|The Story of Tanzanite
It is very unusual when a recently discovered gemstone has a huge impact on the world gemstone market. It happened with paraiba tourmaline in the 1990's. But the case of tanzanite in the 1960's is even more intriguing.
Tanzanite, a rare violet-blue form of the mineral zoisite, was first discovered in 1967 in Tanzania. East Africa remains the only source for tanzanite and the supply is extremely limited. The limited supply, combined with soaring demand has resulted in constant premium prices.
The immense popularity of tanzanite is not surprising at all. Originally the gem was known by the more pedestrian name, "blue zoisite." But that name can be a bit deceiving, since tanzanite is rarely blue in nature. In its natural state, it is a rather common shade of brown, and the violet blue is produced through low level heat treatment. Tanzanite can be known to be quite delicate and soft compared to other hard-wearing gems. Tanzanite's hardness level is actually very similar to emeralds, it is rated a 6.5 - 7 on the Mohs hardness scale and with delicate cleavage. But it is still more durable than steel (slightly softer than quartz).
Top grade, certified faceted Tanzanite gems can come to sell for prices up to $1200 a carat, especially with larger premium tanzanite gems.
Tiffany showed great enthusiasm and hype for tanzanite as Henry Platt, the grandson of Louis Comfort Tiffany, described tanzanite as being "the most beautiful blue stone to be discovered in over 2000 years."
The popularity of Tanzanite has grown not only because of the marketing success but because of the gem itself. Tanzanite is actually much rarer than diamond and large, high grade specimens are becoming harder and harder to find as tanzanite's rarity continues to excel.
The successful marketing of tanzanite combined with limited supplies is fetching astonishing prices for the gem in the market. But prices reached new highs around 1997 when a South African group of investors bought into tanzanite mining by purchasing a mining section called Block C. They named their company TanzaniteOne and attempted to apply lessons they learned and researched from De Beers: trying to control and influence as much of the supply market as possible, and they also put heavy resources into trying to build a falsely perceived consumer knowledge base.
TanzaniteOne once had the idea to market tanzanite as 'the' birthstone. Tanzanite had already been added as an alternate birthstone for December by the American Gem Trade Association in 2002. But TanzaniteOne wanted to achieve greater recognition -- they wanted tanzanite to be given on the birth of every child, regardless of month, using the slogan "Be Born to Tanzanite," and making connections to Masai tribal birth practices. One can only hope that the general consumer population can withstand the attempted business tactics of TanzaniteOne and cherish tanzanite for its own natural beauty.
For those who love colored gemstones, tanzanite certainly has its place. Predictions are that the mines in northern Tanzania will be worked out within 15 years, so it is certainly worth investing into tanzanite now; especially with large, premium and "intense" top grade tanzanite gems.
- First Published: December-05-2007
- Last Updated: July-18-2012
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