Maine’s iconic coast brings to mind images of granite cliffs leading to bold ocean views in places such as Monhegan Island, or of coastlines strewn with rocks and pebbles made smooth over time. Lighthouses stand guard to guide boats away from treacherous rocks. Pink granite cliffs highlight the coastline of Acadia National Park and Mt. Desert Island.
As children, my cousins and I were fascinated by the tidal pools encircled by rocks as the water ebbed and flowed. Starfish, sea urchins, periwinkles, and seaweed were all captured briefly by the tide. However, Maine’s geology yields another kind of rock—tourmaline crystals in a rainbow of colors and set in wearable jewelry—some reminiscent of the sea life at the coast.
Tourmaline is a mineral found in a very coarse-grained granite called pegmatite. Pegmatite deposits are the source of Maine’s finest gem tourmalines. (1) The tourmaline of Maine has long been known for its exceptional color and clarity with green and green/blue crystals cut to show off their pure, rich color. (2) Tourmaline comes in many other colors: red, known as rubellite, pink, purplish-red, and a bicolor called “watermelon.”
The most famous necklace composed of Maine tourmalines is called the “Hamlin Necklace,” in the collection of the Harvard Mineralogical and Geological Museum. Gem-quality tourmaline was discovered in the late 19th century in Mt. Mica, Maine, and mined by Dr. Augustus Choate Hamlin. “A splendid compendium of Maine jewels was designed as a necklace by A.C. Hamlin. It had detachable pendants set with large tourmalines ranging from three to thirty-four carats. These could be fashioned onto a gold chain in various combinations. Hamlin’s wife wore the necklace. His granddaughter inherited it, who also had two earrings set with pink and green tourmalines and beryls, and a cross set with six of the best tourmalines ever found in Maine.” (3) This was such an important piece of American jewelry that it was featured on the front cover of Jewelry in America by Martha Gandy Fales.
In 1879, Tiffany & Co. hired the mineral collector George Kunz as their first gemologist after he sold a fine green tourmaline from Mt. Mica to Charles Louis Tiffany. “In this position, he was able to broaden the horizons and develop the task of Americans interested in jewelry.” (4) Fast-forward to the establishment of the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel. Among the featured tourmalines in the “Hall of Gems” is this Arts and Crafts period Tiffany & Co. 18kt gold, green tourmaline, and sapphire necklace. Meta Overbeck designed the necklace for the Tiffany Art Studio in the early 1900s. The green tourmalines in the center were mined in Maine around the turn of the 20th century.
Several important American goldsmiths of the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts periods created motifs and themes from nature with a distinctly American look, including Louis Comfort Tiffany, Paulding Farnham for Tiffany & Co., and Boston jewelers Edward Oakes and Frank Gardiner Hale, to name a few. Although we do not know whether the tourmalines used here came from Maine, the aesthetic for using gemstones of perhaps lesser intrinsic value (as opposed to sapphires, diamonds and emeralds) was a characteristic of the Boston “look” of handmade, studio-crafted and designed jewelry. Stones were chosen for color rather than monetary value. (5)
From granite cliffs and pebble beaches to fine, gem-quality tourmaline, the state of Maine yields rocks of great beauty. These images from Skinner highlight the versatility of the stone in the beautiful, wearable jewelry that has been offered at auction.
1. Maine.gov/Maine Geological Survey/Tourmaline: Maine State Mineral
2. John Sinkankas, Gemstones of North America
3. Martha Gandy Fales, Jewelry in America
5. Nonie Gadsen, Meghan Melvin, and Emily Stoehrer, Arts and Crafts Jewelry in Boston