Published: Dec 2010
by Jerry Sisk, GG & JTV Co-Founder
from In the Loupe Volume VIII
Just to set the record straight, I am not talking about moods or music. I am talking about birthstones. December has one of the best gemstone line-ups around – turquoise, lapis lazuli, blue topaz, blue zircon, and tanzanite. These are the gems that you will find on the modern and traditional birthstone lists here in the US. Of course, many are quick to point out that other lists exist.
If you were to check further, you would probably find mystical birthstones and Ayurvedic gems for each month. Dig a little deeper, and you will find that the choice of birthstones often varies by country. That being said, the five gemstones mentioned above offer a nice range of shades in blue and a nice combination of old and new – and by old, I mean ancient.
Consider turquoise. Its natural beauty has captivated a multitude of cultures spanning millennia. Where does the story begin? That is hard to say, but turquoise has been found in royal burial chambers dating back as far as 5500 BC. It is now 2010, so you can do the math. That is a pretty amazing track record.
Turquoise is available in a range of colors from green to robin’s egg blue, with or without webbing. Webbing refers to the fine dark lines that are found interlaced throughout the gemstone. This is often seen in Chinese turquoise and can create some visually striking patterns. Turquoise is also a great collector’s gem since it is available from a number of sources – the US, China, Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Iran, and even Tanzania. The last source is home to another blue birthstone, which brings me to the new – tanzanite.
Tanzanite is a relative baby compared to turquoise and lapis lazuli. Discovered around 1967, it remained in near obscurity for many years due to inconsistent supply. It was not until the 1990s that it came into its own. As production became more regular, this rich blue-violet variety of the mineral zoisite became more available to collectors and jewelry manufacturers. With the advent and growth of television shopping networks, this amazingly beautiful gem was seen in tens of millions of homes across North America and became an instant success.
Tanzanite is unusual in that there is only one commercially viable source. (Most gems can be mined in multiple countries and multiple locations within a country.) With this gem, there is only one small strip of land, located at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in the Merelani Hills of Tanzania. Tanzania itself is a living zoo with a multitude of wild and exotic animals. Kilimanjaro, often cited as the largest freestanding mountain in the world, is actually a massive stratovolcano that is not entirely dormant. All of this serves as the backdrop for one of nature’s most amazing gemstones. What makes tanzanite so popular? Color is a major consideration. It offers rich, transparent blues to blue-violets that are nothing less than eye candy. It also offers softer pastels for those who prefer a subtler expression of color.
Another very important factor is size. Tanzanite is available in five, ten, or twenty-carat stones... even larger for the serious collector. Compared to fine, gem-quality sapphires and spinels of similar color, it is both reasonably available and more affordable by a significant margin. It also has sufficient durability to make it a favorite in a wide range of jewelry.
I do not have enough space to talk in depth about the remaining three gemstones, but each has its own special place in the realm of birthstones. Lapis lazuli has a regal feel and look, while blue zircon exhibits incredible sparkle on a bright, sunny day. Sky, Swiss, and London blue topaz offer a continuous palette of colors, ranging from light aquamarine to the more intense blues of sapphire.
Light or dark, new or old... join us at Jewelry Television as we celebrate the December blues! May the holiday season find you in good health and in the company of friends and family.