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
The romance and history of colored gemstones has always fascinated me. I guess I’m just a sucker for a good story. Here are three I thought you might like.
TANZANITE: It’s said that we are all members of the “Tanzanite generation.” Discovered in 1967 by a Masai tribesman in Northern Tanzania, Tanzanite is mined in only one, 4 square kilometer, location. And the mines are getting deeper and harder to mine profitably. We will be the ones who can buy a new Tanzanite. Future generations will only see the stone in heirloom pieces. It’s estimated that Tanzanite One, the largest Tanzanite mining company, has less than 30 years of production left.
The gemstone was named by Henry Platt, great-grandson of the famous Louis C. Tiffany. Tiffany and Co. realized the importance of the gemstone and quickly made themselves the main distributor. Their marketing efforts made tanzanite one of the most popular gemstones by the 1990s. The beautiful gem hit the big screen with a “splash” as the Heart of the Ocean in the movie, Titanic.
MORGANITE: This pink to orange/pink variety of beryl was originally discovered in Pala, California in the early 1900s. It was named for J.P. Morgan, a great financier and collector of minerals. Tiffany’s gem buyer and gemologist, George Kunz, was the man who named the gem, buying up all he could find for his wealthy client. Incidentally, another pink gemstone, discovered at about the same time, was named Kunzite in honor of George Kunz. So, he got his own gemstone, too!
Morganite is the same species of mineral as Emerald and Aquamarine. Like Aquamarine, it is usually an eye-clean stone that can be cut in larger sizes. It’s a good thing, too, because a larger stone usually shows a more saturated color. Pale Morganite often needs that advantage. It’s generally heat-treated to improve its pink color and minimize its yellowish tint. The treatment is stable, so no fading occurs.
ALEXANDRITE: First discovered in Russia’s Ural Mountains in the early 1830s, Alexandrite is the quintessential color-change gemstone. It was found by miners who thought they’d found emeralds, until nighttime came and they were sitting around the campfire. Alexandrite’s trace elements of iron, titanium, and chromium make it greenish in sunlight and reddish in incandescent or fire light. Boy, were those miners surprised when, the next morning, their red gemstones had turned back to green!
Legend says that the gem was found on the 16th birthday of young Alexander II, future Czar of Russia. The stone became the National Gem of Czarist Russia. It was the perfect fit with the red and green color scheme of imperial Russia’s military. Every Russian had to have an Alexandrite. Unfortunately, for all of us, the Russian supply was depleted. Fortunately, other deposits have been found in Sri Lanka, East Africa, and Brazil.
Natural Alexandrites are very expensive, especially in larger sizes. Even the synthetic version is expensive, because it’s difficult to manufacture. But, if you’re lucky enough to own an Alexandrite, you have an “Emerald by day, and a Ruby by night.”