Professional Jeweler Archive: Birth of a Birthstone

December 2002

Gemstones & Pearls/News


Birth of a Birthstone

Not since 1912 has a birthstone been added to the roster. Ninety years later, tanzanite joins the club


The American Gem Trade Association announced in October it added a third member to the December birthstone family: tanzanite. The East African gem joins turquoise and zircon as December birthstones. For retailers looking for a way to boost tanzanite sales, the news is a welcome surprise.

“There appears to be a consensus in the industry regarding tanzanite,” says Douglas K. Hucker, executive director of AGTA. The trade association says it’s working with Jewelers of America, the American Gem Society and the International Colored Gemstone Association to disseminate the news quickly. “AGTA contacted us and asked if we would consider adding tanzanite as a December birthstone,” says JA’s Fred Michmershuizen. “While our newly revised series of ‘Gemstone Leaflets’ had already reflected this, JA agreed to amend its ‘What You Should Know About Birthstones’ brochures in the future.” In November, ICA’s board also unanimously adopted tanzanite as a December birthstone.

AGTA says ads announcing the new birthstone are running in December issues of Town & Country and In Style magazines, just in time to influence Christmas and birthday shoppers. Retailers can maximize the advertising push by obtaining from AGTA matching postcards that can be personalized and mailed to consumers.

Tanzanite’s history as a gemstone is brief relative to other gemstones. Discovered in 1969, in Merelani, Tanzania, the gem is a variety of the mineral zoisite. Heating the crystals turns them from orangy brown to much more salable violet and deep blue. As a result, tanzanite is nearly always heated as part of the fashioning process. Tiffany & Co. debuted the gem in the early 1970s, naming it tanzanite in honor of the country where it was discovered. Hucker says demand for the gem is so strong in the U.S. that it now ranks second in popularity after sapphire.

Tanzanite suffered some difficulties late last year after unfounded press reports tried to link it to terrorism funding. In February, the U.S. State Department exonerated tanzanite of any known links. AGTA members dealing in tanzanite had established a “tanzanite fund” earlier this year, which is now being used in part to cover the cost of reasserting the gem’s profile.

• AGTA, Dallas, TX; (800) 972-1162, (214) 742-4367, www.agta.org.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Your customers will see this new tanzanite ad in December issues of consumer magazines.

Copyright © 2002 by Bond Communications