Ever seen a clear night sky away from the city lights? The deep swathes of velvety blue and flowing violet swirl together into a richness artists have tried to capture for centuries. Stars are flung across the heavens: points of light glimmering in white and yellow and red. I could get lost gazing up into that. Now look down into a fine tanzanite and tell me you don’t see the same thing.
Tanzanite got its start in jewelry about the same time I did. In fact, it was only discovered at the tail end of 1967, and didn’t really hit the market until the early 1970s. What’s so impressive about that? In less than fifty years, tanzanite has gone from literally unknown to one of the most in-demand gemstones in the world. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I’m used to trends coming and going. Blue topaz, charm bracelets, eight-tracks – there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, but they all had their heyday and have since tapered off. Tanzanite has maintained this furious pace since it hit its stride, and it hasn’t let up. And there’s no reason it should. Tanzanite is gorgeous, and the jewelry world is bettered by its presence.
While the finest tanzanites are known for captivating blues, tanzanite has a lot to offer even in less than top grade. Pastel cool tones like lavender and periwinkle are also part of tanzanite’s color palate. Those kinds of colors really stand out in platinum or white gold with just a touch diamond here and there. It looks clean and crisp as a winter morning and encapsulates the beauty of that season to me. Tanzanite even comes in some purples that could hold their own in a lineup of amethysts.
So where did tanzanite come from, and why was it only discovered forty-some years ago? Well, tanzanite is a variety of the mineral zoisite, which has been known for over two hundred years. But it had only ever been found in browns and greens and the occasional pink. It’s been mined in deposits from Norway to Pakistan, but those are locations that have been open to that kind of industry for a long, long time.
Tanzanite comes from Tanzania in southeast Africa, a corner of the world that is at the forefront of gemstone discovery in recent decades. The zoisite crystals that produce gem-grade tanzanite are only found in a bit of land a little less than four miles long in the Merelani Hills Region. That’s it for the whole world at this current time. This one deposit is very plentiful, but compared to the multiple locations most other gemstones can be found at, tanzanite is a serious rarity.
The combination of tanzanite’s beauty and rarity has made it a favorite of designers and celebrities, alike. Elizabeth Taylor was the face of the tanzanite advertising campaign in the ‘70s. I’ve seen it on established actresses nowadays like Cate Blanchett and Sarah Jessica Parker. The younger generation also appreciates it. Anne Hathaway wore tanzanite at the 2011 Oscars. I’ve seen it on Olivia Wilde, too. It’s one of those gems that – from a color standpoint – has almost limitless appeal.