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There are many tales surrounding Tanzanite’s discovery, some say it was an Arushan tailor-turned-prospector named Sousa, others say it was Maasai herdsmen who came across Zoisite crystals that had been turned bright blue under the scorching African sun. The latter, more romantic image is quite credible, as Maasai tribes believe that Tanzanite is the stone of birth: presenting the blue gemstone to their wives on delivery of their first-born child. But whatever the truth is behind the legend of its discovery, Tanzanite owes its worldwide success to a family business.

When America was still the ‘Wild West, two young men by the name of Charles Tiffany and John Young established the ‘Fancy Goods Emporium’ on New York’s ‘Broadway’. In 1837, on their first day of business they managed to net the total of $4.98. By the 1980’s the business was netting over $1,00,000,000 per year. The company of which we speak is of course Tiffany’s, whose phenomenal success story is due in part to creative designing and clever marketing, but above all to a passionate interest in all things mineral.
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One of Tiffany’s earliest recruits was the gemologist extraordinaire G.F. Kunz, who amongst writing and compiling such famous books as ‘The Curious Lore of Precious Stones,’ and introducing the metric Carat system, discovered and gave his name to the pink gemstone Kunzite. Much later in the 1960’s and 70’s, it was the turn of the great-grandson of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Henry Platt, to name another gemstone discovery for inclusion into the Tiffany hall of fame.

The story goes that after seeing the first Tanzanite crystals, Platt became so excited that he immediately set about organizing a marketing campaign. However, at this time Tanzanite was only known by its mineral name Zoisite, Platt felt that this sounded like ‘Suicide’ so renamed the blue gem after its sole origin of occurrence: Tanzania. According to Platt, Tanzanite was going to be the new colored gemstone sensation of the 20th Century; his campaign boldly proclaimed “Tanzanite is the most important gemstone discovery in over 2000 years." Due to the phenomenal success of Platt’s marketing, in today’s market the mining of Tanzanite profits the Tanzanian government $20,000,000 million per year, the finished product being sold mostly on the US market totaling around $500,000,000 annually. However, financial figures like these are misleading.
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Despite its mineral wealth of oil, iron, colored gemstones, diamonds and gold, Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. Prior to 2003, most of Tanzania’s Tanzanite rough was exported to India to be cut in the city of Jaipur, this profited India rather than Tanzania. So, in an effort to boost their economy the Tanzanian government restricted the export of Tanzanite, effectively localizing the cutting and processing industry to recover lost benefits. By 2005, the ‘Knock-On’ success of these restrictions was clearly seen in the substantial increase in the output of Tanzania’s minerals, and its subsequent increase in private sector and investment related industries.

In fact, the organization of Tanzania’s Tanzanite industry has turned out to be so successful, that it became the first colored gemstone ever to have its own sight-holding scheme. The sight holding scheme, first applied in the diamond industry, restricts the sale of Tanzanite to a certain number of overseas buyers. These buyers have shares in the industry, and are guaranteed a certain amount of Tanzanite per year. From the point of view of Tanzania’s mineral industry, this effectively controls the market, ensuring that the wealth is equally and evenly distributed. From a consumer’s standpoint, buying Tanzanite from a recognized sight-holder, ensures that what they are getting is the real deal of premium certified quality.
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