Tanzanite, that beautiful violet-blue gemstone with the interesting history, doesn’t seem that rare. Most jewelry stores have at least a few pieces. Most consumers recognize the name, tanzanite, and can’t remember when it wasn’t available. But we are actually the lucky “generation” to have this precious gem. Going to the store and buying a new piece of tanzanite jewelry will probably not be an option for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The history begins back in the late 1960s, when the blue-purple variety of the mineral, zoisite, was first discovered. Found in the Merelani Hills of Tanzania, near Mount Kilimanjaro, the gem quickly gained the attention of Tiffany’s president, Henry Platt. It was Tiffany & Co. that named the gem, Tanzanite, and began marketing it in 1968. The popularity of the gemstone grew over the next few decades and, in 2002, Tanzanite became an official birthstone for December. It also is the gemstone for the 24th wedding anniversary.
Most gemstones are found in various places on Earth. But the geological circumstances that allow tanzanite to form are very rare and have only been found in the Merelani Hills. All the mines are located within eight square miles! A big reason for this is that vanadium, the trace element responsible for the violet-blue color, is not a common element. And it was very rare during the formation time of tanzanite. Another reason for tanzanite’s rarity is that only in this one location has erosion of the Earth’s surface tipped the scales enough to allow the continental crust, where the gems were formed, to be pushed up by the oceanic crust. Bringing the gemstones closer to the Earth’s surface has allowed mining to be profitable.
For how much longer will mining be profitable? In the early 2000’s money was invested in understanding the conditions ripe for tanzanite. Mining became more efficient and production increased. Recent reports, however, point out that mines have to go deeper to find more tanzanite. At some point, the cost of mining will be prohibitive. When production slows and the jewelry industry can’t count on a steady supply, it will look to other, more available, gems. This may lead to a downward spiral of demand and supply for tanzanite.
You are part of the “generation” that can still go to your favorite jewelry store and buy this beautiful gem. Unless some other deposit is discovered, future generations will have to buy previously owned tanzanite. So, if you love tanzanite, don’t delay in getting your special piece of it.