Tanzanite is one of the most important gemstone discoveries in history. Found a half-century ago in the 1960s, the alluring blue-violet of tanzanite instantly won the hearts of gem lovers worldwide. It is located in only one place on earth, the African state of Tanzania, near the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Because of this scarcity, Tanzanite jewelry is precious and highly coveted.

Tanzanite boasts beautiful and sophisticated folklore. However, its actual discovery remains something of a mystery. Although there are numerous versions, it is still up for debate as to who discovered tanzanite first.

 

Tanzanite’s Road to Discovery

AAA tanzanite ring in 18k white gold.

The local Maasai communities wove bold and colorful stories around the creation of this exceptional stone. They believed that tanzanite was formed by an act of God using lightning strikes to set the surrounding hills ablaze. After the fires burnt out and the earth cooled down, the rocks deep inside the planet turned blue-violet. The gem is believed to carry unique spiritual properties, with local Tanzanian people thinking that tanzanite heightens spiritual growth.

Mr. Ndugu Jumanne Ngoma claims that he found tanzanite first, in early January 1967. While strolling at the foot of the Merelani Hills near the city of Arusha, he saw blue crystals scattered on the ground. At first glimpse, they appeared to be sapphires, but it was later discovered that the stones were a never-seen-before variation of zoisite. They were beautiful, transparent and within a few hours, he collected many, selecting the most beautiful ones for further investigation. The Tanzanian government endorses his discovery, recognizing it at several points during his life.

Habib Esmail claimed to be another discoverer of Tanzanite. With a reputation for claim jumping, insufficient evidence has prevented Esmail’s story from ever gaining any traction.

According to some, the violet-blue stone was first discovered by an indigenous pastoralist and tribesman, Ali Juuyawatu in July 1967. He found a piece of translucent crystal near Mount Kilimanjaro. Captivated by its blue-violet hue, he alerted a local prospector named Manuel de Souza, who was already prospecting in the region.

Prospector Manuel de Souza discovered a cluster of transparent blue stones laying on the ground near the foothills of the Merelani Hills of Tanzania in 1967, in the shadow of majestic Mount Kilimanjaro. Believing the find to be a ‘vibrant sapphire,’ de Souza didn’t realize that he had stumbled on an entirely new specimen. The gems discovered were sent for analysis, where gemologists revealed that the crystal had a composition more complex than sapphire and color more intriguing, more alluring and entirely unexpected.

Thanks to overwhelming mentions in publications of the time, and the support of professionals in the field, de Souza’s claim of discovery is the most widely accepted narrative of events.

 

Ready to learn the full story? Read more about tanzanite in our Education Center.