Tanzanite: the lure of scarcity

Tanzanite: the lure of scarcity
People often ask, "Will the value of tanzanite appreciate in the future?" This question is most likely prompted by the fact that there is only one...

...known source of tanzanite in the world. Discovered in 1967 in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.  As we all know scarcity or even perceived scarcity can cause prices to skyrocket.  Let us talk a little more about this gemstone before answering the question.

Tanzanite had its first taste of fame when Tiffany began using it in its designs just a year after its discovery – the first jeweller in the world to do so. A gem-quality variety of the mineral zoisite, Tiffany thought the name wasn’t catchy enough and renamed it tanzanite after its country of origin.

The vast majority of tanzanite – approximately 80% – comes out of the ground brownish in colour and is heated to burn away the muddy tones, leaving only blue, violet, and pink hues. Described as “gently heated” rather than “heat treated”, tanzanites are exposed to temperatures of around 500-800oC for an hour at most to reveal their blue colour, while heat-treated gems like rubies often come close to melting point to achieve a more vivid hue.

Tanzanite, the “gemstone of a generation,” will soon come to an end. Tanzanite mines are close to depletion.  This generation will most likely be the last one able to buy newly mined tanzanite. In fact, as the gemstone becomes more scarce, the independent miners who once busily dug for tanzanite have started to give up on finding more of the rare stone. Many have drifted away to pursue other, more readily available gemstones elsewhere. In 2014, Richland Resources sold TanzaniteOne, the largest commercial tanzanite mining operation, to turn its attention to more profitable ventures. It is clear that they have seen the research: the remaining tanzanite supply is running dangerously low.

Pricing History - The 2000's

From 2002 to 2007 prices surged. From lows of $200 per carat for medium to medium/fine goods they rose to the heady heights of $600+ per carat before dropping back by 20-30% in the ravages of the recession in 2008/2009. The recession did not affect the prices of the very finest grades but medium/fine material and lower grades were severely affected. The finest grades were bolstered by ongoing demand from the relatively unaffected highest income brackets in the developed markets coupled with extremely low supply due to their rarity. Lower grades by contrast, lost up to 50% of their price value through 2009.

From 2010 into 2013 prices stabilized and returned to their pre-recession levels and prices for the very finest stones began to edge upwards again. This trend sporadically continued into 2018 when an aggressive government under the new president, John Magafuli virtually brought Tanzanite production to a standstill. Unlike his predecessor, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, Magafuli's approach is more like Nyerere's, and an increasingly authoritarian government caused havoc in the sector with most mines shutting down production and supply coming to a standstill.

The Future Outlook

Looking forward, there are a number of factors that may affect prices. China’s recent foray into the market and growing demand for Tanzanite in that country is a wild card that could affect the price trajectory in coming years. A lot will depend on the recovery of the largest market, the US, and the buying power of the middle-class consumer there. This will be the propeller for Tanzanite sales in the medium to medium/fine grades. The finest grades will likely see continued price inflation through prevailing low supply due to their rarity and high demand from high-income brackets in the US and China markets in line with that of other gems such as ruby and emerald which have seen record prices reached for fine select stones at auction since 2012.

This is backed up by a recent article in National Jeweler which talks about how the impact of the rise of the Chinese and other emerging markets is affecting colored stone prices, Tanzanite being one of the main stones affected.

It remains that the more ubiquitous qualities of Tanzanite, the medium and medium/fine grade colors will always be more susceptible to the vagaries of the market but the very finest stones will always hold their value and experience steady price inflation due to their rarity and burgeoning demand. 

The big watershed for Tanzanite prices is expected to be realized once the stone is mined out.

This gorgeous gem has a transparent blue to violet or violet-blue color. For many who love the blue sapphire, a tanzanite of vibrant blue color makes a beautiful substitute, which in most cases is less expensive.

The amazing tanzanite pictured in the photo above; The Queen of Kilimanjaro is one of the most famous faceted tanzanites in the world; a 242 carat beauty set in a stunning tiara where it is surrounded by 803 rare green tsavorite garnets and 913 diamonds. The Queen, along with its brilliant-cut royal retinue, is set in 18 karat white gold in the exotic-looking tiara.

For more information about the history of this beautiful stone, visit The Jewellery Editor, 50 years of Tanzanite.

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