THE blue-violet gem, today known as “tanzanite”, was literally stumbled upon by accident. In 1967, a Masai tribesman called Ali Juuyawatu was walking through the grasslands of Arusha in Tanzania, in the foothills of Mount Kilimanajaro.
He spotted a purple-blue, glimmering rock in the grass and kept it. Some time later he sold it to a local tailor called Manuel D’Souza, who’s hobby was prospecting for rubies and diamonds in the area. Little did they both know, that Ali had happened across a whole new type of gemstone.
Tanzanite is so rare that it is still only found in that one spot in the whole world.
What is tanzanite?
Tanzanite belongs to a mineral group called zoisite, which is only found in this tiny area of Tanzania. Many millions of years ago, around Mount Kilimanjaro, deposits of zoisite crystals developed underground.
These deposits existed at various depths, and sometimes they could be found right on the earth’s surface amongst the grass and the rocks. For a long time they went undetected, until Ali Juuyawatu found one.
Once the discovery had been made, tanzanite didn’t remain unknown for long. It’s dazzling colour and sparkle soon bewitched both gem traders and the public. And its rarity and exclusive source made it even more desirable.
Today, tanzanite is classed as one of the “Big Five Gems” alongside diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires.
Tanzanite’s special colour
Are tanzanite crystals blue or violet? The answer is both. Tanzanite is called a “pleochroic gem”. If you hold it up to the light and turn it, you’ll can different colors. These can range from light blue and violet to deep indigo and burgundy. See this beautiful effect it the video below.
In its rough form, though, about 97% of tanzanite is purply-brown. It has to be heated to a high temperature to draw out the bluish-violet color. The other 3% of tanzanite is naturally blue, because millions of years ago it was subjected to volcanic heat under the earth’s crust.
See how this gorgeous tanzanite sparkles in blue and violet – click to shop
Natural blue tanzanite is so rare that it’s hardly ever found – and it was only by miraculous luck that Ali Juuyawatu found one that day. Therefore, gem experts see heating tanzanite as routine and in fact desirable in jewellery, because otherwise we wouldn’t get to enjoy this gem’s beautiful colour.
The West only discovered blue tanzanite in 1967. But the Masai tribes of Tanzania had long known about the purple-brown version of the mineral, then considered non-valuable. They often used it as as amulets.
Tanzanian mothers were given tanzanite to wear during childbirth, because the Masai believed the stone could bring health and a long life to newborn babies. The tribes have also been known to use the crustals to help communication with spirits, and to bring luck, peace and strength.
Modern astrologists, upon examination of the stone, decided that Tanzanite is astrologically aligned with the month of December, and the star sign of Capricorn, alongside turquoise and lapis lazuli. In 2002 the American Gem Association made tanzanite the official December birthstone, and the recommended gem gift for 24th wedding anniversaries.
How valuable is tanzanite?
Tanzanite is in fact rarer than diamonds because it can only be found in such a small specific geographical area. Because tanzanite tends to be found mainly as small crystals, jewellery made with dainty pieces can represent excellent value to the consumer.
However, larger stones immediately rise in price. In November 2015, an anonymous gem collector put a large assortment of gemstones on auction in Nottingham in the UK. One of the tanzanite rings alone was expected to fetch between 45,000 and 50,000 pounds sterling – see it in the Twitter post below.
Tanzanite is running out
According to a London Share Market study carried out by independent geologists, the reserves at Tanzania’s largest mining company, TanzaniteOne, will become depleted in just under 300 years.
Mining could finish even earlier, because as the miners go deeper, extracting the crystal becomes much harder. Tanzanite is only known to exist in Arusha, Tanzania and it is believed that no further deposits will be found anywhere in the world, soo this will mean the end of its production worldwide.
Why tanzanite makes such a special gift
For anyone who has seen this gemstone up close, there is no denying that its colour and sparkle are breathtaking. But tanzanite’s fantastic blue-violet radiance is not the only reason why it’s such a desirable gift. You also have to factor in the exclusivity of its origin, and its finite source.
The very idea of posesssing something that not everybody else has is the main reason why we hold rare gems in such esteem. So if you want to own a piece of fine jewellery made with a stunning, rare gemstone – and leave it as a valuable heirloom keepsake for your children and grandchildren – now is a great time!
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*All prices quoted on 20th May 2016 and may change at any point after this