One of the Newest and Bluest of Gems
is the “new kid on the block” of the gemstone kingdom. Discovered in
Tanzania in 1967 and introduced to the American market in 1969,
tanzanite has catapulted to incredible popularity in a very short amount
of time. It was named in honor of the country in which it was found and
introduced in the United States for the first time by Tiffany & Co.
Available in colors ranging from blue to violet to purple, few gems can
rival tanzanite’s depth of hue and purity of color.
Tanzanite owes much of its beauty to an unusual
gemological property called pleochroism, the ability to exhibit more
than one color. When viewed from different directions, tanzanite can
look blue, violet, purple, bronze or gray. Before a tanzanite is
faceted, the gemstone cutter studies the crystal and decides which
directional orientation will show the best color. Most cutters will try
to produce a pure blue tanzanite, but cutting to achieve a blue color
sacrifices a lot of weight and results in a smaller and more costly
finished gem. Yet the blue of a well-cut tanzanite is so breathtaking
that most agree the sacrifice is well worth it. Tanzanite shows its
strongest colors in sizes of 4 to 5 carats and larger. Smaller
tanzanites are usually soft blue, light violet or lilac purple.
Tanzanite is sometimes used as an alternate for the traditional
December birthstones turquoise and zircon.
Tanzanite is mined in only one location in the world, the Merelani
Hills of Tanzania, in eastern Africa.
Virtually all tanzanite is gently heated to bring out its rich blue,
violet and purple hues. Heating also minimizes the gem’s bronze or
Tanzanite is a relatively hard gemstone, but it is not equally
durable. Tanzanite may chip or break if exposed to moderate blows or
sudden changes in temperature. It is best suited for wear in earrings
and pendants. When mounted in a ring or bracelet, special attention
should be paid to ensure the stone is well-protected. Tanzanite should
never be cleaned with an ultrasonic or steam machine. Tanzanite can be
cleaned with most any commercial jewelry cleaner or plain soap and warm
water using a soft brush. Be sure to rinse and dry thoroughly after
Photo: Robert Weldon,
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