Tanzanite: The Royally-Hued Jewel We Didn't Know We Needed
While Tanzanite has yet to make it to the popular table à la Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald and Diamond, it’s not because it doesn’t have the same gorgeous beauty, allure or even value—but more likely due to its extreme scarcity and relatively newly discovered status.
Unlike Diamonds and the so-called Big 3, which have been gracing aristocratic jewel boxes since ancient times, Tanzanite, at no fault of its own, didn’t make its dramatic entry onto the jewel market until the late 1960s.
It is generally believed that these exotic, lushly-hued gems were first discovered in 1967 by a Maasai tribesman in Merelani, an area in northern Tanzania close to Mount Kilimanjaro. Originally thought to be Sapphires (which are also prevalent in Africa), it didn’t take long for hopeful miners to flood the small 20-square mile area with property claims.
Once the gem was identified as a new world discovery, gemologists around the globe feverishly began to study the velvety new jewel. They soon identified it as a gem quality variety of Zoisite, a mineral mostly composed of silica, calcium and aluminum, which up until then had only been known in a green and opaque variety often used for decorative carvings. Famed American jewellery house Tiffany & Co. immediately took interest in the eye-catching stone, which they saw as an exciting new alternative to the much-loved blue sapphire, and are even credited with bestowing it’s appropriate moniker: Tanzanite.
Since Merelani Hills are still the world’s only known commercial source of Tanzanite, it is incredibly rare and availability is unpredictable, to say the least. Since its discovery, a rollercoaster ride of supply and demand has been at play, contributing to the vast rise and fall of price points over the years. However, one constant remains: industry experts agree that this single, small source in Tanzania is likely to be exhausted in the very near future, designating this beautiful stone as soon-to-be ‘extinct’. Its highly limited nature not only makes it extremely unique and interesting for jewellery lovers and collectors, but likely a compelling investment, as well.
While those who love pastels might prefer Tanzanite’s lavender shades, the most valued stones possess highly saturated and intense blue to violet-blue hues. Interestingly enough, almost every Tanzanite starts out as an earthy brown, and is heated (as the majority of gemstones are) to its trademark velvety, violet-blue. It’s believed that the glittering blue stones discovered by the Maasai tribesman had already turned their true-blue shade after being previously exposed to a natural heat source.
Tanzanite is also known for being pleochroic, a phenomenon which sometimes allows them to exhibit two different shades (often purple or blue) depending on which direction you view them from. Gem cutters will sometimes fashion the stone to remove this effect, but, as with all jewels, it’s a matter of personal taste and can give the stone a magical aura!
Without a doubt, Tanzanite jewellery especially appeals to those who are looking for a rare and extraordinary piece. It’s ideal not only for December babies (the befitting birthstone), but also for those that prefer items with a fascinating twist. If you or your partner love the colour of Sapphires but long for something a little less common (and potentially more economical), a Tanzanite could be the perfect fit, and maybe even a future piece of gemological history.
Beyoncé is rumoured to have been gifted an 8+ carat Tanzanite ring by her husband Jay-Z in honour of the birth of their daughter, Blue Ivy. Jay-Z also has a December birthday.
The Queen of Kilimanjaro Tiara features the world’s largest faceted Tanzanite at 242 carats.