Tanzanite-Birthstone of a Generation

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.

Our pieces of tanzanite, currently in stock

 

 

History of Birthstones

garnet

Garnet: January birthstone

Most of my life I’ve wished I was born a few days earlier, mainly because my birthstone would be an emerald instead of pearl or alexandrite.  When it came time to buy my high school class ring, I chose the emerald green stone rather than the pale purple one.  When my husband and I designed our 30-year anniversary ring, we designed it with an emerald for the center stone, even though pearl is the traditional gift for the 30-year anniversary.  As you can see, I’ve always just gone with what I wanted rather than what I was ‘supposed’ to want.  But my decisions got me to thinking about the origin of birthstones.  Who deemed that each month be represented by a different gemstone?  When was this decision made?  And why?

My research on these questions has revealed an interesting and somewhat nonsensical journey.  Most sources say that the idea of birthstones started with the Bible and Aaron’s breastplate.  Aaron had 12 stones in his breastplate, representing the 12 tribes of Israel.  No one knows for sure what the 12 stones were, but chances are high that they were pretty rocks, like jasper or lapis.  These are rocks that were native to the area.

A first century historian named Josephus supposedly made the numeric connection between the 12 stones and the 12 months of the year.  For centuries the idea was to have 12 stones, carrying a different one each month.  They weren’t really birthstones because they weren’t associated with the owner’s birth.  They were associated with months of the year.  The individual stones were supposed to bring good luck and good health during each one’s specific month.

But somewhere along the way, the idea changed.  Experts say that between the 15th and 18th centuries, people began to see themselves as having one stone, corresponding to the month of their birth, that would bring them good fortune.  These stones, with a few exceptions, are very different from the birthstones of today.  Have you ever heard of bloodstone?  It’s an opaque green stone with red spots.  It was the birthstone for March.  How about sardonyx?  That’s a banded, rusty brown-colored, translucent chalcedony that was the birthstone for August.

Bloodstone: March birthstone

Bloodstone: March birthstone

Sardonyx: August birthstone

Sardonyx: August birthstone

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1912, Jewelers of America, an association with a definite interest in marketing gemstones, sought to standardize the list.  The official list of birthstones had garnet, amethyst, aquamarine, diamond, emerald, pearl, ruby, peridot, sapphire, opal, topaz (the orange-yellow-brown kind), and turquoise.  Some of the months had two birthstones, partly in deference to the traditional stones.  So March had aquamarine AND bloodstone.  August had peridot AND sardonyx.  But, let’s face it, if you were born in March, which gem would you rather have?  A transparent medium blue one or an opaque dark green one with red blemishes?  It didn’t take long to drop these traditional choices.

The 1912 list has had few changes in the last 100+ years.  In 1952, alexandrite was added as a birthstone for June and citrine was added as a birthstone for November.  December’s traditional birthstone of lapis lazuli was replaced with blue zircon.  In 2002, tanzanite, the blue-purple gemstone that had been discovered in 1967, was added to the list for December.  And, most recently, in 2016, spinel was added as a birthstone for August.

Why the additions?  Many people would say it’s a marketing move.  Birthstones aren’t really seen as bringing good luck or good health anymore.   They don’t have the significance they used to have.  They’re just fun.  So why not have more choices?  I’m really happy for all you August babies who no longer feel confined to the yellowish-green of peridot.  Spinel offers great variety! (See my blog on spinel–July 28, 2016).

So, what do we make of this idea of birthstones?  To me it sounds like a complicated game of Telephone.  Do you remember that game when someone whispers a phrase to someone else, and it goes around the circle?  The final uttering of the phrase bears no resemblance to the original.  That’s how I feel birthstones came to be.  From Aaron’s breastplate to the writings of Josephus to the Jewelers’ list, it’s a crazy, convoluted path. But this is where we are and what we have.  My suggestion?  Adopt your favorite gemstone, the one that has meaning to you,  and make it YOUR birthstone.

amethyst

Amethyst: February birthstone

Born in December? Lucky You!

december birthstones

Birthdays in December often take a back seat to all the holiday celebrations.  Red and green seem to dominate the landscape.  More Christmas cookies are consumed than birthday cake.  But those of you born in December are very lucky to have some amazing blue birthstones to choose from–Blue Zircon, Turquoise, Tanzanite, and Blue Topaz.  With so many choices, there is no reason to feel deprived.

Zircon is a gem stone which comes in a wide range of colors.  The most popular color is blue.  Some zircons are so electric looking as to be almost neon.  They have this great ability to refract light, so the stone’s color just seems to jump out at you.  A lot of people get zircon confused with cubic zirconia, which is a manmade stone used as a substitute for diamonds.  Zircon is a completely natural stone.  It is often heat treated, as many gem stones are, to enhance the color and improve the clarity.  But it is not lab grown.  It’s mined in many places, including Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Madagascar.

If you want a birthstone that is mined in the United States, turquoise is your choice.  A lot of turquoise is mined in Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada.  Turquoise is often named for the mine it came from, so you’ll hear about Sleeping Beauty, Kingman, or Carico Lake turquoise.  Generally light to dark blue or green, with or without matrix, this opaque gem stone is sometimes dyed to improve its color.   Stabilizing material may be used, since turquoise is a relatively soft stone.  Ask your jeweler if you want to know about possible enhancements.

