Tricky Tanzanite: Love & Controversy in Tanzania

February 24, 2020

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Many people throughout the last handful of decades have either of heard of Tanzanite or fallen in love the indigo hues of this rare gemstone. Unlike many popular gemstones,such as Garnet & Emerald,Tanzanite is quite a rare & young gem. Tanzanite was discovered a few years before the summer of love and there is speculation on who truly discovered it first.According to some,this vibrant gemstone was discovered by Masai tribesman, Ali Juuyawatu. Of course,some people believe otherwise. There is also a chance it could have been another tribesman,Ndugu Jumanne Ngoma. However,there is official credit given to "Mad" Manuel de Souza with the discovery of Tanzanite July 7, 1967. Born in Goa circa 1913,he was quite the explorer of the African bush,for the lost and the unknown. No one has really heard of what he has truly seen in his adventures for he keeps them to himself. Originally,Manuel was a master tailor,but his love of outdoor adventure quickly palled his trade and decided to pursue his passions full time. He tailored on the side for some income during shifts between the diamond mining and trade. It also helped him when he decided to leave the unviable venture during the 1960's when a monopoly made it practically impossible to obtain diamond

prospecting licenses. Eventually Manuel moved to the Kilimanjaro area where he continued exploring and prospecting around Lake Victoria.

 

During Easter weekend of 1967,one of his "itches" for adventure lead him to have someone drive him out into the bush in a area of the region of Arusha. The area was remote and the driver refused to travel any further past a area,in the general region,known as Merelani. There was no way of transporting any more gear any further and he had to be content with looking for gemstones in that general area. Eventually this moment lead him to another attempt to reach the area past Merelani. He hired four Masai tribesmen to help him prospect and carry out gear to the mineral rich area. Around noon on July 7th,Manuel came into contact with a transparent gemstone,which he mistaken for sapphire. After testing the hardness levels,he determined that it was not in fact sapphire but a unidentified gem.

 

Manuel took this specimen back with him and attempted to try to identify this beautiful treasure with a very skimpy collection of minerology books.

Oddly enough,he thought that the stone was olivine was the mineral he had found and decided to name the site as a olivine claim. However,it did not take long before many different gemstones had been cancelled out,including olivine. This lead to the indigo specimen to be sent of to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the gemologist there determined it was a zoisite. A Tanzanian goverment geologist named Ian McCloud is credited to have offically confirmed this finding & it's origin in the Simanjiro district of Tanzania.

 

The gemstone was still nameless and there was no market that had been established,which was a factor in the head of the jewelry department at Saks Departmentstore declining to display and sell them gemstone. Eventually,two rings had been made with the original find and were presented to the vice president of Tiffany & Co,who was quite impressed by the quality and color of the new gem that he decided to offically name it Tanzanite. The doors of the market for this gemstone had be opened and the Tanzanite market was created. Today,in the 21st century,Tanzanite is now a well known gem and has seen a steady popularity for the last 20 years. Finding another Tanzanite deposite is one in a million.The fact that it is mined in one place in the entire world makes it rarer,but not as popular,as diamond. 

 

Many people are not aware of the history of Tanzania,or even where it is located.

Almost four years before Manuel found the iconic indigo gemstone,Tanzania became a independent 3rd world country,sharing boarders with Kenya,Malawi,the Democratic Republic of Congo,Uganda,Zambia,Brurundi and Mozambique Many gemstones around the world come from 3rd world or war torn countries,which is why the trade and market can become a bit tricky. Tanzania itself has been through many decades of hardship and living and mining in Tanzania is quite tough.In 1971,Tanzania had a young,unstable and inexperienced goverment that begin to monopolize the future of Tanzanite and the deposit that was already being mined. The rocky governement took control and nationalized the mines.However,quite a inefficent structure was not in place and the quality of the mineral that was mined begin to diminished.Around the time Tanzanite had made it's way into the US,the supply was becoming erratic with changes,causing issues and many problems. This shift lead to Tiffany & Co ceasing promotion of Tanzanite. By 1972,a organization was formed by the Tanzanian government called STAMICO (State Mining Corporation). This organization was put in place to try to capitalize on Tanzanite and to attempt to fix things..Sadly,that same year Uganda attacked Tanzania and a two year war followed suit.STAMICO's efforts and attempts to produce large scale mining operations never came to fruition,and left the Tanzanite market volatile but still alive. By 1990,officials split the area into four sections : Block A,B,C,D. Block A & C were given the okay for large scale mining operations,while B & D were for local,independent miners.Slowly,but surely the industry experienced some organization and slowly moved back into the US.

 

Block A & C begin their advance mining processes,changing the Tanzanite market forever. Their new age techniques & equipment outweighed the resources local miners did not possess. When Tanzanite is mined,rough material is sold to what are known as "buying offices" two hours outside of the country's capital,Arusha as well as outer villages of native Masai. After being transported to that specific location,the rough gems are cutting facilities (large scale lapidarist studios) usually exclusive to India.Finished gemstones are then sold off to various jewelry manufacturing companies or retailers,like JTV and other popular gemstone focused businesses.

Some companies,such as JTV,do know where their sources of gemstones come from and how it was mined & transported before the gems reached India. Some companies will even travel to where the gemstone is mined and meet with local miners and

suppliers all around the world.

 

 

 

 

TANZANITE TODAY: 2000s-2010s

Currently the Tanzanite market is in midst of change. From 2004-2008,the industry experienced consistent growth.The demand for the rare indigo gem was there and so was the higher grades of the deposit's supply. The process of also heat treating the Tanzanite to make it more vibrant and sometimes in the purple spectrum,was apart of the market already. Untreated and faceted Tanzanite is out there,but rare to find. In 2008,the US's economy begin to crumble and the supply and demand of Tanzanite dwindled significantly. Historically,the US consumes 70% of Tanzanite. During the recession,people cut back on spending money on luxuries,like jewelry. In 2009 the price of Tanzanite per carat dropped dramatically,which lead to it's steady buying streak from gem enthusiasts who found the lower prices appealing. This helped the market stay at a steady rate and for the public to afford Tanzanite. Eventually the US consumer market for Tanzanite shifted from being the lead country to purchase the gemstone,to Europe and Asia stepping up in their sales,purchases and love for Tanzanite.

 

As for Tanzanite in the last decade,this is what JTV put out into

the public at the end of the 2010s:

 

"What is happening to the market in 2010 comes down to a fundamental principle of economics – the law of supply and demand. Tanzanite is still being mined, but prospectors state production rates have declined. This is especially true for top grades and large carat sizes. Reduction percentages varied among the mining operations. Block C recently reported a 14% decrease for FY 2009, while some of the local Maasai in Block D claimed losses above 50%."

[JTV,"Tanzanite Background",2019]

 

While most believe Tanzanite deposits will be dimished in our lifetime and the sales of Tanzanite will shift towards the specimens already in the gemstone circut,there is still enough Tanzanite to be mined and sold around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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