50 years of Tanzanite; All You Need To Know About This Rare Blue Gemstone
Ever since Tanzanite, a rare blue gemstone today, was first discovered in 1967, it has been admired for its truly unique beauty. The beautiful Blue Tanzanite Stone traces its way back to Tanzania, at the base of the mighty Mt. Kilimanjaro.
What most people don’t know is that ‘Tanzanite’ is a commercial name for the ‘Blue Zoisite’, coined by the very famous Tiffany and Company. Some people refer to Tanzanite as the Birthstone for December, but the world recognizes it as the sparkling rare blue gemstone.
What is Tanzanite?
Tanzanite is a part of the Zoisite minerals family or the silicate family. The Zoisite mineral can naturally be found in many shades and hues like pink, green, blue etc. or may even be colorless.
The Tanzanite Stone lies between shades of blue to a purple-bluish tinge. Although it is not as old as the other gemstones, Tanzanite has been recognized as the 2nd most admired and popular gemstone. The popularity of Tanzanite can be attributed to its rare color and the fact that a globally reputed brand like Tiffany, strongly vouched for it.
Tanzanite is a rare multi-dimensional color gemstone that reflects vibrant hues of blues and violets. What makes this one of the rarest gemstones is that the likelihood of finding tanzanite anywhere else except the Mererani Hills in Arusha, Tanzania is almost impossible.
The history and lore surrounding Tanzanite
Tanzanite comes from a legend which says that when lightning struck the foothills of the Mererani Hills, a wildfire engulfed the grasslands around the area. Once the fire died, the local herders returned to the area and discovered what was left behind were sparkling blue stones; the rare gemstone we call Tanzanite.
It was later discovered by a Portuguese geologist who studied the stone and found out that it was a Zoisite mineral. Tiffany and Co. took over the stone and introduced it to the world. Today, other smaller gemstone dealers are also legally mining and supplying Tanzanite. However, it’s not available in very large quantity and only a hundred and fifty miners have been granted the license to mine it.
The Tanzanite birthstone was declared as a birthstone for December by the American Gem Trade Association in 2002. It is the birthstone for the zodiac signs, Aries and Pisces. Tanzanite shares its birthstone of December status with 2 other blue gems, Turquoise and Zircon.
This rare blue gemstone has also gained a significant position in Feng Shui, signifying purity and strength. Keeping this rare blue gemstone in a room is believed to attract calmness and peace and its presence in the workplace is believed to relieve stress and maximize productivity. Tanzanite has also found its place in the world of healing crystals, spiritual energy stones, Chakra healing stones and also for physical healing.
How is Tanzanite mined?
Tanzanite is mined and found in a very small region that is spread across just 4 km in width and 2 km in length.
After the Tanzanite stone was discovered in 1967, approximately 2 million carats of the rare blue gemstone were mined in Tanzania. These mines were then nationalized by the government of Tanzania in 1971. There is only a limited resource for Tanzanite and thus a streamlined mining process had to be put in place.
In 1990, the government of Tanzania divided the mining area into 4 categories namely Blocks A, B, C and D. The blocks were divided between the large operators and the local miners. For instance, The Tanzanite Experience has its mine located in Block D.
However, the rapid pace at which tanzanite is being mined may soon lead to the depletion of the gemstone and a complete exhaustion of the supply. It is thus also referred to as the “gemstone of a generation”.
Tanzanite Vs Other Minerals (Diamond and Sapphire)
Tanzanite is not the only blue gemstone, but is considered unique and exclusive because of its very rare ‘blue’. The range of blue tones that the Tanzanite stone offers is unique to it and sometimes a violet or purple tinge may also be seen.
In comparison to other minerals, like Diamond or Sapphire, Tanzanite stands out. Although Sapphire is still the most popular blue gemstone, and Tanzanite is second, the fact that tanzanite is a much ‘newer’ stone adds to its popularity significance.
Another reason that may have enhanced Tanzanite’s popularity is that it is equally, and sometimes more beautiful, than Sapphire, yet costs much lesser.
Additionally, Tanzanite is an all naturally created gemstone, as compared to the widely available Sapphire created in a lab. The raw, natural and authenticity of Tanzanite make it more attractive.
In comparison to a Diamond, Tanzanite is much cheaper and more ‘modern’. Original diamonds are extremely expensive and what you may pay for a tiny diamond could bring you a much larger Tanzanite.
While a diamond will always be considered as the ‘classic’ and ‘timeless’ gemstone, Tanzanite has a raw and very new look to it. The color, here again, makes it a popular choice.
Properties of Tanzanite
A wide range of Chemical and Physical Tanzanite properties have been extensively studied by geologists and researchers. Let’s discuss the 3 most distinct Tanzanite properties:
It is the color of Tanzanite that is most distinctly unique to it. Although a rare blue gemstone, Tanzanite is actually a Pleochroic gem. Pleochroism is a physical Tanzanite property that allows the gemstone to appear to be a different color when viewed from different directions.
