Tantalizing Tanzanite

Jaipur is the leading cutting and polishing centre for most of tanzanite mined in Tanzania. Here’s the history of the gemstone that was discovered in the late sixties.

Formed 500 million years ago, tanzanite is found only in the foothills of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. It was discovered in 1967, near the Tanzanian village of Mtakuja by Goan prospector Manuel De Souza, who initially mistook it for the better-known sapphire. Further testing later identified it as the gem variety of the mineral zoisite. In the late sixties, Henry B. Platt, the then vice president of Tiffany & Co., renamed the blue zoisite, tanzanite.

India’s role as a primary processing hub for the gem strengthened in the late nineties when AFGEM acquired Block C of the mining concession in Tanzania. AFGEM soon became TanzaniteOne and pioneered a proprietary grading system, a sightholder network of manufacturers, and established sales, marketing, and distribution worldwide.

As explained by Mike Nunn, former Chairman and CEO of TanzaniteOne, continuous marketing efforts were vital to keep the conversation focussed on tanzanite. The firm faced many challenges, from invasions by illegal miners to dealing with corruption and bureaucracy regularly.

Since the TanzaniteOne era, various factors, such as a ban on the export of rough gem material, the lack of consumerfacing marketing initiatives, unstable supply, have caused a tumultuous trajectory for tanzanite in terms of value appreciation and price-stability.

Today, the gem is popular in the US among jewellery designers who enjoy playing with the trichroic colour of unheated tanzanite.

In India, where superstition around blue sapphire abounds, tanzanite serves as a more accessible alternative. Consumers who desire statement jewellery with blue gems gravitate towards tanzanite as it delivers superior colour saturation in bigger sizes. Others enjoy the plethora of hues unheated tanzanite offers, sometimes mirroring the ocean, the changing palette of the seasons, or the intoxicating depth of red wine.

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