Africa – does anyone think of gemstones when they hear that name? Diamonds yes, but Gemstones? They should, it’s a continent that provides the world with many truly magnificent gemstones and one that is the most beautiful and treasured is Tanzanite – named after the east African state of Tanzania, the only place in the world where it has been found.
Discovered in 1967 in the Merelani Hills near Arusha in the shadow of Kilimanjaro, this magnificent deep-blue crystal Zoisite has been lying in wait for millions of years grown in deposits on the inside of these unusual elevations. Unseen by man until passing Masai shepherds noticed some sparkling crystals lying in the sun and took them along with them, perhaps thought to be Sapphires. When the stone was tested, it was found to have different properties than Corundum (Sapphire). What the shepherds had found was a crystalline form of the mineral Zoisite.
The search for these magnificent crystals goes on today in Merelani in several fairly small mines – some utilising modern methods, most not! Generally speaking only smaller crystals are found, however, now and again the miners unearth larger ones and it is these that are coveted. The trade of this gemstone is in the hands of licensed merchants, mostly small scale. Approximately 90 percent of all Tanzanite merchants are official members of the International Coloured Gemstone Association and are thus bound by high ethical standards and in this way the exclusive gemstone is not subject to trade in dubious channels, but instead, despite its rarity, passed on along reputable trade routes to establish cutting-centres and subsequently to major jewellers all around the world.
When the magnificent and rare gemstones were first offered to the New York jewellery company Tiffany, not long after it was first discovered, they loved it; however, their marketing team felt that the name Zoisite (or correctly speaking, blue Zoisite) was too close to the word “suicide” and would not market well. They proposed to give it the more marketable name of Tanzanite after the place where it was found. The name quickly became general use because it was Tiffany, who two years after its discovery presented the exclusive gemstone to the general public via a huge advertising campaign.
Tanzanite has a fantastic deep blue and runs from ultramarine blue to light violet-blue. The most coveted colour is blue surrounded by a delicate hint of purple – especially magnificent in sizes over 10 carats. Most raw crystals are somewhat spoiled by a brownish-yellow component; however, a good cutter when he heats the stone carefully to a particular temperature and cuts even more (ensuring the stone has no inclusions in the first place) will have the beautiful colour showing in no time. This burning method of treatment, customary in the trade of Tanzanite, can only be done with perfect stones. Working with Tanzanite can be very difficult for even the best of the cutters. This exclusive gemstone is cut in every imaginable shape from a classical round shape to a number of imaginative designer cuts.
The United States and surrounding areas consume more Tanzanite than any other region in the world. The continuing availability of this stone must be understood by the fact that the geological formations in Tanzania where this is found are quite unique and perhaps not found anywhere else in the world. This means, that someday the supply of Tanzanite will be exhausted. Conservatives have suggested 10 – 12 years for the current life in some of the mines, liberals – 10 plus years!
Tanzanite is not a particular hard gemstone, but quite durable and should always be worn carefully when set into Jewellery. I advise a setting that provides good protection for the stone and ultrasonic cleaning should be discouraged.
The price of Tanzanite continues to rise with less gem quality crystals being mined – supply and demand. Price depends on the depth of colour and size (colour and cut come in to play as does with Diamonds). Tanzanite is often purchased for its investment potential . One of the leading Gemstone producers of Tanzanite announced in 2010 that we would see an increase in the price per caratof 16.5 percent.
The largest of these crystals was found 270 metres underground in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro and measured 220mm by 80mm by 70mm – approximately the size of a brick! No price has been placed on this as I write as more analysis needs to be undertaken. It weighs approx 16, 389 carats. Tentative plans are to have this round stone cut, of course, into highly prized smaller gems.
May I suggest that purchasing should be only considered through a Registered Gemmologist and Valuer thus ensuring that your magnificent piece of “Tanzanite” is thus and not another gemstones “spiked with colour”.
To own a piece of Jewellery with a glorious Tanzanite set whithin sees you joining one of the most exclusive clubs in the world!
Robert Cliff Master Jewellers
Shop 380A Castle Towers
Castle Hill, NSW 2154
p | 02 8850 5400
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w | wwww.robertcliffmasterjewellers.com.au