Gemstone Spotlight: Tanzanite

by: Ben Tseytlin - on Antiques & Jewelry

Tanzanite is a gemstone that few people know about, and yet, it has a greater rarity than diamonds. Discovered by the Maasai people near the Mountain of Kilimanjaro, who initially confused them with sapphires, this fabulous blue stone has some truly unique properties.

Tanzanite Origins

Unlike other gems, which have been known and used for thousands of years, tanzanite is extremely recent, having been discovered during the 1960s. It is named after the East African nation of Tanzania, where it was found. It is the byproduct of hundreds of millions of years of geologic activity, where it crystallized within the crust of the Earth, slowly making its way to the top. At some point lighting which struck the Tanzanian hillsides created a fire which burned the surrounding countryside, and once it subsided, herdsman working with their cows discovered an unusual bluish glow which shown through the normally brown rocks and stone on the burnt ground. The herdsmen were excited, because among the Maasai blue is a sacred color, and it was given to women who had recently gave birth as a measure of good fortune.

Shopping For Tanzanite

Although it comes in purple and violet, blue is the color of choice, as it is the most prized. The stone is capable of altering its color when seen from various angles, which means blue may suddenly become red. The gem will also change depending on the light source it’s exposed to, with candle and sunlight producing a burgundy colored hue.

When shopping for tanzanite the gem you purchase should be clear of inclusions and blemishes. Any stone that has fractures or flaws should be avoided. Although tanzanite is a thousand times rarer than diamonds and sapphires, it is still more affordable. This is largely because diamonds and sapphires have been known to man for much longer and their industries are tightly controlled. Long term, tanzanite is the better buy, as its greater rarity and the fact that it can only be found in Tanzania makes it probably one of the rarest stones on Earth. Once more people become aware of it, and its potential industrial uses, its value could increase substantially. But this is not something that should be expected in the near term.

How To Wear Tanzanite

Tanzanite isn’t the hardest gem, but it is hard enough to be used in jewelry. It is excellent for rings, necklaces, earrings and pendants. A growing number of couples are using it for engagement rings, and gems which have edges which are low or rounded may be worn frequently while those with cornered shapes, similar to emerald cuts have a higher likelihood of being chipped.

How To Care For Tanzanite

Tanzanite should be kept away from other stones like sapphires or diamonds so it isn’t scratched by them. Additionally, owners should avoid exposing it to sudden changes in temperature or extreme heat. Acid is equally hazardous, and even steam and ultrasonic devices should not be used. To clean it all you need is soap and water with a cloth that is soft.