Tanzanite is an extraordinary gemstone, defined as much by its rarity as its beauty. Its kaleidoscopic blue and purple tones are mesmerising and make it a greatly sought after gem. It was first discovered and identified as recently as 1967 and is found in only one place in the entire globe: the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in eastern Africa. It is said that these deposits will run dry within the next thirty years, making it a thousand times rarer then diamond. Tanzanite is believed to be a powerful gemstone able to boost energy and vitality, to develop spirituality and stimulate psychic communication.
What is Tanzanite?
Tanzanite is a crystalline gemstone. It is a variety of the mineral zoisite, which is generally a relatively abundant mineral; nevertheless the additional presence of the chemical element vanadium, together with unique geological conditions, make Tanzanite an extremely rare gem.
Tanzanite’s mesmerizing colours
It is admired for its lush blue velvet to rich royal purple tones, often compared to those of sapphires. In its rough state Tanaznite is usually reddish-brown and requires an artificial high temperature treatment to bring to light the stone’s blue-violet colours.
It is marvelled at for its strong trichroism, this means that the gem radiates three different mesmerizing colours depending on the crystal’s orientation (its crystal axes) and lighting conditions. Once cut and polished, all Tanzanite gemstones will be blue, violet and bronze; the intensity of these colours will change according to the lighting.
Rarely, Tanzanite stones of a green colour are also found; these are especially valued by collectors as extremely unusual.
Tanzanite, a delicate gemstone
Tanzanite measures a mere 6.5 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, which makes it a relatively soft and delicate stone. It tends to break when struck. Therefore, though it can be used in any type of jewelry, it is not recommended for jewelry which may be subjected to knocks and scratches. Special care should be taken when cleaning Tanzanite. Warm, soapy water is safe to use, while steam and ultrasonic cleaners are to be avoided.
Where can Tanzanite be found?
The only place in the entire world where it can be found is a mere 20 sq kilometre area in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, eastern Africa. Tanzanite’s geology is considered to be totally unique and unrepeatable, to the extent that the formation of the gemstone is considered ‘more astounding than the stone itself’.
The discovery of Tanzanite
The formation of Tanzanite took over 585 million years, following amazing processes caused by the combination of extreme heat and pressure from massive underground tectonic forces. However the gemstone was discovered in northern Tanzania as recently as 1967, and was instantly acclaimed by specialists the ‘gemstone of the twentieth century’.
More specifically, Tanzanite was first noticed on the flat-topped inselbergs of the Merelani Hills, near Mount Kilimanjaro and the city of Arusha. Deep-blue crystals sparkling in sunlight caught the eye of passing Masai shepherds who collected them and took them with them. Tananite was not immediately recognized as such, at first it was thought to be olivine, then dumortierite among others, until a Tanzanian government geologist based in Dodoma named Ian McCloud properly identified it as a different and unique mineral.
Upon discovery, the gemstone was scientifically called ‘blue zoisite’. As at times this could sound too similar to ‘blue suicide’, Tiffany & Co renamed the gemstone ‘Tanzanite’ to honour its Tanzanian origins.
Is Tanzanite rare?
Tanzanite gems are said to be one thousand times rarer than Diamonds. These gems are found and mined in only one place on the face of this globe, buried within a labyrinth of intricate folds beneath the surface of the earth. Its sole deposit, in Tanzania, barely covers 20 sq kilometres.
Top quality sizes and colours are rare and becoming even rarer. Furthermore, this gem is the product of a unique geological phenomenon, with fewer than a million to one chances of being replicated. Based on geological calculations, many claim that the world’s supply of Tanzanite will be exhausted within the next thirty years or so.
The extraction of Tanzanite
Tanzanite is recovered from pegmatitic veins which under immense pressure have broken into smaller pieces known as boudins, which make straight horizontal shafts within the earth. It is in minute pockets within these boudins that gems can be found, which are impractical for mining.
Initially, Tanzanite would be collected on the surface. However, this scavenger-style mining quickly led to having pits and later tunnels enabling miners to extract gems hundreds of metres below the surface.
