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 1990s. But the case of tanzanite in the 1960s 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 a soaring demand has resulted in constantly high prices.
The immense popularity of tanzanite is not surprising at all. Originally the gem was known by the more pedestrian name, "blue zoisite". Though tanzanite is blue, it is routinely heated to enhance the blue and eliminate natural yellow and brown tints. Tanzanite's hardness level is similar to that of emerald; it is rated 6.5 to 7 on the Mohs hardness scale and like diamond, it has perfect cleavage. Tanzanite is more delicate than quartz, but it is still more durable than steel.
Top grade, certified faceted tanzanite gems can sell for prices up to $1200 per carat, especially large tanzanite gems. Tanzanite is very rare and the demand for it has really pushed its price up. Tanzanite got its first big push into the market with the help of Tiffany & Co., who gave it the name "tanzanite" and mounted a major advertising campaign in 1969.
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 also 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 availability continues to decrease.
The successful marketing of tanzanite combined with limited supply causes tanzanite to fetch astonishing prices in the market. 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 had learned and researched from De Beers; to control and influence as much of the supply market as possible.
TanzaniteOne once had the idea to market tanzanite as 'the' birthstone. Tanzanite had already been added as an alternative 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 the month. So they used the slogan "Be Born to Tanzanite", and made connections to Masai tribal birth practices.
However, we believe that tanzanite should be cherished for its own natural beauty, rather than heavily marketed. 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 in tanzanite now; especially large and "intense" top grade tanzanite gems.
- First Published: December-05-2007
- Last Updated: August-30-2017
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