry means that as the crystal is rotated (on it's C axis), it's pattern repeats itself three times, or every 120 degrees.  

Tourmaline is sometimes described as hexagonal,  and though every crystal I looked at had a 6-sided shape in it, they were clearly 2 (or more) sets of different triangles. 

I find such beauty in this layering of triangles...

So as I was looking at tourmaline, I started looking at triangles.  I wanted to know how this form feels and what it can do that makes it distinct...

From an engineering standpoint, an equilateral triangle is the strongest geometric shape.  It is the only polygon that will not compress with pressure.  

My 7 year old noticed that 3 people are the most you can have in a circle where all are still holding hands.  Just like every point on a triangle connects to every other point.

..  So there is something STRONG in threefold symmetry.  There's a quality to it that feels like it holds firm no matter what.


The symmetry and crystal form of tourmaline is its most definitive characteristic as a mineral.  Other gemstones are largely defined and categorized based on their crystal form AND chemical composition.  But for tourmaline, the chemical formula can vary drastically from piece to piece and so its physical form, including its symmetry, is the way it is most easily identified. 

The formula for tourmaline is very complicated: 


and most of these elements vary and are interchangeable 

(Compared to sapphire: Al₂O₃  or Quartz: SiO2)

Exploring the chemistry of tourmaline brings me to the other aspect that inspires me most: its color.  Or rather, its COLORS!  It is the only gemstone that occurs in every hue of the rainbow.  And what is most striking - there is often more than one color in a single crystal.  In every direction it grows, it can change color drastically, suddenly.  From bubble gum pink to apple green, from pitch black to electric blue... And when I see a crystal with 2 colors, upon closer inspection, it is usually 5 or 6...  

Tourmaline crystals that show multiple colors completely draw me in - the colors are astounding in and of themselves, but also the lines between colors further illuminate the fundamental geometry and growth patterns of the crystals, as each section of color has a 3 fold symmetry of its own.  

No other gemstone shows the phenomena of color zoning like tourmalines do - even though so many other gems are growing right alongside them - in the exact environment. Tourmalines are mined underground, usually in granitic pegmatites with many other gems and minerals (emeralds, aquamarines, apatite, topaz, etc etc) - it is an environment like rich soup of dissolved minerals and available elements - but these other gem materials seem to choose one hue and continue it...  It is as if the other crystals around are taking in the elements prescribed to it, while tourmaline crystals are adapting and including every element it can.

And so I wonder if there is a connection... Is there a strength in the threefold symmetry that holds so firmly, that the crystal can grow and transform in ways that other gems can't? They hold firm to their essential form, and allow their surroundings to transform them as they grow.

I have been thinking lately about the relationship between structure and freedom in myself and the humans around me... Some humans I know seem so scheduled and consistent and stable, but feel they are missing something- longing for more inspiration - a spark for life.  Others I know are twirling with inspired ideas but can't find the sturdiness to sit down and get them done...  

I am thinking about this as I touch these crystals and they give me hope - that there is a balance to aim for in which the strongest stablest framework is in place, and through it almost anything can flow - the potential and possibilities feel limitless...

So then it's about identifying those parts of us that are our core-our essential framework.  No one can touch them. No one can change them.  Then, whatever is not a part of that essential core, we DO allow to change - the more we say yes to, the more we open and allow ourselves to be enriched by all that is good around us, the richer and brighter and more dazzling we become.  

Now I set out to design jewelry for these pieces, to further explore what I have learned.