December’s birthstones offer three ways to fight the winter blues: tanzanite, zircon and turquoise – all of them, appropriately, best known for beautiful shades of blue.
These gems range from the oldest on earth (zircon), to one of the first mined and used in jewelry (turquoise), to one of the most recently discovered (tanzanite).
All of these stones are relatively inexpensive, but their beauty rivals even precious gems. Colorless zircon is a convincing replacement for diamond, tanzanite often substitutes sapphire, and turquoise is unmatched in its hue of robin’s egg blue.
Whatever your style preference or budget, one of December’s three birthstones will match your true blue desires.
When Tiffany & Company introduced tanzanite in 1968, the company was sure the semiprecious stone would be successful. (“Tanzanite is the first transparent deep blue gemstone to be discovered in more than 2,000 years,” a Tiffany vice president told a Times reporter the next year.)
But no one anticipated the creativity that it would still be inspiring.
Named for Tanzania, where the only mine still operates, tanzanite’s allure lies in its colors, including green, red, purple and blue, “depending on which angle you look at it,” said Melvyn Kirtley, Tiffany’s chief gemologist and vice president for global category management including high jewelry. (Source: New York Times, May 2018)
Unlike many well-known gems that have been in use for centuries, tanzanite’s history is relatively modern.
The common story of tanzanite’s discovery tells of Maasai herders who found blue crystals in the Merelani Hills near Arusha, Tanzania, while tending livestock in 1967. They notified a prospector named Manuel d’Souza, who promptly registered claims with the government to begin mining.
Initially, d’Souza thought he was mining sapphire, but the crystal was soon identified as a vibrant blue variety of zoisite – a mineral that had been around since the early 1800s.
Tiffany & Co. recognized this blue gem’s potential to rival more expensive sapphire, and agreed to become its main distributor. Instead of publicizing “blue zoisite” – which sounded a little too much like “suicide” – Tiffany named the gem tanzanite to highlight its exclusive geographic origin, and introduced it with a promotional campaign in 1968.