Mines were nationalized in 1971; and it is estimated that by 1989 30,000 artisanal miners were working in the area. In 1990, the Tanzanian government made the decision to curb irregular mining and took control by issuing licenses to mine and by dividing the Merelani mining area into four blocks: A, B, C and D. Blocks A and C were awarded to large mining companies, while Blocks B and D to small scale miners. The deepest tunnels are found in Block D, where 6,000 miners are said to work. Overall, about 70,000 people work in the whole mining area today. This slender sliver of ground, just 2km deep and 8km wide, is Tanzania’s most significant gem mining area.
Tananite is a trichroic gem, which means that its physical properties have it appear to be three different colours when viewed from different directions or under different lights. This characteristic of the stone complicates the cutting process as the skilled gemcutter will evaluate the rough stone to determine how to cut it at an orientation which will yield a vivid blue top colour and thus affect the value of the gem.
A rough stone of Tanzanite has to be gently heated to about 520 degrees Celsius in order to reveal its blue-violet tones. Usually, the stones are cut and polished prior to being heated as fractures and abrasions may otherwise occur. This means that the gemcutter has to orient the rough stone for its optimal colour before it is exposed to high temperatures and the colour changes.
Properties of Tanzanite
Physically, Tanzanite is a powerful gemstone to use for coping with depression, panic and anxiety. It may also be used to relieve or prevent headaches, as an anti-inflammatory or more generally to support the immune system.
Tanzanite’s kaleidoscopic blue-purple glow intensifies one’s inner light, boosting energy, vitality and health. It also eases stress as it encourages us to slow down. The stillness that’s created can help the quieter sides of one’s personality emerge, allowing a more balanced state of being.
When used in the workplace, it is a calming and soothing stone, it helps overcome communication issues and bestows confidence in solving problems when at first glance there may seems unsolvable. It is said to be especially beneficial for workaholics and the overworked as it calms an overactive mind, encouraging a more organized, less stressful and healthier working life.
Tanzanite is the birthstone for December. It represents a happy life filled with good fortune.
Tanzanite’s elements are Water and Fire. Its blue hues activate the Water energy, that of stillness, quiet and purification. The Water element carries with it the power of rebirth and regeneration as it is the energy of the circle of life. Tanzanite’s violet hues, on the other hand, activate Fire Energy. This is the element of action, passion and emotion and its energy is able to enhance one’s standing in their family and community.
Tanzanite primarily corresponds to the Throat Chakra, as it carries a predominantly blue crystal energy. This chakra, often referred to as the ‘voice of the body’, when open and in balance, allows us to express what we feel and think. Therefore, it enables us to more easily communicate emotions, beliefs and ideas which eases the flow of energy within the body and spirit. If this chakra is blocked, it affects all other chakras, throwing them off balance. Tanzanite can be used to treat possible imbalances, aiding us in having our energy flow.
This gemstone also stimulates the Brow (or Third Eye) Chakra and the Crown Chakra. These are respectively the chakras in which our consciousness is located and the fountainhead of our beliefs and source of our spirituality. The Brow Chakra directs our everyday awareness of the world and how we relate to ourselves. When this chakra is in balance our internal communication and thoughts are vibrant and very healthy, we are therefore open to new dreams, visions and ideas. The Crown Chakra, found at the top of our head, allows access to the universe beyond our bodies, connecting us to the higher planes of existence and our place in the universe. It is the source of universal energy and truth and assists us in coping with setbacks, as it helps us understand these as essentially part of everyday life.
Tanzanite is a valuable metaphysical crystal for exploring the spirit; it is one of the principal gems used for the development of spirituality. It has a high vibrational energy which attracts protection and safety when connecting with higher realms. It in fact opens up psychic communication gradually so that impressions do not become overwhelming. It is an exceptional conductor for bringing together heart and mind, and allows for profound meditation. If regularly used to meditate, Tanzanite may awaken dormant psychic abilities and help develop intuition.
For tanzanite to be effective, it should be kept on one’s body throughout the day, even after meditation, and kept close while sleeping. To achieve best results, a piece of the gemstone can be placed in a pocket or tucked under the pillow at night.
Around the world and across history
Tanzania – The Masai people will be forever associated to Tanzanite as they were the first to discover it and, by coincidence, the Masai consider blue a sacred spiritual colour. Blue beads and robes were traditionally given as a gift to women who had born children. This custom has since been adapted and nowadays Masai chiefs bestow Tanzanite to wives on the birth of a baby, in sign of a blessing for a positive, healthy and successful life.