Jewelry connoisseur, designer and self-professed gem matchmaker Doris Hangartner has added another precious stone to her tiara of achievements: a captivating and informative book on Paraiba tourmalines.
Purely Paraiba is a collaboration between Hangartner — aka “Miss Paraiba” — and UK-based jewelry photographer Leo Bieber, famed for his distinctive manipulation of natural light. The book takes the reader on a visual journey through the gemological facts, history and geography behind this vibrant tourmaline variety, which has entranced designers and dealers the world over.
Hangartner’s poetic words combine with Bieber’s vivid and emotive photographs to explore how the gem engages all the senses. In fact, her eponymous design company takes this approach literally, producing gem-inspired music, fragrance lines and even chocolates to complement the jewelry and loose stones it sells.
As a trained gemologist, the Zurich, Switzerland-based Hangartner has dedicated her career to understanding Paraibas and other colored stones. Here, she shares some personal insights and details regarding Paraiba tourmalines, including those in her own personal collection.
Where does your passion for gemstones come from?
I’ve always loved rocks. One of my earliest memories is breaking one open with my brothers after a long hike and finding within it a glittering ocean of sparkles. The idea that something so mundane on the outside could be full of such magic and treasure is something that still gives me goosebumps to this day. I may have flitted in and out of gemology in my young career days, but the stones kept calling me back. After many years of self-discovery, education and research, I am now the creator of a business in which I have managed to combine my passions for gemology, psychology and investment.
[There are three branches to the Doris Hangartner company that match those three interests.] The first is jewelry design. I design and make jewelry for clients that they can purchase ready-made from my inventory. The second, and by far my favorite, is my bespoke work, where a client will come to me and ask for help in finding their perfect gem match, a stone they can really get excited about creating a piece of jewelry with. Last, but most certainly not least, are my gem portfolios. Gems are incredibly unique and hold value over time. I advise my clients on how best to direct their financial assets toward investing in a stone.
What is the background of Purely Paraiba?
A chance encounter led me to meeting Leo Bieber in London when my daughter and I were visiting. I invited him to Zurich to come and photograph my gem collection. I’d been toying with the idea of writing something about my personal collection for some time. After mentioning this to him, he said to me, “You have to write a book on Paraibas! You are Miss Paraiba!” As soon as he said that, the entire project flooded into my mind. It was fantastic.
What makes Paraiba tourmalines so extraordinary?
For every 10,000 diamonds mined, there is only one single Paraiba. Their rarity is what makes them so mysterious and intrinsically enticing. Discovered in the 1980s in Brazil, this aquatic-colored stone is unlike anything the market has seen before. Its color is so captivating that the price per carat skyrocketed from hundreds to thousands of dollars within its very first days on the market. Its hues are expansive. You can just bathe and bask in its bluish-green glow, which is uplifting and joyful. It’s the embodiment of the entire ocean in a single precious drop.
What is your signature style when it comes to setting Paraiba tourmalines?
It all depends on the individual stone. It’s personal to each gem. Depending on its underlying tones, sometimes rose gold is best suited, other times platinum. But carbon fiber is always a good call. It helps frame the stone so that the color can pop even more. That’s my setting secret.
What designers do you admire for their work with Paraiba tourmalines?
I am tremendously excited to see them featured in many high-jewelry collections by incredible household name brands. David Morris, Chopard, Boghossian, Moussaieff. All these brands have featured them in exquisite designs. However, I have also noticed that Paraibas never seem to be the star of the pieces. That’s why I love what we do here at Doris Hangartner. Our designs are stone-centric. They are simple, yet allow the gem to be the leading force in the design aesthetic. It doesn’t always need to be accompanied by a complex design and other gemstones. I like my Paraibas like I like my food: Let fresh and rich ingredients shine through and speak for themselves. There is no need to overcomplicate them with others.
Where do the tourmalines come from? How steady is the supply?
The original deposit was first discovered in Brazil’s north-central Paraiba State. The now-named Mina da Batalha mine is closed, and you can therefore not buy any stones directly from this mine anymore, making them incredibly rare. I know that they are looking to reopen this mine; I’ve been invited to their reopening when it does happen. In the meantime, the stone can also be found in Nigeria and Mozambique. However, the Brazilian ones tend to have a more intense glow about them, with those from Africa often having a much softer hue and lighting.
What do they bring to a specific design?
Pizzazz, joie de vivre and a giant punch of color. It’s practically vibrating with electric-blue energy! For me, they are a happy pill. If you are having a low day, look at a Paraiba — it’s impossible not to feel better. They are also so elegant and feminine. A Paraiba is a fantastic song that makes you want to tap your foot and dance along. It’s a dancing gem.
What cuts work best with these gemstones?
Avoid step cuts. Anything angular or sharp in shape is not the best fit for a Paraiba tourmaline. Look for soft, feminine forms, like a cabochon, oval or a drop. Those are the best shapes to capture its internal glow. No one looks up at the sky and wishes to see a princess- or emerald-cut moon. Half her power comes from her rounded, shapely figure.