With an abundance of lovely things shoe-horned tightly into these final 31 days, it’s perfectly fitting that the twelfth month has been indulged with not one birthstone, but three. And what a vision of blue it is! As well as turquoise and blue zircon, December babies have claim to our Gemstone of the Month – tanzanite.
Tanzanite is the awe-striking blue-violet variety of the mineral zoisite. It’s particularly special because it’s found in just one place on earth; the Merelani Hills around the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Geological research has exemplified that the conditions responsible for creating tanzanite are so unique that the chance of finding it elsewhere in the world is less than a million to one.
Tanzanite is famed for its pleochroism; its rare ability to display different colours when viewed in different crystal directions. Tilt rough tanzanite at the correct angle, and you’ll see three distinct hues emanating from each of its crystallographic axes.
Unearthed for the first time in 1967, tanzanite is the coloured gemstone family’s fresh-faced newcomer.
One fabled day 52 years ago, a Maasai tribesman stumbled upon a cluster of transparent, intense violet-blue crystals protruding from the earth in northern Tanzania. Word is, he alerted a local fortune hunter called Manuel d’Souza, who quickly registered four mining claims. D’Souza, excited, thought he’d been shown a new sapphire deposit. Instead – perhaps even more excitingly – the deposit contained one of the world’s newest gems. Tiffany & Co. quickly recognised tanzanite’s potential as an international seller and struck a deal to become its main distributor, naming the gem after its motherland and promoting it with a huge publicity campaign in 1968. The instant popularity of the exciting new gem was tied to its vivid colour, high clarity and potential for large cut stones. The biggest tanzanite in the world is currently 16,839ct!
Whilst tanzanite’s youth means it’s still unencumbered with historic associations, its heritage is underpinned by an age-old Maasai association between the colour blue and new life. Based on this tradition, and the coloured gemstone’s recent discovery, many people view tanzanite as ‘the’ birthstone, irrespective of month, and present it as a gift to celebrate new life and fresh starts.
But, following the 11th September 2001, the Wall Street Journal linked the stirring blue stone to Al-Qaida and funding terrorism, provoking a sharp drop in sales.
Governmental figures, tanzanite stakeholders and various jewellery associations met in Tucson, Arizona in 2002 and agreed unanimously on the need to establish protocols to protect the trade, from the mines to the point of first export, and to develop a system of warranties to assure that all tanzanite comes from legitimate sources.
Intelligence reports not long after the summit revealed the the Wall Street allegations were declared false, and tanzanite was given a ‘clean bill of health’.
Following the establishment of the protocols, the Tanzanite Foundation was formed to support and develop the tanzanite industry. It also initiated social programs to aid the Maasai community in the forms of a school, a clinic and a community centre. The Foundation developed a quality-grading system comprising of Colour, Clarity, Cut, Carat Weight and Confidence. The first four categories are standard gemstone quality grades, whilst Confidence is an innovative new means to assure a stone’s ethical route to market. The Foundation has also developed and implanted The Mark of Rarity; a microscopic, inscribed icon which is synonymous with absolute assurance of ethical and authentic provenance.
For those who are lucky enough to get their mitts on a tanzanite stone before its only known deposit is depleted, it’s a crafty alternative to the sapphire, offering the opportunity for a large cut and vivid blue appearance without the extortionate price tag. Tanzanite is also a smart collectors’ item and future heirloom, its rarity making it ‘the gemstone investment opportunity of our generation’.
The international scarcity of tanzanite means we’ve worked with it only a handful of times. The thrilling blue gemstone is set in our unique Tanzanite Cocktail Ring (once featured in the Tanzanite Foundation’s design gallery) and our one-off Folklore earrings (winner of the Rising Staraward at the Tanzanite Celebration of Life Jewellery Design Awards in 2006).