Learn About Tanzanite
Found in just one place on earth, tanzanite is a relatively recent discovery. Tiffany & Co named this blue-violet variety of zoisite in honor of Tanzania, where it was first unearthed in 1967. Because the crystals show different colors depending on the viewing direction, cutters can fashion gems with a range of color from violetish blue to bluish violet depending on how much weight they want to retain from the rough.
Tanzanite Birthstones & Anniversaries
Tanzanite is a birthstone for December, along with zircon, turquoise, and blue topaz. Tanzanite is also the gem for a 24th anniversary.
Overview of Tanzanite
Tanzanite is the exquisite blue-purple variety of the mineral zoisite that is only found in one part of the world. Named for its limited geographic origin in Tanzania, tanzanite has quickly risen to popularity since its relatively recent discovery. Zoisite had been around more than a century and a half before this rare blue variety was found in 1967. Trace amounts of vanadium, mixed with extreme heat, cause the blue-purple color—which ranges from pale blue to intense ultramarine with violet undertones.
Due to pleochroism, tanzanite can display different colors when viewed from different angles. Stones must be cut properly to highlight the more attractive blue and violet hues and deemphasize the undesirable brown tones. Most of the tanzanite on the market today is heat treated to minimize the brown colors found naturally and to enhance the blue shades that can rival sapphire.
Tanzanite is still only found on a few square miles of land in Tanzania, near majestic Mount Kilimanjaro. Its price and availability are directly tied to mines in this region, most of which are now slowing production significantly.
Tanzanite measures 6.5 to 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness—which is not nearly as hard as the sapphire it often substitutes. Given its vulnerability to scratch during daily wear and abrasion, tanzanite is better suited for earrings and pendants than rings.
Between its deep blue color and its limited supply, tanzanite is treasured by many, even if your birthday is not in December.
History of Tanzanite
Unlike many well-known gemstones that have been in use for centuries, tanzanite’s history is relatively modern.
The common story of tanzanite’s discovery tells of Maasai herders who found blue crystals in the Merelani Hills near Arusha, Tanzania, while tending livestock in 1967. They notified a prospector named Manuel d’Souza, who promptly registered claims with the government to begin mining.
Initially, d’Souza thought he was mining sapphire gems, but the crystal was soon identified as a vibrant blue variety of zoisite—a mineral stone that had been around since the early 1800s.
Tiffany & Co. recognized this blue gem’s potential to rival more expensive sapphire and agreed to become its main distributor. Instead of publicizing “blue zoisite”—which sounded a little too much like “suicide”—Tiffany named the gemstone “tanzanite” to highlight its exclusive geographic origin. They introduced it with a promotional campaign in 1968.
An estimated two million carats of tanzanite were mined before the Tanzanian government nationalized the mines in 1971. The government divided the mines into four sections, or blocks, in 1990. Tanzanite One Mining Ltd., the world’s largest tanzanite producer, holds the rights to Block C, which is larger than the other blocks combined.
An independent study from 2012 suggests that at a production rate of 2.7 million carats per year, Block C’s tanzanite deposits may deplete in as soon as 30 years. Tanzanite may not have the long history of other gemstones, but with such limited supplies and rapidly growing popularity, it is highly prized for its rare beauty.
Frequently asked questions about Tanzanite
Learn more about colorful gemstones, their symbolism, which stone represents your birthstone, which stone to celebrate an Anniversary with and more ways to incorporate colorful gems in to your jewelry box.
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