Retail Therapy

Peter Gilder Talks Tanzanite


It was in 1996 when I and therefore Peter Gilder Jewellers were provided with the opportunity to source a truly spectacular Tanzanite for a Swiss gem collector.

His budget was in excess of R100000 which for the time, was a lot of money, even for something very special as was his mandate!

One must remember that this unique gem was only first discovered in 1976 in the Merelani Hills of Tanzania, within sight of the impressive Mt Kilimanjaro.  This discovery was quite some time after my training in jewellery and gemstones, which meant that my knowledge about Tanzanite rested with what other dealers had told me.

Understandably I felt a little uncomfortable in advising my client with my very scant knowledge, so I made contact with the owner of the mine and asked permission to visit so I could learn some more.

Within three days, I, along with a couple of miners, returning for their three-month shift, were flown to Mt Kilimanjaro airport. It was from there we were driven by the mine manager directly to the mine compound, to spend three days learning about this mysterious gemstone.

We were given freedom of the entire area and allowed to take whatever pictures we wanted. On the second day, having spent an hour in the early morning operations briefing, we were escorted underground with the first shift of the day.

Being very claustrophobic, I will never forget my trepidation when the “tip” in which 6 of us had clambered, started down the precipitous incline shaft, 180 metres into the darkness of a gemstone mine. There are no vast caverns such as one finds in the older goldmines, only low, narrow tunnels and passages cut by men searching for the elusive “blue zoisite”, the gemological name for Tanzanite.

Gemstone mining is very different from gold or coal mining. Blasting is virtually impossible as every carat is precious and so “face picking” or hand chopping is the preferred method.

My simple question was, “Is Tanzanite as rare as it is made out to be”?

Sharing my visit with a student geologist enabled me to learn a lot more about the absolute uniqueness of the mineral makeup of blue zoisite. To this day, “blue zoisite” has not been found anywhere else on earth and the price it demands is in line with this. The consensus is that if there were another deposit anywhere we would have heard about it by now.

This knowledge added to the amount of time I spent underground watching the painstaking search for the elusive zoisite mineral seam, built a picture in my mind of the rarity of this most beautiful gem. The underground “folds” created in the break-up of Gondwana, resulted in the “seams” forming no simple pattern. The search for Tanzanite during the week we were there had resulted in zero production from any of the three shafts!

Yes, Tanzanite is indeed rare, and valuable. But what makes it truly exceptional, however, is the colour!

Ranging from Blue/Violet to Violet/Blue depending on the axis on which it is cut, what one looks for in a Tanzanite is the “intensity of the colour”. The deeper and more vibrant the colour the more unique.  Obviously one cannot be told that Violet is prettier than Blue, or vice versa, this is a matter of personal taste. But the more intense, the better.

Tanzanite is not as hard or robust as many other gemstones but worn carefully, for example in earrings, or neckpieces, it will last as long as any other fine gem. When worn in rings, the wearer must give this particular gem the respect it deserves!

Tanzanite, a truly rare, beautiful and precious gemstone!


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