Rocks On: Tanzanite comes into its own




 New York--These days, it’s not often that the gem and jewelry world is treated to a new stone discovery. 

But just 47 years ago, which is practically yesterday in the long history of gemstones, tanzanite was first spotted and brought to the market. Even though this gemstone is young in terms of being on the market, it’s grown in popularity quickly, now showing up in the creations of more designers and brands.

A Masai tribesman first found the gemstone in Tanzania in 1967. Once the industry realized that it was not, in fact, sapphire like many thought, Tiffany & Co. quickly made a deal to become its exclusive distributor. 

The company gave it a name inspired by its country of origin and began marketing it with a major push in 1968. The stone increased in popularity almost immediately due to its high clarity, vivid color that can range from blue to violet to bluish-purple, and its potential for large cuts of stone.

Tanzanite became so popular, in fact, that in 2002 it became the first stone to be added to the birthstone list by the American Gem Trade Association since the list’s creation in 1912.

Now, in addition to its popularity in the U.S. market, Europe and Asia also are proving to be strong markets for the gemstone.

A limited supply
Tanzanite has only one source: it’s mined in the hills of Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania, on a strip of land that’s only about 4.5 miles long. Tanzanite One owns the largest and most advanced mine at the site.

“Geologists have said that at the current rate of mining, there will be no more tanzanite in the next 20 to 25 years,” said Hayley Henning of the Tanzanite Foundation, the nonprofit dedicated to promoting the gemstone.

Tanzanite, with its rich colors that can vary from pure blue to a bluish-purple or violet blue, has been picking up a lot of steam as of late. And the stone still has plenty of room to grow, especially given the fact that, due to a number of factors that include the politics of the region, the price of tanzanite has managed to stay relatively low.

“There are a lot of people who still don’t know what tanzanite is, and there’s still work to be done in terms of education. I think that our industry is working to do that,” Henning said. “It’s a process that will take place over time.”

In recent years, tanzanite has benefitted greatly from the marketing and education efforts of the Tanzanite Foundation. 

Established in 2003 by Tanzanite One, the organization has not only provided education about the stone but also has helped the lives of many people in Tanzania through its community outreach, including through the Masai Ladies’ Jewellery Project, a local orphanage, a primary school and a medical center. 

The organization also created the internationally recognized system for grading tanzanite called the Tanzanite Quality Scale so that retailers would be able to help their customers choose the stone that’s best for them, based on the 4Cs criteria.

However, Henning announced in recent weeks that the Tanzanite Foundation, the first marketing agency of its kind in the colored gemstone world to provide support for one specific stone, would close its U.S. office effective at the end of August.

Henning wouldn’t give much information on the reasons behind the decision, other than to say that it was financial. She did note, however, that the move would not affect supply of the stone, only the marketing efforts.

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