Sunday, April 29, 2007


Until last week, I had barely heard of Tanzanite. When I heard that it is mined near Arusha, I thought I should find out about it.

I discovered that Tanzanite is unique to a single deposit in the Merelani Hills, making it much more rare than diamonds.

The Coloured Gemstone Association says

The deep blue of the tanzanite is fantastic, and runs from ultramarine blue to light violet-blue. The most coveted colour is a blue surrounded by a delicate hint of purple, which has a particularly wonderful effect in sizes of over 10 carats. The well developed polychromaticity of the tanzanite is typical: depending on the angle from which you look at it, the stone may appear blue, purple or brownish-yellow.

Here are three colours that can show in a single stone, depending on the angle of the light.

The tanzanite mines at Merelani are divided into sections. Some sections are operated under lease by large scale miners such as the South African company Tanzanite One. This company runs a complete operation from mining, grading, and marketing the gems. It is working to have tanzanite accepted internationally as the December birthstone.

Other leases are run by the ‘informal artisans’ I blogged about earlier. It is in these unregulated areas that poverty results in the tragedies of desperation. IRIN, the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reports that some 30,000 miners work to depths of up to 300 meters without safety regulations, or a daily wage. Dynamite accidents, collapsing mines and floods have caused hundreds of deaths during the past five years. Everyday, 4,000 child miners between the ages of 8 and 14 risk their lives in poorly constructed mine shafts for barely a meal a day.

IRIN has a film about child labour in the tanzanite mines here.

Terri Hatcher shows off her Tanzanite ring

Predictions are that tanzanite will run out in about 15-20 years. So there is only a short window of opportunity to ensure that the benefits of this resource flow to the local communities and to the traditional owners of the land.

The School of St Jude provides free education, meals and uniforms to 850 bright children from the poorest families in the district. Next year it will be doing this from two campuses. Each year, more families will benefit from having one of their children well-educated at the School of St Jude. This will help protect them from the desperate situation of scratching in the dirt in the hope of finding a pretty stone to adorn people born into more fortunate circumstances.

Next time you buy something pretty, why not drop in here and donate $30 to buy books for the school library of St Jude’s? Buy something for yourself, then buy something for someone else.

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1 comment:

Megan Bayliss said...

Great post Gillian.
I hope people take you up on your challenge.
The stone is beautiful. The labour to get the stone is child exploitative. I wouldn't be able to wear the set jewellery because of the child labour.