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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Exportation of Tanzanite Rough Banned!

I have been catching up on some reading lately and found an extremely interesting article by Marc Choyt on the Fair Trade and Ethically Sourced Jewelry blog.

In "Tanzania Decides To Ban Export of Rough Gemstones" Choyt discusses the new ban on the exportation of Tanzanite Gem Rough to foreign cutting facilities.

We all know that Tanzanite the blue-violet form of Zoisite is indeed the darling of the Jewelry Trade. From a pale hue that has been compared to "Elizabeth Taylor's eyes" to the deep blue - violet that is considered Museum Grade...Tanzanite is (for the most part) the color enhanced version of brilliant form of golden zoisite found in the Merilani Hills of Tanzania.

Gem Variety: Zoisite

Chemical: Calcium Aluminum Silicate Ca2Al3(SiO4)(Si2O7)O(OH)
Mohs Hardness Scale 6-6.5
Crystal Structure: Orthorhombic
Pleochroism: Dichroic or Trichroic depending on color
Luster: Vitreous - pearly on cleavage faces

This junior member of the gemstone world was discovered in 1967 (an infant in the sphere of stone) and brought to the world by Tiffany & Co. ...and as the legend goes:

Following a severe lightening storm a Masai Tribesman was walking the fields checking for damage and came across a glittering blue - violet stone that rivaled the intensity of fine Ceylon Sapphire. It is thought that the heat created when lightening touched ground created the incredible change of color from the golden brown zoisite to the deep blue-violet that today is known as Tanzanite, thus leading labs to recreate the process.

...taking into consideration the immensely create publicity of Tiffany & Co this could be a romanticized account. But - however the color change discovery came about - WOW what a color!

When the source proved to be unreliable and mining in the region unstable, Tiffany moved on in it's quest of newer and rarer...and in the 1970's the government took over the mining enterprises in an effort to prove that they could provide a stable reliable source. This was not to be as the Merilani Hills soon became marked by illegal miners digging throughout the region.

In April 2005, TanzaniteOne Ltd. publicly announced that they had taken control of the portion of the tanzanite deposit known as "C-Block" (the main deposit is divided into five blocks). Prices for rough material on the open market have increased steadily for the last several years as the company has solidified its control of the market. Making Tanzanite the only colored stone to fall under the control of a single company (much as DeBeers control of diamond).

So now we go back to our original thought - the ban on the exportation of Tanzanite rough.
  • Has the Tanzanian government invested in training cutters in their country? It would be criminal to see people learning to cut on such an expensive gem...
  • It will be interesting to see how many foreign owned cutting facilities open in Tanzania.
  • How will this affect the major cutting facilities in Thailand and Jaipur?
Was it Newton? Every action has an equal and opposite reaction!

Photos: Gem Rough from Gems of East Africa
Hand fabricated ring by Designer Gordon Aatlo

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