Tanzanite is the youngster of all gem stones.  Discovered near Mt. Kilimanjaro in the 1960s, Tanzanite is the fancy name Tiffany & Co. gave to the mineral, Zoisite.  I guess I can’t blame them.  Wouldn’t you rather buy something exotic-sounding  than scientific-sounding?  It’s a pleochroic gem, meaning that it shows more than one color at a time.  You can see blue, purple, and violet.  Almost all tanzanite is heat treated to improve its color, since most of it comes out of the ground brown.  There is only one known source for Tanzanite, and it’s in Tanzania.

Both Zircon and Tanzanite are fairly expensive gemstones, especially in large sizes.  A great alternative is Blue Topaz.  Topaz is mined on most continents, including South America, North America, Asia, and Europe.  The gem stone is generally heated after irradiation to produce the blue color.  Natural blue topaz is relatively rare.  Most topaz is pale yellow, gray, or colorless.  With enhancement, different shades of blue are possible–Sky, Swiss, and London.  Sky blue is the palest and London blue is the darkest.

So all you December “babies”, cheer up!!  Life is good.  Especially if you get one of these beautiful blue gemstones for your birthday.  We have examples of all four at Dearborn Jewelers.  Stop by and see them!

december birthstone2

 

The History and Origins and Stories of Turquoise

Turquoise_Cerillos_Smithsonian

Almost everyone has heard of Turquoise.  It is one of the oldest, most popular gem stones of all time.  Turquoise has a rich and colorful history, and it originates in a few places around the globe.  Studying turquoise is like taking a journey around the world and back in time.  Sounds fun, right?

HISTORY AND ORIGIN

Imagine yourself in the time of King Tut, in Egypt, around 1330BC.  Thousands of laborers worked the mines in the Sinai Peninsula, finding turquoise for the pharaohs.  When King Tut’s treasures were discovered, they included pieces of beautiful blue turquoise.  Although the mines in the Sinai had long been forgotten and depleted, when they were re-discovered in the mid-1800s, people did try to work them.

In the 12th and 13th centuries AD, on the other side of the world, in the land of the Native Americans, turquoise was mined for the Aztec Kings.  It was used for pendants, beads, and for trade.  Proof exists that the prehistoric peoples of the Anasazi and Hohokam tribes mined turquoise in areas we call the Southwest, and traded it to people who carried it hundreds of miles from its origin.

The robin’s egg blue of “Persian turquoise” was treasured by the peoples of Persia (now Iran), Afghanistan, Siberia, and Turkistan (now Turkey).   Turquoise was found in ancient graves dating from the first to third century AD.  And it was from this area that turquoise first made its way to Europe in the late 1600s.  Because it traveled through the land named by the French as Turquie, many believe that the stone got its name by Frenchmen who thought Turquie was its origin.

China’s love of turquoise dates back to the thirteenth century AD.  There it was used mostly for carving and decorative items.   In Tibet, the stone was used for currency and as an amulet.  Although there were a few mines in China, most of their source came from Persia, Tibet, and Turkey.

AMERICAN ORIGIN

Now that we’ve traveled around the world, let’s focus on our own backyard–the Southwestern states of Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.  There are many mines in each of these states and turquoise lovers know the origins of their stones.

NEVADA:

The Ajax Mine, a relatively new mine, yields stones ranging from light blue with dark blue veins to dark green with light blue areas. The Blue Diamond Mine, inaccessible in the winter months, produces light to deep blue turquoise exhibiting swirling or mottled patterns of light and dark blues.  Carico Lake Mine resides on a dried up lake bed, and its turquoise is a clean spring green color with black spider web matrix.

ARIZONA:

Bisbee, Arizona is the site of the Bisbee Mine, closed since the early 1970s, but known for the intense blue color of its turquoise and the fine webbing of its dark matrix.  The Kingman Mine is one of largest domestic turquoise mines.  Its turquoise ranges from light to dark blue with some tints of green.  Its matrix can range from white, light brown to black and it’s frequently flecked with pyrite or quartz.  The Sleeping Beauty Mine produces a soft blue, like a robin’s egg blue, turquoise, with little or no matrix.

NEW MEXICO:

The Cerrillos Mine, 10 miles south of Santa Fe, is the oldest known source of turquoise in America.  The huge deposit was originally exposed at the surface but has now been mined more than 200 feet deep. The turquoise that comes from Cerrillos varies in color from tan and khaki green to blue-green, blue, and even white.

STORIES

My own story of turquoise starts in Tucson, Arizona at the 2015 Gem Show.  Wanting to buy a piece of turquoise, I came upon Helen Shull, owner of Out of Our Mines, in Nevada.  She told me that the piece of turquoise I selected came from a new mine called the Candelaria Pickhandle Mine.  The interesting name comes from the fact that an old pickhandle, left by a miner decades ago, sent the signal that turquoise was present.  Helen and her husband, out walking their land in Nevada, found this old, long forgotten pickhandle and began to mine the area.  My piece is beautiful, blue with golden matrix.

turq1

My favorite story of turquoise came from the Native Americans who saw the blue stone as giving of life and good fortune.  One of their legends says that people danced and rejoiced when the rains came, and their tears of joy mixed with the rain and seeped into Mother Earth.  That mixture became the “fallen sky stone”–Turquoise.

Much of my information for this blog came from http://www.traderoots.com/Turquoise_About.html, if you want to know more about this magical stone.