History of Tanzanite
Found in the most eastern reaches of Africa in the country
of Tanzania, home of the awe-inspiring Serengeti with its abundant wildlife, and the magnificent grandeur of Mt. Kilimanjaro,
the most incredible discovery of the last century: A gem so exotic and so rare that it is found exclusively in an area just
a few kilometers long. The area is called Merlani and lies between Mount Kilimanjaro and the Olduvai Gorge. The only nearby
town any note is that of Arusha, really just a village approximately 50kms to the northwest.
This amazing discovery
was made by members of the indigenous Massai tribe in 1967 supposedly as they were out bush walking. Tanzanite is an incredibly
beautiful gemstone that derives it's stunning appearance from it's remarkably strong Trichroic properties, that is it shows
alternately three different colours, blue, violet and red depending on the angle from which it is viewed. However all Tanzanite
that is cut for commercial purposes is heat treated thus tending to fix the colour bringing out the best. Generally the best
quality and cut of Tanzanite is a deep intense violet bluish colour.
The fact is that it is actually a form of Zoisite and in it's untreated form is
a dull grayish brown in colour that in order to release it's almost unrivalled natural beauty is heated to 500 degrees Centigrade.
The heat treatment needed is why it was never discovered until a lightning strike caused a bush fire that naturally heated
the rough Zoisite bringing forth the amazing stone we know as Tanzanite much to the delight and amazement of the Massai tribesmen.
Tanzanite was first presented to Tiffany and co and introduced to the world in 1969 2 years after its discovery. They named
it Tanzanite as a tribute to the country of its origin and because it is said to reflect the beauty of a classic Tanzanian
night. Tiffany and co then launched a huge marketing campaign that created the phenomenon that has the taken the gem world
by storm. It is so beautiful that it is often mistaken for Kashmir Sapphire. Due to its late discovery and its incredible
properties it is the only gemstone to have been added to the official birthstone list by the American Gem Society since 1912
and is now a birthstone for December along with Turquoise and Zircon.
It has a hardness of 6.5 on the Moh (hardness) scale
which makes it a softer stone requiring more care. This is another reason for its increasing rarity as it can be extremely
easy to break in the mining and cutting processes thus making it hard to get out of the ground in larger sizes. This in turn
is increasingly along with the fact that it is only found in the one area and is getting harder to find is pushing up the
prices of the heavier, cut goods. Another development was that in June of 2003 in order to protect their own cutting industry,
the Tanzanian government introduced legislation banning the export of unprocessed tanzanite over the weight of 1 carat. Adding
a burden to the already great demand of heavier goods. A word of caution with regards to the use and care of Tanzanite, Tanzanite
is quite fragile; it has hardness of 6.5 on the Moh scale. To put this in perspective, compare Tanzanite to Sapphire which
has hardness of 9. Tanzanite is also very brittle. For this reason, be very gentle with this exotic gem. Never use ultrasonic
cleaners to clean the jewelry with Tanzanite.
In April 2005, a company called Tanzanite One Ltd. publicly announced
that they had taken control of the tanzanite mine known as "C-Block". Over the next year, this company established
a De Beers-like control over the tanzanite market. This is the first time that a colored gemstone has been controlled in this
way. Further increasing the difficulty of obtaining top quality and larger stones. Also, Tanzanite is becoming increasingly
difficult to find in the better grades and colours. Most of the Tanzanite presently coming out of the ground is of a far lower
quality than has been available for a fair price in the past. Suppliers have been pressed from all of their vendors to continue
to maintain a firm line on price, yet continue to provide good color. Something had to give and that something was price.
In August 2005, the largest tanzanite crystal was found in the C-Block mine. The crystal weighs 16,839 carats (3.4 kg) and
measures 22 cm by 8 cm by 7 cm.
In February 2006 Tanzanite One Ltd. announced that they were moving forward with their marketing strategy to make Tanzanite
"the" birthstone. They plan to market the rare gem as a stone one would give a child at birth, to celebrate new
life. Something that the Massai tribesmen already do. he price of Tanzanite has obviously risen due to the ratio of supply
and demand (and can only continue to do so) with high grades of Tanzanite selling for as much as US$1200 per carat. Like most
other gems, when the carat weight of a tanzanite increases, its price per carat goes up. Tanzanite has been available in the
world since the late 1960's and has become one of the most coveted precious gems on the planet.