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Tanzanite: Africa’s Rarest Gem

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Tanzanite: Africa’s Rarest Gem

A guide to one of the world’s most coveted and sought after precious stones

Tanzanite is one of the rarest gemstones in the world. In fact, it is known to be a thousand times scarcer than diamonds, and with reports that the supply of the precious stone could be completely depleted in 10 to 15 years time, tanzanite is becoming increasingly coveted and sought after. 

So to learn more about this alluring gem, we consulted with leading tanzanite jeweller Shimansky to find out more about the stone’s history and what collectors and customers should look for when buying tanzanite in South Africa.

History of Tanzanite
It was more than 550 million years ago, in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, that Mother Nature yielded this precious gem. Though, as a testament to its rarity, tanzanite remained unknown until 1967, when a prospector named Manuel d’Souza and a Maasai tribesman called Ali Juuyawatu discovered it whilst searching for sapphires. The Tanzanian region still remains the world’s only source of the prized stone.  

What makes Tanzanite a stand-out gemstone?
Tanzanite is uniquely trichroic. This means that in its rough form, it radiates three different colours from each of its crystallographic axes: blue, violet and burgundy. Once cut and polished, tanzanite’s hue ranges from electric violet to vibrant blue to a deep, royal and rich indigo.

What to look for when buying tanzanite
Similar to the manner in which the International Gemological Institute of America evaluates diamonds, the Tanzanite International Grading System values tanzanite according to the Four Cs: colour, clarity, cut and carat weight. The higher the combinations of these characteristics in the gem, the rarer and more valuable the tanzanite stone is.

  • Colour:  intensity and saturation of colour from blue to violet
    The depth of colour ranges from Exceptional to Pale, with a ‘B’ or ‘V’ indicating a predominance of blue or violet hues. The deeper the colour is, the more valuable the tanzanite.
  • Clarity: determining the natural flaws and inclusions in the gem 
    Tanzanite ranges from Eye Clean to Heavily Included (‘included’ meaning crystals that have a dark appearance rather than a clear, transparent appearance). The more flawless the tanzanite, the more valuable it is.
  • Cut: proportion and brilliance
    An ‘Excellent’ cut ensures that the stone’s facets reflect light to create maximum brilliance. The more precise the craftsman’s cutting, the more valuable the tanzanite.
  • Carat: refers to the unit in which the stone is weighed.  One carat= 1/5th of a gram
    One carat has 100 points and weighs 1/5th of a gram. Two seemingly identical pieces of tanzanite will have different carat weights if they vary in depth.

Tanzanite in South Africa and Shimansky’s Ayanda™ Collection
In South Africa, tanzanite remains a popular feature in jewellery pieces and is reportedly among the top five best-selling precious stones in the country. At the forefront of local tanzanite industry is the acclaimed South African jeweller Shimansky. The gemstone purveyor is responsible for the stunning Ayanda, The Queen of Tanzanite collection. This is Shimansky’s exclusive range of quality, handcrafted jewellery that sets tanzanite and diamonds together in magnificently designed rings, earrings, pendants, bracelets and neckpieces. All of Shimansky’s tanzanite is certified in accordance with the Tanzanite International Grading Standard – ensuring that every Shimansky tanzanite creation is of the highest quality.

Fun facts about Tanzanite

  • Its only known source in the world is a 5-km strip of land near Mount Kilimanjaro, northern Tanzania. This single, limited source renders tanzanite at least 1000 times rarer than diamonds.
  • It is the official birthstone for December.
  • Tanzanite has been attributed with qualities of good luck and prosperity and associated with celebrations of new life and new beginnings.
  • Due to its very limited supply and rarity, tanzanite is becoming increasingly recognised as an heirloom.
  • Amongst the Maasai people of Tanzania, the colour blue is seen as sacred and spiritual, and this coupled with its characteristics of new life have brought about a tradition where Tanzanite is given to Maasai women after the birth of a child as an offering of health, positivity and prosperity to the child.
  • The Maasai tribesmen give it to all their newborn children as a bearer of good fortune.
  • Tanzanite is said to have many mystical and healing powers. It supposedly uplifts and opens the heart.
  • The biggest tanzanite in the world is a single large crystal of 16,839 carats that weighs well over 3kg. It has been named “The Mawenzi” after Kilimanjaro’s second highest peak.

Check out the Tanzanite at Shimansky. Entrance will cost R50/p.

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Read more to find out what you should know about buying diamonds and tanzanite in South Africa.

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