Geology And Geophysics
The exquisite tanzanite gemstone

Tanzanite: What is this dazzling blue gem?



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The exquisite tanzanite gemstone
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"Tanzanite: What is this dazzling blue gem?"
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Tanzanite is a gorgeous gemstone that's a relatively new kid on the block - but it's just as prized as veteran gems. There's only one source for it in the entire world - making it eagerly coveted for its impending rarity. It's a gem that has at times slipped into obscurity - but has always found its way back to prominence.

What does tanzanite look like?

Typically, tanzanites are richly imbued with dazzling, deep blue tones. They are also plentiful in striking violet-blue shades, and can occasionally be a rare greenish or greenish-blue hue. Tanzanite is an intensely pleochroic gemstone, meaning it can appear blue from one vantage point, and violet or violet-blue from another. Tanzanite's price has varied from a meager $20 per carat to as much as $1,000 per carat - or more - for stones that are gem-quality and exquisitely colored. By cutting the crystal on one of two axes, tanzanite's color can be manipulated. Stones that have a bluer luster are sliced on the shorter axis and are not very abundant - making them more rare and pricey than violet-blue tanzanite.

Where does tanzanite come from?

Tanzanite comes from what geologists refer to as "boudins," which are rock formations shaped like sausages. Tanzanite is not present in all boudins, and if it is contained in one, it is often composed of low grade material unsuitable for creating jewelry. These boudins snake around inside the earth, making mining challenging, and often produce a byproduct gemstone called tsavorite, a stunning variety of garnet. Tanzanite formations are also linked with the production of rhodolite, another species of garnet, and kyanite, a deep blue silicate mineral.

Who discovered tanzanite?

In 1967, tanzanite was discovered in Tanzania, a country in East Africa. Legend speaks of a Maasai tribesman who came across the glittering gems in the aftermath of a lightning fire, which had apparently scalded the brown rocks to a vibrant blue. This led to the epiphany that by heating zoisite - an opaque mineral that's originally the color of brown beer bottle glass - an extraordinary, transparent blue gem is produced. This is also how tanzanite is created and how it eventually acquired its scientific name, blue zoisite.

Where is tanzanite mined?

The world's only known location of tanzanite is in the Simanjiro District of Tanzania in the Merelani Hills. According to geologists, the chemical environment necessary to produce the elegant blue gemstone is so unique that the odds of identical conditions existing elsewhere in the world are slim. Experts theorize that the probability of discovering another tanzanite deposit is less than one in a million.

Since tanzanite is only found in a single location, it comes freighted with stability issues. Gem deposits' quality and quantity will be erratic while miners dig through the earth's layers, and this variation is inconsistent and unpredictable. To complicate things further, a natural resource culled from a single location cannot last indefinitely. If other deposits are not located - and this appears to be quite likely - the supply of tanzanite is doomed to eventually get tapped out.

Tanzanite is a young gemstone

As far as gemstones ages go, tanzanite is a teenager. A plethora of currently popular gemstones were discovered thousands of years ago. Artifacts and old transcripts such as the Bible attest to their existence. Tanzanite however, made its debut in 1967, and has attained mainstream awareness for less than two decades.

Tanzanite and Tiffany's

Tanzanite made an impressive debut when it was introduced to Henry B. Platt, then-vice president of Tiffany & Co. in New York. The substance was named tanzanite after Tanzania, its country of origin. Having one of the world's most famous, esteemed and prestigious jewelry companies acknowledge tanzanite's potential was an extraordinary boon for the gemstone, and the high-end jeweler gave tanzanite a big push.

Unfortunately, the supply side was unstable. Tanzania is a Third World Country that only acquired independence in 1964. In 1971, when its government was new and inexperienced, it became aware of the monetary possibilities of tanzanite, so it took control of the mines and nationalized them. However, the necessary structure was lacking and the quality of mined materials nosedived. The irregularities of supply triggered problems, causing Tiffany's marketing and promotion of the gemstone to eventually cease. Tanzanite faded back into obscurity.

Mining conditions

By the 1980s, mining conditions were still dismal, production was haphazard and thousands of illegal miners jam-packed the Merelani Hills. In 1991 the government again took over the area, issuing mining licenses to native Tanzanians. Shortly afterward, a briefly ample tanzanite supply hit the market, permitting tanzanite's popularity to vastly grow.

How can I get tanzanite?

With the proliferation of television shopping networks such as QVC, HSN and Jewelry TV, in addition to brick-and-mortar stores, tanzanite is easily accessible, and has established itself as a primary contender in the colored stone market. Sales of tanzanite continue to intensify as tens of millions of viewers are exposed to this stunning stone.

Unfortunately, tanzanite is currently considered to be a limited resource. Experts theorize that tanzanite mines have 20 to 30 years of operation left. If no other sources of tanzanite can be located, the future of this stunning jewel may be cut tragically short. And if you're lucky enough to own one of these gorgeous gems, you possess something rare and precious, indeed.

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More about this author: Merryl Lentz

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