Tanzanite

Discovered by an Arusha tailor back in March of 1966, this gemstone was first mistaken for being a Sapphire. While this fascinating type of zoisite was discovered in the Merelani mine, the gem itself was actually named by Tiffany and Company after the country in which it was found, in northern Tanzania.

The Merelani deposit was actually very hard to reach. Hidden in the Usumburu Mountains, which act as a border to the Umba Valley, this area is made up of smaller mountain peaks and a plain broken up by many hills. Resting dead center between the infamous landmarks of Mount Kilimanjaro and the Olduvai Gorge, the area is inhabited by Masai people and lies just northwest, about 50 kilometers,from the closest town of Arusha.

While the mineral is fairly soft ranging from a 6 to a 6.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, the crystals of Tanzanite are found within the heavy zones of extremely tough rock. It is because of its softness that it will fracture quite easily. When being removed, it will commonly break into smaller pieces. When on the hunt for Tanzanite various tools are used such as picks, shovels, iron bars, and even jackhammers that are air compressed. When mining Tanzanite, it is extremely rare to find a clean stone that will possess any larger than a two carat gem because of its softness.

As for the variety of colors when it comes to Tanzanite, it can be found in brown, gray, violet, blue, tints of green and a reddish-purple. Many are particularly interested in this gem because of its pleochroism. This makes it so that when the gem is rotated in different directions, the stone will reflect changes in its coloring. For example, it could go from reddish purple, to a deeper purple, to more of a blue tone. It can also be placed in an oven and when heated over 620 °c, this will make the reddish-purple tones appear more like a rich violet-blue color. Some will also turn into the color of a sapphire. While heating Tanzanite creates these beautiful tones, the heat also has a downfall because it will reduce pleochroism. It is also extremely sensitive to light which causes the gem to shift in color.

Originally, Tanzanite could only be purchased out of Tanzania, Kenya, as well as the United States. You could purchase a carat for around $20. However, as time went on, clean gems back in the 1980s would sell for around $1000 per carat. Such a difference in price was because of the short supply. Since then, the price of Tanzanite often fluctuates and does so more often than any other gem. This is solely due to the fact that production of the gem within the mines is very irregular.

When purchased in today's market, it is common to find this gem shaped and cut in many different styles. The most common are cushions and ovals, but round cuts, emerald cuts, and so on, are also popular. The cabochon cut is less likely to be seen.


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