Tanzanite Celebrates 10 Years as One of December’s Official Birthstones

Late in 2002, the intoxicating blue-violet gemstone, tanzanite, joined its brethren turquoise and blue zircon as the official birthstones for the month of December. The addition of tanzanite exactly 10 years ago marked the first time the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) revised its list since 1912.

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The AGTA’s action was in response to consumers’ affection for a relatively new, rare and stunningly beautiful gemstone that was first discovered by Maasai tribesmen in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in 1967.

Tiffany & Co. was the first retailer to market the new gemstone, but had some issues with what it should be called. Its official gemological name was “blue zoisite,” but Tiffany’s marketing team argued that it sounded too much like “blue suicide.” Clearly, they had to come up with something better. Finally, they settled on “tanzanite” to honor the gem’s country of origin – Tanzania – the only place on the earth where these gems are found.

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Due to its single source and limited supply, tanzanite dealers say that the gemstone is at least one thousand times rarer than a diamond.

The most prized tanzanite color is a deep, luxurious blue with purple overtones. The gem also comes in a wide range of hues, from light blues or lilacs, to deep indigos and violets. Tanzanite exhibits an unusual gemological property called pleochroism, which means it appears to be different colors when observed at different angles.

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The “Queen of Kilimanjaro” is one of the world’s largest faceted tanzanites at 242 carats. Set in a tiara and accented with 803 tsavorite garnets and 913 diamonds, the stunning gem is part of the private collection of Michael Scott, the first CEO of Apple Computer.

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