When a rich portion of an old Tourmaline vein was reworked in San Diego County more than 50 years ago, collectors became obsessed. The material was unique—pink with a blue-colored tip—for an American variety; that coloring, dubbed Blue Cap, was uncommon to see in the States.
“The termination is a beautiful, almost Sapphire blue,” says Carl Larson of Pala International. His father, Bill, who founded his gem and mineral business in 1968 with Ed Swoboda, was just in time to become part of local mining history.
San Diego Tourmaline mining dates to the late 1800s. At the turn of the century, production was reported to have been in the tons.
As is the case with mines, years passed, and finds became less common until locals swore there was no more. But Bill and Ed had the foresight to challenge that thinking. Ed bought four county Tourmaline mines, the Stewart Lithia, Tourmaline Queen, Ocean View, and Pala Chief, in the early 1970s for $25,000.
Author and gemologist John Sinkankas, after whom GIA named a symposium series—which, coincidentally, made San Diego County gems its 2023 focus—rightly thought the Queen had production potential. Ed and Bill’s mining team, led by John McLean, dug down 50 feet and hit a massive strike. From it, museum-quality specimens surfaced as well as years of inventory.
One sale to a Chinese collector included this 54.14 ct. Tourmaline from a broken Blue Cap. The gem was found in 1972, cut and sold in 1973, and bought back by Bill in 2012.
By 1980, Bill and Ed had split up and serious mining at the Queen had ended. But collectors still hound Bill for Blue Caps.
“There were only a few pieces found in this color, and only a handful of cut stones in this size,” adds Carl.
The gem is untreated, available for $1,200 a carat, and will be at the Pala booth at JCK Las Vegas (AGTA #A29051).
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