Where Does Tanzanite Come From?
All the tanzanite ever found comes from one place: Tanzania.
In 1967, a massive wildfire scorched most of the grass and earth in the Merelani Foothills near Mount Kilimanjaro (the largest free-standing mountain in the world). This revealed a cache of rare, bright blue-violet stones, a result of the fire heat-treating the ancient rocks.
Local livestock herders thought the stones were sapphires because of their blue color. When the government approved mining, experts learned the rocks were a previously unknown zoisite variation believed to have formed during Mount Kilimanjaro's first volcanic eruption 585 million years ago.
Seeing the potential commercial appeal of these highly-saturated, "velvety," lustrous stones, Tiffany & Co. inked a deal to become the gem's official international distributor. The famous jeweler rebranded the zoisite as tanzanite, named after where the birthstones were discovered.
A Tiffany & Co. campaign advertised the glamorous new discovery with images of large-cut, vivid tanzanites boasting high-clarity and sparkle. They caught on like the wildfire that led to its initial discovery.
Tanzanite is a zoisite, which is a group of minerals that occur as prismatic crystals. Zoisites dazzle in all sorts of colors, from green, yellow, and pink to gray and colorless varieties.
A huge reason tanzanite is so popular is because it's never just one color. Tanzanite is pleochroic, which means it reflects different colors when you look at it from different angles.
In its raw state, tanzanite is one of the only birthstones to show off trichroism (aka appearing up to three different colors at once). The stone often has shades of brown, blue, and violet.
However, when tanzanite is heated (either naturally by artificial processes), the brown or burgundy color disappears, and violet-blue colors emerge. This makes the stone "dichroic" as it only reflects two colors: blue and violet.
It's rare to find naturally heat-treated tanzanite as zoisites are usually red, brown, or clear. But simply heat-treating the stone at 600 degrees for less than one hour allows the blue, indigo, and violet tones to come out and dazzle.
Though tanzanite is often confused with sapphire because both stones share a deep blue color, sapphire lacks the violet and indigo tones tanzanite is known and cherished for.
Is Tanzanite Right for You?
Tanzanite ranks a 6.5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, so tanzanite jewelry is pretty durable, but can still get scratched during wear and tear. It's also prone to breaking if hit too hard.
Due to its rarity and higher price tag, you're less likely to find tanzanite in casual, everyday jewelry. Unlike the other two December birthstones, tanzanite shines best in fancier fine jewelry and special occasion pieces.
How to Buy Tanzanite
Because tanzanite only forms in one small region, its availability and price are entirely dependent on the supply and events happening there. According to insider studies, current tanzanite production rates may cause one of just four tanzanite mining blocks to deplete its stores before 2042. This means tanzanite may shoot up in price, value, and rarity.
How much does tanzanite cost?
Like diamonds, tanzanite prices increase as you go up in carat weight. The better the stone's clarity, color, and cut, the higher the price.
Deeper blue stones are more valuable than those skewing toward a lavender, violet, or purple-tone majority. Make sure to pay attention to the stone's cut, as some will help emphasize and reflect the blue in the tanzanite gemstone versus the purple.
Lower-quality tanzanites range from $150 to $200 per carat, while high-quality tanzanites may cost $600 to $1,500 per carat. That's why tanzanite is typically set as smaller stones in December birthstone jewelry.
Myths, Lore, and Fun Facts About Tanzanite
Tanzanite was only discovered in 1967, so it hasn't had time to rack up fantastic myths and lore. But these interesting facts are still worth sharing:
- More than 2 million carats of tanzanite were mined before the government began to regulate production and supply. Estimates now put the world's total tanzanite reserves at 109,000,000 carats.
- In 1990, the Tanzanian government split all the tanzanite mines into four sections: Blocks A, B, C, and D. Large operators mine Blocks A and C, while Blocks B and D are reserved for local miners.
- In June 2020, a local miner named Mr. Saniniu Laizer earned a new record for the world's largest rough tanzanite. He unearthed two tanzanites, one weighing over 21 pounds and another over 11 pounds. He then sold these to the government for US $3.35 million.
- Tanzanite is now given on the 24th wedding anniversary.
- The blue and violet tones of tanzanite are said to encourage mental and physical calm, clear communication, introspection, spirituality, and positivity.