Tanzanite is a relatively new gemstone in the world of gemology and jewelry, and though its history is brief, it is no less illustrious than many ancient gems. Since its discovery, tanzanite has sold for as little as $20 per carat and as much as $1,000 per carat or more, for gem-quality, finely colored stones. That price may seem like a bargain in a few years, as tanzanite is a single-source gemstone and that source is expected to be mined out within the next 20 to 30 years based on the latest mining information.
|Somewhat softer than quartz, tanzanite may be safely mounted in any form of jewelry, but when it is set in rings, gentle wear is recommended. Tanzanite should never be subjected to high heat such as that from a jeweler's torch. The best way to clean tanzanite is with warm soapy water and a soft cloth.|
|Tanzanites are typically blue or violet-blue, but they can also be rare greenish and greenish-blue shades. Tanzanite is a highly pleochroic gem, meaning it can appear blue from one angle and violet or violetish-blue from another. Vanadium is the main coloring agent required to produce the rich blue-violet colors that are so highly prized in tanzanite. |
|Tanzanite's color may be manipulated by cutting the crystal on one of two axes. Bluer stones are cut on the shorter axis and generally do not provide as high a yield. Consequently, intense blue tanzanite is more rare and costs slightly more than violet-blue tanzanite.|
Tanzanite was discovered around 1967 in Tanzania, near Arusha. According to legend, tanzanite was discovered when a Masai tribesman found the sparkling stones in the remnants of a lightning fire, which had evidently heated the brown stones to a vivid blue. This led to the realization that heating zoisite--an opaque, usually brownish mineral--turns it beautifully transparent and blue.
Tiffany & Co. introduced tanzanite to the world in the late 1960s. Having one of the most famous jewelry companies in the world recognize tanzanite's potential was definitely serendipitous. But because the supply was not stable, the marketing and promotion of tanzanite came to a halt, sending tanzanite back into obscurity.
Recognizing the potential for tanzanite, the Tanzanian government intervened in 1971 and attempted to bring tanzanite back to popularity. The mining and control of tanzanite was turned over to the state around 1976. Production decreased dramatically, taking with it what little market share tanzanite had regained.
By the 1980s, conditions had not improved, production was irregular at best, and thousands of illegal miners had saturated the Merelani Hills. The government again took control of the area in 1991 and issued licenses to mine, mostly to native Tanzanians. Soon a temporarily sufficient tanzanite supply came to the market, allowing for tanzanite's tremendous growth. Read more.
Tanzanite is found in what geologists call "boudins," or sausage-shaped formations. Not every boudin will produce tanzanite, and many that do contain low-grade material that is not useful for jewelry. These boudins make straight, horizontal shafts within the earth that are impractical for mining. A bi-product of tanzanite mining is another very beautiful gemstone called tsavorite, a form of grossular garnet. As more tsavorite is found, the likelihood of finding jewelry-grade tanzanite lessens. Rhodolite and kyanite are also associated with tanzanite formations.
As a member of the zoisite family, tanzanite's scientific name is blue zoisite. A representative of Tiffany & Co. named it "tanzanite" to honor its Tanzanian origin. The formation of tanzanite is an amazing process that spans more than 500 million years and requires a very complex series of geological events to occur. Read more about tanzanite.
Tanzanite is a primary December birthstone. Find alternative December birthstones.
Learn more about tanzanite from our JTV Expert series videos! Visit our YouTube page for more on the tanzanite stone and other gemstone education.
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