Tanzanite is the blue/purple variety of the mineral zoisite which was discovered in the Meralani (Merelani) Hills of Northern Tanzania in 1967, near the city of Arusha. It is used as a gemstone.Tanzanite is noted for its remarkably strong trichroism, appearing alternately sapphire blue, violet, and burgundy depending on crystal orientation.
Tanzanite in its rough state is usually a reddish brown color. It requires artificial heat treatment to 600 °C in a gemological oven to bring out the blue violet of the stone.
History of Tanzanite
Manuel de Souza, a Goan tailor and part-time gold prospector living in Arusha (Tanzania), found transparent fragments of vivid blue and blue-purple gem crystals on a ridge near Mererani, some 40 km southeast of Arusha. He decided that the mineral was Olivine (Peridot) but quickly realized that it was not, so he took to calling it “Dumortierite”, a blue non-gem mineral. Shortly thereafter, De Souza showed the stones to John Saul, a Nairobi-based consulting geologist and gemstone wholesaler who was then mining aquamarine in the region around Mount Kenya. Saul, with a Ph.D. from M.I.T., who laterdiscovered the famous ruby deposits in the Tsavo area of Kenya, eliminated Dumortierite and Cordierite as possible I.D.s and sent samples to his father, Hyman Saul, vice president at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. Hyman Saul brought the samples across the street to the Gemological Institute of America who correctly identified the new gem as a variety of the mineral Zoisite. Correct identification was also made by mineralogists at Harvard, the British Museum and Heidelberg University, but the very first person to get the identification right was Ian McCloud, a Tanzanian government geologist based in Dodoma.
There is no universally accepted method of grading colored gemstones. Tanzanite One, is a major commercial player in the Tanzanite market, through its no-profit subsidiary, The Tanzanite Foundation, has introduced its own color grading system. The new system’s color-grading scales divide Tanzanite colors into a range of hues, between blue violet and violet blue.The normal primary and secondary hues in Tanzanite are blue and purple not violet. Purple is a modified spectral hue that lies halfway between red and blue. Tanzanite is a trichroic gemstone, meaning that light that enters the stone is divided into three sections each containing a portion of the visible spectrum. After heating, Tanzanite becomes dichroic. The dichroic colors are red and blue. The hue range of Tanzanite is blue-purple to purple-blue.
Clarity grading in colored gemstones is based on the eye-clean standard, that is, a gem is considered flawless if no inclusions are visible with the unaided eye (assuming 20×20 vision). The Gemological Institute of America classifies Tanzanite as a Type I gemstone, meaning it is normally eye-flawless. Gems with eye-visible inclusions will be traded at deep discounts.
Heat treatment of Tanzanite
Excepting a few stones that were found close to the surface in the early days of the discovery, Tanzanite is universally heat treated to produce a range of hues between bluish-purple to purplish-blue. Since heat treatment is universal, it has no effect on price, and finished gems are assumed to be heat treated. Rarely, Tanzanite is found in other colors, green being the rarest, although technically it would be called ‘Green Zoisite’ rather than Tanzanite. Tanzanite may be subjected to other forms of treatment as well. Recently coated Tanzanite’s were discovered and tested by the AGTA and AGL laboratories. A thin layer of coatings was applied to improve the color of the Tanzanite.