A single piece of Tanzanite can appear blue, violet or even red, depending on which direction we are looking from. Some can display 2, 3 or even more different shades from different directions.
A brilliant blue remains the most sought-after color of Tanzanite and also yields the highest value. Cutting a Tanzanite thus requires extreme skills to ensure that the blue color is maximized.
Tanzanite is a rare blue gemstone that looks beautiful in jewelry. However, the use of tanzanite must be restricted to jewelry that is worn on special occasion or ones that do not go under heavy abrasion or impact. Thus, earrings and pendants are preferred over rings.
The durability of a gemstone is measured in terms of hardness, or it’s scratch resistance. Tanzanite properties in terms of durability or hardness are about 6.5 on, which is low for daily wear as it may easily get scratched. However, the design of the ring, if made in such a way that the Tanzanite stone does not receive any direct pressure or impact, will increase its durability.
The other measure of durability is toughness or the breakage resistance. Every Tanzanite stone has at least one direction, which if directly impacted may lead to a break or chipping. However, as mentioned earlier, the design plays an important role in ascertaining direct impact to the stone.
The stone is also sensitive to extreme changes in temperature and may break as a result too. Our Tanzanite buying guide delves deeper into this concept. Taking caution while wearing tanzanite is thus required.
The third measure of durability for Tanzanite is color stability. Tanzanite scores well on this scale. However, like most gemstones, you must keep it away from acids or chemicals as they damage the stone. Tanzanite stones that have been heat treated are more stable and are not affected by normal exposure to light or daily temperature changes.
Like most gemstones finding smaller tanzanite stones are much easier as they are available in abundance. The same can’t be said about the large pieces of Tanzanite. Most available Tanzanite stones are around 5 carats. Tanzanite stones that are more than 50 carats are very rare.
The smaller stones are usually cut for commercial jewelry. On the other hand, stones that have a very distinct coloring are usually used for designer jewelry. Big Tanzanite stones that have a valuable distinct color are often bought by collectors, investors or even museums. In fact, the size of the Tanzanite also directly affects the color; the larger the stone, the larger the distance the light travels through it. Larger Tanzanite stones thus display a richer blue color.
Is it all heat treated?
Heat treatment is common practice for almost all tanzanite stones available in the market for commercial buying and selling. The heat treatment enhances the color or sometimes produces the rare blue color the gemstone is well known for. However, naturally blue colored Tanzanite stones can also be found with miners. Some buyers prefer the non treated tanzanite to the heat treated one.
Tanzanite found in the markets, in jewelry settings and otherwise, are all usually heat treated; and most customers and retailers prefer the heat treated Tanzanite for the improved color.
Real Vs Fake Tanzanite: How to Tell the real from the fake
A common question that both retailers and customers of rare gemstones have is, is it real or fake? It’s no secret that fake gemstones are as easily available as the real ones. So how can retailers and customers ascertain whether or not a tanzanite stone is real or fake?
When it comes to tanzanite, many people sell Forsterite instead, a mineral that can be produced in the color and with similar properties as the Tanzanite stone. Corantine is another blue synthetic stone that may be mistaken as Tanzanite.
Tanzanite quality is measured by studying the color, tone and saturation of it. The Grading system of Tanzanite is represented in the picture below:
When Buying Tanzanite, buyers must consider the 4 C’s that ascertain the quality, these are:
This includes the hue and saturation. Tanzanite is very rarely only blue and usually has a tinge of violet. The stone color is always checked as a combination of both colors. vB or violetish blue is used to denote Tanzanite that has 50% blue under white light. On the other hand, bV or bluish violet is used for one that is majorly violet.
This includes the inclusions or the presence of any natural flaws within the stone. It ranges from lowest to highest- Heavily Included (HI), Moderately Included (MI), Slightly Included (SI) and Eye Clean (EC).
This includes the finish, proportion, shape and the brilliance of the stone. These cuts are categorized as Too Deep, Too Shallow or Well Cut.
Refers to the weight of the gemstone. 1 carat is 1/5 of a gram and has 100 points. The depth of the stone also changes the carat weight, even though the stones may be identical.
Where Can You Buy Tanzanite?
If you are planning to buy Tanzanite, the beautiful rare blue gemstone, to add to your valuable possessions, it is important you deal with only reputable Tanzanite dealers who offer genuine goods. As discussed earlier, there are a lot of retailers selling fake Tanzanite, under the guise of being real, so if you are not too sure about how to test the quality, the safest bet is to buy Tanzanite from legal, trusted retailers such as Tanzanite Experience.
While you’re at it visit their museum, it’s one of the many attractions in Arusha. In the museum, you get to learn more about this beautiful blue gemstone.