Behind the Gemstone: Tanzanite

 Tanzanite has been around a little more than 54 years and in that time it rivaled sapphire and ruby in popularity.


rough tanzanite
Rough Tanzanite (Image accessed via The Rare Gemstone Company)
  This blue/violet gem is truly like no other. It can form in larger crystals making larger center stones possible. It is blessed with excellent natural clarity AND natural transparency so natural light is unimpeded as it dances around the stone adding to its stunning look.
AAA quality cut tanzanite
Cut Tanzanite sourced by Michael Valitutti for the Gems en Vogue collection.
Though rarely written about, Tanzanite also possesses three other important attributes that add to its universal appeal:
  • First, tanzanite can be cut into a variety of shapes like trilliums, emerald cut, heart shape, marquise cut, etc. Its crystal habit and natural clarity make this possible. Unbeknownst to most people, many gems are limited into what practical shapes are available; tanzanite allows us to be creative.
  • Second, tanzanite maintains its color over a wide range of sizes (only if the original crystal rough was dark). This is very important because it’s possible to get a cluster of smaller sizes tanzanite with the same intensity as a single larger stone.
  • Third, and perhaps the most important, is the natural ability of tanzanite to “mix” the cool blue color with the warmer fuchsia color.
  Tanzanite is very pleochroic which means it splits light into different rays which emit different colors. Your human eye “mixes” these two colors together and produces the blue/violet color of tanzanite we see. This is the reason you love this stones color; it’s warm and cool at the same time.
Michael Valitutti sorting raw tanzanite gems
Michael Valitutti sorting loose Tanzanite gemstones.
Tanzanite was accidently discovered in 1967 by Masai tribesman who noticed a cluster of intense blue/violet crystals embedded in the ground in Merelani, northern Tanzania near Mount Kilimanjaro. Everyone thought that they had discovered fine sapphire but it was GIA that correctly identified this new variety of the mineral Zoisite. The tanzanite found in 1967 was the result of lightning strikes heating the ground and changing the color of the zoisite crystals. This area of Tanzania is famous for lightning strikes. Tiffany and Company coined the name Tanzanite and began marketing it in 1968 with a massive ad campaign; it was an instant hit.
tanzanite mine location
The blue dot labeled Merelani is the location of the only Tanzanite mine location (Image accessed via SearchMin)

Tanzanite has only been found in one area of the world and is still mined in the same district it was discovered, a 4 KM area in Merelani. Approx two years ago the Tanzanian government built a wall surrounding the mine site in order to prevent poaching and manage this precious one-location gem. This has caused a decrease in supply resulting in increased prices especially for finer goods.