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The trouble with tanzanite

Think you’re going to read about floods and mines? Not this

Let’s talk about the future. For years one of our most common
"replacement" requests has been tanzanite. The reasons are
obvious. Tanzanite is soft. With a Moh’s hardness of 6.5-7 (and
that’s very generous) the gem is not meant to be set in a Tiffany
head, high up in the sky for all the world to see. Tiffany knew
that. Back when they had an exclusive on the then “rare” gem,
finished tanzanite jewelry that came from their stores was
well-made and the tanzanites were set accordingly, often bezeled
and surrounded in (and protected by) substantial amounts of gold
and diamonds.

As Tiffany lost control of their exclusivity over this new gem
and loose gems came onto the market, they were absorbed by
individual craftsman (many found out about the gem’s "tenderness"
the hard way.) Even so, much of that tanzanite jewelry still
exists today.

As the availability of tanzanite increased and lower qualities
flooded the market, we began to see mass-produced items such as
tanzanite tennis bracelets. People on cruise ships far from home
were told tanzanite was hard and tough. The public became
enamored of this bright steely looking gemstone and didn’t seem
to grasp that tanzanite is in the same hardness group as opal.
(Before anyone goes to their hardness tables and checks that,
I’ll sidestep…opal is indeed 5.5-6.5 in hardness so the
overlap is obvious but most older mineral books give zoisite a
hardness of 5.5 to 6.5.) Tanzanite is heated zoisite – and I
doubt that heating a gemstone makes it harder or tougher – so
the “under $500 a carat” bonus questions remain: “What other
gemstone looks like tanzanite? What can we replace tanzanite with
that’s more durable? What’s blue or purple/blue, looks like
tanzanite, and doesn’t cost much more?”

Our answer: sapphire. Sapphire occurs in just those color
ranges, at roughly twice the cost per carat of tanzanite. In the
past fifteen years we’ve probably sold five sapphires as
replacements for broken, chipped, or lost tanzanites.

But that may be changing. Tanzanite prices are on the rise and
will increase even more in the coming months as supplies in
dealers’ hands dwindle and they set out to replace them. Large
volume tanzanite dealers can sell their remaining stock at the
mines for a decent profit more quickly than they can sell it here
in the USA (where we’re still awash in all qualities of
tanzanite…there’s more tanzanite sitting here in the USA in
jeweler’s and dealer’s hands than there is in Tanzania.)

Sapphire supplies in the blue, blue/purple, violet/blue, and
deep violet ranges are at an all time high, thanks to several new
mine sources. A word to the wise: next time you have the chance
to check out these beautiful shades of sapphire, do! The price
gap between tanzanite and sapphire is narrowing and will become
even tighter in the next year or two.

Tanzanite will always be popular. Sapphire will always be hard,
durable, and a better buy for customers’ long-term enjoyment.
And isn’t that what jewelers want over the long haul? Happy
customers and fewer headaches?

Greg Fisher
Austin, TX.

Greg you are missing a replacement option here you can use good
colored iolites to match both Tanzanites and Ceylon colored
Blue/purple sapphires. Smile Iolite defintely being the more
affordable of the 3 at this time and if you place them side by
side you will see that you in deed can cause some serious
Confusion!!! hahaha did it with 3 similarly colored stones one
of each to some one I knew who told me it couldn’t be done!!!
then I had him tell me which was which ! hahaha - got 1 out of
the 3 right! Smile . Demi