Celebrating Tanzanite’s Golden Jubilee

First mined in 1967, tanzanite went from being considered a simple sapphire substitute to one of the most popular modern gemstones. How did tanzanite enjoy such a meteoric rise in popularity? Learn about the stone’s history as we celebrate tanzanite’s golden anniversary with an exciting retrospective.

Tanzanite Timeline

Tanzanite timeline infographic.

  • 1962 – Locals find chunks of blue rock throughout the Merelani Hills of Tanzania. Analysis of this material indicates a new variety of zoisite.
  • 1967 – A prospector discovers a large deposit of tanzanite near the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Dozens of claims spring up over the next few weeks.
  • 1968 – Tiffany and Co. secure rights to become the primary distributor of this new stone.
  • 1971 – Mining operations revert to government control through the State Mining Corporation.
  • 1990 – In the face of large, unorganized artisanal operations, the mine is divided into its four current blocks: A, B, C, and D. Blocks A and C, the larger of the four, are awarded to commercial interests. Blocks B and D house artisanal mining operations.
  • 2001 – Commercial mining of Block C commences after a feasibility study.
  • 2002 – The enduring popularity of tanzanite results in its addition to the modern birthstone list. This is the first major change in over 50 years. It becomes a December birthstone.
  • 2003 – The Tanzanite Foundation, a non-profit organization, is founded to support the local community and educate consumers on tanzanite.
  • 2017 – Tanzanite celebrates 50 years of popularity!

The Early Days of Tanzanite

AAA tanzanite and diamond ring in 18K white gold.

Throughout the early 60’s, locals were finding fragments of a deep blue crystal throughout the Merelani Foothills of Tanzania. Nestled at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, no one yet knows how famous this blue stone will become in the years to come. Popular accounts explain that a Masai tribesman, Ali Juuyawatu, is the first person to discover a tanzanite stone.

The local discoveries are enough to spur prospectors to action, and many spend grueling hours surveying the Tanzanian terrain, searching for a likely source for this blue gemstone. One prospector by the name of Manuel d’Souza registers four claims based on information provided by a Masai tribesman. Initially, he thought that perhaps this would be a promising new source of sapphire. Little did he know that he stumbled onto something more. These early claims would eventually develop into the modern tanzanite mining operations. Savvy promotion by Tiffany and Company during the late 60’s let tanzanite create a splash early on, as designers and jewelers clamored to utilize this exciting new gemstone in jewelry. It was finally seen as something more than a sapphire substitute. It had come into its own due to its captivating colors and unique pleochroic properties.

By the early 1970’s over two-million carats of tanzanite was extracted by artisanal miners working out of open pit operations. This spurs the Tanzanian government to secure control, placing stewardship of tanzanite mining under the State Mining Corporation for development. A state-funded report indicates the viability of commercial mining. Despite this, no action is taken. As a result, production decreases over the next decade, as the quality of rough leaving the mine is of reduced quality. By the late 80’s, estimates suggest that over 30,000 artisanal miners are operating in the area.

Modern Tanzanite Mining Operations

AAA tanzanite and diamond ring in 14K white gold.

The government decides to reduce small-scale operations in 1990. They divide the tanzanite mine into four separate Blocks, labeling them A, B, C, and D. Blocks A and C go to commercial interests in the mine. Meanwhile, artisanal miners continue working Blocks B and D. By 2004, the TanzaniteOne Group acquires Block C. TanzaniteOne is the largest commercial producer of tanzanite. Shop LC is a major TanzaniteOne Sightholder through our wholesale division of STS Jewels. By partnering with this mining company, we can offer ethically sourced tanzanite gemstones at our incredible daily low cost.

Tanzanite’s Golden Jubilee

AAA tanzanite and diamond ring in 18K white gold.

Shop LC selects the finest tanzanite gemstones for placement into stunning settings of precious gold. The highest standard grade of tanzanite recognized by Shop LC, AAA tanzanite, is among some of the most affordable blue to violet gemstones on the market today. Only five percent of all tanzanite makes the grade for setting into brilliant 14K carat gold. The gem’s color saturation improves as it becomes larger. Tanzanite of five carats or better typically has the best color.

The top one-percent of tanzanite gemstones are AAAA. We reserve them for the exclusive Iliana collection, available only at Shop LC. We craft Iliana jewelry from fine 18K yellow and white gold and feature the most beautiful precious gemstones on the market today.

Celebrate this rare gemological event with your very own tanzanite jewelry piece. Now is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime milestone. With less than 30 years of supply remaining, high-quality tanzanite is only going to become scarcer. There’s no better time to own this select gemstone that’s one thousand times rarer than diamond.