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History

 

 

Tanzanite History

Tanzanite is one of the more recently discovered gemstones. In July of 1967 a tailor named Manuel d'Souza from the Indian province of Goa prospecting for rubies was led to a deposit of blue stones by Maasai tribesmen. (Granted, this means the Maasai discovered it, but few places or things are considered "discovered" until a foreigner names, promotes and markets them.)

D'Souza initially believed he had stumbled upon sapphire, but found that the material was too soft to be corundum. Laboratory investigation showed that the stone was a previously unseen variety of zoisite, already known in its green form. He registered four claims with the mining office. Hot on his heels was a former Greek army officer named Papanicholau who was already involved in several gem ventures in East Africa. The area, which became known as Merelani Hill, swiftly became riddled with mines.

 

D'Souza was unable to maintain close control over his claims and by his own estimate up to 80 percent of his gems were stolen from him before he even set eyes on them. Undiscouraged, he hooked up with an African mine owner named Alli Juyawata, and shortly after they were joined by Papanicholau. This partnership was short-lived, ending in acrimony and court action.

The Tanzanian government took control of the mines in 1971, under the name Tanzanian Gemstone Industries, and they were turned over to the State Mining Corporation in 1976, whose methods saw reduced production. By the end of the 70s, Tiffany's, which had named and promoted the stone, stopped purchasing it because the supply was not dependable.

In the late 80s, the Tanzanian government lost control of the area, and thousands of illegal miners flocked in, but by 1991 the government regained control and has since been issuing licenses to private domestic concerns. Supply is growing, though nowhere near the levels it could be. Because the government seeks to avoid the large-scale exploitation that would result from foreign investors, much of the world's Tanzanite remains, for the time being, in the ground.

 

 

 

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