Discovery of Tanzanite
Tanzanite was discovered in 1967 in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Mererani in northern Tanzania.
As to who discovered it, that is still a topic for debate.
Some accounts of Tanzanite discovery indicate that Ali Juuyawatu, a Maasai herdsman, discovered Tanzanite in 1967. The stories claim that he spotted a piece of the blue crystal and shared his find with Manuel D’Souza, a local gemstone prospector who was working in the region.
D’Souza then went ahead and presented the stones to a geologist in Nairobi, John Saul. Further steps were taken before the material was found to be a new variety of zoisite mineral.
Although the media widely recognizes D’Souza as the man who discovered Tanzanite, the Tanzanian government, on the other hand, has a different view. According to the Government of Tanzania, Jumanne Ngoma discovered Tanzanite.
Initial recognition came from Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in 1980 and later in 1984 where he was given a certificate of recognition for his discovery.
Before his death on January 30th, 2019, the fifth phase government further honoured Ngoma in 2018 where a sum of $44,000 was awarded to Ngoma by President John Pombe Magufuli. President Magufuli called him “the hero of the nation who has for long been forgotten and neglected.”
Jumanne discovered Tanzanite in Mererani in 1967 before the gemstone was tested at the government laboratory in Dodoma where the government geologist, Mr Ian MacCloud confirmed it as zoisite mineral.
How was Tanzanite formed?
The Maasai tribe believes that God created Tanzanite by using lightning to strike fire to the grassland which turned the rocks inside the planet into a blue-violet colour as the fire cooled.
Geologists, on the other hand, believe that Tanzanite was created by a massive tectonic plate activity and intense heat. The random incorporation of the vanadium gave Tanzanite the blue and violet colour that we know.
How Rare is Tanzanite?
Tanzania is the world’s only source of Tanzanite, making Tanzanite a very rare gem. Geologists believe that the chemical environment required to form Tanzanite is so unique that the probability of discovering another Tanzanite deposit is next to impossible. The formation event is so unique, it is often described as a “geological phenomenon”.
In 1968, Tiffany & Co introduced the gemstone to the market and named it Tanzanite after its country of origin and further calling it "The gemstone find of the century".
In 2002, Tanzanite was chosen as a birthstone for December by the American Gem Trade Association, the first change made to their birthstone list since the last change in 1912.
In 2006, a research was done and it indicated that at the current production rates and estimated resource, the Tanzanite deposit has a life expectancy of around 20 years (Olivier, 2006)
While it’s still a very young gemstone, Tanzanite’s popularity exceeds some of the long-known gemstones.
Why now is the best time to buy Tanzanite?
With only one known source in the world, the size of the Tanzanite deposit will continue to diminish as Tanzanite continues to grow in popularity. While the global demand for Tanzanite grows, the supply is limited to what the Mererani Hills has to offer. As of 2006, the Tanzanite deposits in Mererani were estimated to have a life expectancy of 20 years only.
The growing demand versus limited supply has already resulted in price increase as Tanzanite gains popularity in the European, Caribbean and Asian markets in addition to the traditional US market.
The rise in demand for Tanzanite is not only attributed to its beauty factors but also its relative cheapness as compared to a similar-looking but more expensive Sapphire. The gemstones resemble in colour but differ in hardness where Tanzanite is softer than Sapphire.
The hardness of Sapphire is one of the factors for its higher price even though Tanzanite is the rarer of the two. Tanzanite’s discovery came as an alternative to Sapphire, and those who like blue gemstones were finally presented with a cost-effective but rare choice in Tanzanite.
Further price changes are to be expected as demand continues to grow while Tanzanite supply drops.
It is expected that large and quality gemstones will also become rare as the deposits dry up. Currently, one can find Tanzanite gemstone in different sizes and shapes. As time goes by, larger gemstones will be rare and very expensive to find.
If you are looking to buy Tanzanite of your preferred size and high-quality at a reasonable price, now is a good time to do so.