The Masai and the Blue Stone: Tanzanite
How Tanzanite Was Discovered
One day in 1967, a Masai tribesman named Ali Juuyawatu was walking along the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania when he found a stone. Perhaps he stubbed his toe on the rock or maybe its unusual color caught his eye, history doesn’t tell us that. We do know that this Masai warrior made history that day; he had discovered Tanzanite! To this day, this rare member of the zoisite group of minerals has been found in only one place on earth: a five-square mile hilltop near Arusha, Tanzania. In fact, Kilimanjaro International Airport is just ten miles north of where this rare gem is mined.
Tanzanite is related to another stone with Masai connections: anyolite (or ruby zoisite) is an opaque green stone with inclusions of large, generally opaque rubies; it’s named after a Masai word for green.
The new gem was originally called blue zoisite, but when Tiffany & Company presented the gemstone to the world in 1969, they had renamed it Tanzanite after the only country where it is found. It’s reported that they renamed it out of fear that mispronunciation of its unfamiliar name into “blue suicide” might affect sales of their new and exotic gem.
Like topaz and diamonds, a tanzanite gemstone exhibits perfect cleavage and a good, sharp blow could cause it to split right in half! Gem cutters have other problems to deal with when turning rough tanzanite into gems; it appears as different colors depending on the angle at which it’s viewed. It can appear blue (ranging from vivid sapphire to ultramarine), violet-blue, or violet. The less than desirable yellowish-brown tinge found in most of the rough crystals is easier to deal with; it vanishes when the stone is heated to between 752 & 932 degrees F. This heat treatment has the added benefit of enhancing the more desirable blue and violet colors.
If you would enjoy the beauty of tanzanite without the expense of this rare (and pricey!) gem, take a look at our tanzanite beaded anklet or tanzanite crystal earrings; they are only two of many tanzanites inspired designs we have available. And be sure to contact us for help in your quest for that perfect piece of beaded jewelry.