This article dives deep into the meaning of tanzanite as the December birthstone. Gem experts classify this rare, violet-blue gemstone as one of the Big Five Gems in the world, alongside diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Steeped in Masai folklore, tanzanite is very rare and holds fascinating secrets and meaning.
What is the meaning of tanzanite as the December birthstone?
Tanzanite is a gem that was discovered by the Western world quite recently.
However, its rarity and incredible colour which shimmers from blue to violet have quickly given it cult status amongst gemstone lovers.
Tanzanite’s meaning as the December birthstone comes partly from Masai lore and partly from modern astrology. To understand it, it is important to first know the history of this precious gemstone.
Tanzanite was discovered by accident
In 1967, a Masai tribesman called Ali Juuyawatu was walking in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. He spotted a glimmering, purplish rock in the grass and kept it.
Sometime later, he sold it to a local tailor called Manuel D’Souza, whose 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, only found in Tanzania.
Many millions of years ago, around Mount Kilimanjaro, deposits of zoisite crystals developed underground.
These deposits existed at various depths and, occasionally, right on the earth’s surface. However, for a long time, they went undetected.
Tanzanite is one of the Big Five Gems
Once the discovery had been made, tanzanite didn’t remain unknown for long.
Its dazzling colour and sparkle soon bewitched both gem traders and the public. And its rarity – found only in one place in the whole world – 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 a pleochroic gem, meaning that if you hold it up to the light, the crystal will reflect different colours.
These can range from light blue or violet to deep indigo and purple.
See this beautiful effect here on video:
From rough tanzanite to gemstones
In its rough form, about 97% of tanzanite is purple-brown. The other 3% of tanzanite is naturally blue, because millions of years ago, volcanic heat under the earth’s crust changed its colour.
Natural blue tanzanite is so rare that it’s hardly ever found. Therefore, gem producers routinely heat tanzanite to achieve the desired colour.
Gemmologists and other experts accept heating in commercial tanzanite 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, often using it as amulets.
Tanzanian mothers wore tanzanite to during childbirth because the Masai believe the stone can bring health and long life to newborns.
The tribes also use the crystals to help communicate 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. They also recommend it as the gem gift for 24th wedding anniversaries. Find the list of all gemstone anniversary gifts here.
How valuable is tanzanite?
Tanzanite is, in fact, rarer than diamonds because it can only be found in one location in the world.
Because tanzanite exists mainly as small crystals, dainty pieces 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, UK. One of the tanzanite rings alone fetched 45,000 pounds sterling.
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 only exists in Arusha, Tanzania and gem experts believe that no further deposits exist anywhere in the world.
So this would mean the end of its production worldwide.
Why tanzanite makes such a special gift
If you have seen tanzanite up close, you’ll know its colour and sparkle are breathtaking.
But this isn’t the only reason why makes a great gift. You also have to factor in the exclusivity of its origin; tanzanite is extremely rare.
The idea of possessing a precious object that not many people own is the main reason why we hold rare gems in such high esteem. That’s why tanzanite is such a beautiful gift choice and has lasting investment value.
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