To discover tanzanite is a moment I never forget! One day, a few years back we travel to Canada and stop at a shopping mall, near the water. We walk around, passing time until it is time for our boat trip. When my eye catches the most bluish earrings I ever saw in my life. It is love at first sight. The color of the gemstones is so intense that I want to buy them. The lady in the shop tells me that the earrings are made of tanzanite, the most bluish gemstone in the world.
The earrings watch me and tell me ‘we want to be yours’. Anyway, that is spinning in my head. I am totally flabbergasted by the color, beauty, and simplicity of the earrings, which makes them one of a kind. The lady sees that I am interested and tells me a bit about the gemstone.
You find Tanzanite only in Tanzania
You find Tanzanites only in Tanzania, at the foot of the Kilimanjaro mountain. It’s the only commercial mine in the world and only in about 20 square kilometers or 12 square miles, this gemstone is found. This area is in the middle of the Masai area (a local tribe) and they know this gemstone already for a long time and never realize its value of the stones.
This gemstone was formed about 585 million years ago (give or take) by a large tectonic activity or earthquake and intense heat in this region. Due to that tectonic activity and earthquake, Mount Kilimanjaro was formed, together with tanzanite.
In 1967 Mr. Manuel de Souza ‘discovered’ this gem. He was an Indian tailor and was looking in Tanzania for gemstones and gold. Obviously, he had no idea where to look and what to look for. The story is that one day he was strolling in the hills around Mount Kilimanjaro. To be honest, the surroundings are beautiful there, but there was no reason to look for gemstones or gold at that place.
The only reason could be that Mt Kilimanjaro is an old volcano and you find a lot of gemstones in the lava streams. and he saw some shiny stone on the ground. He thought that the stone was too soft to be a sapphire, although it had more or less the color of a sapphire. Later experts categorized his stone as a variety of Zoisite, a gemstone.
Since this is the only place in the world where you can find this gemstone, miners have to mine deeper and deeper to find more of this precious stone. Nowadays the mines are about 800 meters deep. The mining and the selling of tanzanite are regulated by the Tanzanian government. Just to protect the life of the Masai, and the tribes that live there, and to keep the project ethical and sustainable.
Talking about the Masai people… their legends say that the tanzanite is first discovered by Masai Cattlemen after a fire. The stones were in that fire and turned the red to brown zoisite into the magnificent deep blue to purple gemstone.
Tiffany’s made it popular and called this blue zoisite ‘tanzanite’. They got the main distributorship of this gemstone and saw the possibilities for this gem that was more expensive than the blue sapphire.
First, they called it the ‘blue zoisite’, but that name sounded too much like ‘suicide’. So they renamed it ‘tanzanite’ after the original finding place in Tanzania. In 1968 Tiffany started a campaign to promote this ‘new’ gemstone.
This beautiful and rare gemstone has an intriguing color. When the stone is not polished it has a red to brown color and it has to contain some traces of Vanadium to be tanzanite. You have to heat the gemstone for at least 30 minutes at 600˚C to get that special blue color. The more vibrant and deeper the color, the more expensive the gem.
A gemstone with a lot of possibilities
The lady gives me a closer look and shows me some other tanzanite jewelry. And there is something funny about this gemstone. When I look at the top of the stone it is the most bluish gemstone in the world. But when you look at another angle the color changes to violet, purple and reddish. Very strange and very beautiful: this is called pleochroism.
Finally, the most important question is ‘what is the price of these earrings?’. I keep my breath and after she tells me that -unlike most tanzanite gemstones- these tanzanites set in the earrings have a natural color, and are not heated. That happens a lot in order to intensify the blue color, but the disadvantage is that the effect of the pleochroism fades a bit. OK, lady, just tell me the price of these jewels…
The gemstone Tanzanite is a bit expensive
With a big smile, she says that the price was $16.000. I know I have expensive taste, but this is a bit much. To say the least. She sees my reaction and smiles a bit arrogant as if she wants to say ‘I know this is too expensive’. Grrr. But she as a well-trained businesswoman shows me the heated tanzanite jewelry. They are about 80% cheaper, and the gemstones look a bit like tanzanite, like the blue topaz, the aquamarine, or the even more expensive sapphire.
Most of the prices of gemstones are related to the rareness of the gem. It is said that tanzanite is 1000 times rarer than diamond. It is found only on 12 square miles and nowhere else in the world, although it is sitting there to be discovered already millions of years. This rare gem originates from the same tectonic lift-up that created the Great Rift Valley and Mount Kilimanjaro.
Before the government of Tanzania nationalized the mine about 2 million carats of tanzanite were mined. They divided the mine in 1990 into 4 sections or blocks. And block C gives the largest and most gems. Even more than the other 3 blocks combined.
At the moment they mine about 2.7 million carats per year and when they keep on doing so, the mine will be exhausted in around 2042. Which makes this gem even rarer and more expensive.
Then the hardness of the Tanzanite is ‘only’ 6.5 on the scale of Moh (compared with diamond, which is 10 on Moh’s scale). There is a great risk that pieces of this exceptional beautiful blue gemstone are accidentally destroyed. And if you know that the gemstone is formed by a unique geological occurrence, so unique that a repeat is not likely to happen (chance of 1 to 1.000.000), you know that the only mine will be exhausted soon.
It is so little available of this blue gem that experts are afraid that soon there is no tanzanite left anymore, and that will raise the price sky-high.
This is the end of my tanzanite dream. And still, I think that maybe one day… I buy or get those most bluish gemstones in the world in the most beautiful earrings you find. I keep on dreaming.
The largest one in the world
In June 2020 Mr. Saniniu Laizer discovered two huge tanzanite stones. They weigh 9.2 kilos and 5.8 kilos and he received a huge amount of about $3.3 million. He wants to build a shopping center and a school in his local community with his money. His stones are the largest rough tanzanite in the world.
But there is also the largest carved tanzanite and this one is called L’Heure Blue. It is 725 carats and it is found by a lady called Naomi Sarna, who taught the Masai ladies how to polish the stones and how to make jewelry out of them. The fortune that Mrs. Sarna made making this huge piece of art is used for an eye care station in the Masai area.
Tips when you own a tanzanite
When you are a lucky and well-to-do lady who can afford these beauties, you can use these tips/advice:
Tanzanite has a hardness of about 6.5 on the scale of Mohr. This means that it scratches easily and the gemstone easily breaks or splits. Better not buy a ring or bracelet with tanzanite, unless you wear them only at parties.
When you want to clean this blue gemstone use soft hand soap and a clean cloth to dry your precious jewelry. Or go to a well-informed jeweler to clean it. Don’t use ultrasonic or steam cleaning. The tanzanite does not like it and the color can be attached.
Do not leave the tanzanite in the sun or in extreme heat. The color may be affected.
Tanzanite is an exquisite gemstone and a stunning birthstone. That blue color is incomparable with other gems. If you like or love gemstones and gemstone set jewelry, you might be interested in an e-book FlorenceJewelshop has published. It is full of fun facts and great information about all the birthstones. And a real ‘great-to-have’ book. Besides that, it is also a fabulous present for a friend.
The good thing is that this e-book about birthstones is free of charge. Just let me know to whom I can send it.
Hug Florence from FlorenceJewelshop