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History and lore of gems: tanzanite and turquoise.

Oh heavens - December arrives this weekend! I am not ready. When I think of December I think of white, silver, grey, blue... red, wine, olive, forest green...holiday colors, you know...

The December birthstones have other ideas in mind! Blues! Violets! Maybe these will fit you to a "T"!

Tanzanite - 

My "Tanzanite" palette: Silks from Marsha Neal Studio; ceramic charms and pendants from White Clover kiln and me. ( The role of tanzanite is being played by affordable iolite today.)
The newest gem in the family, tanzanite was discovered in 1967 near Mt Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania.  The entire area mined is 4 square kilometers. This is the ONLY place on the planet where tanzanite is found; the chance of it occurring elsewhere is a million to one!

One of the most famous large tanzanites (242 carats) is the "Queen of Kilimanjaro". It is set in a tiara and accented with 803 brilliant cut tsavorite garnets and 913 brilliant cut diamonds.The piece is part of the private collection of Michael Scott, the first CEO of Apple Computers.

Image credit: Tanzanitefoundation.org

By any other name...

In proper gemmological language tanzanite is " blue zoisite" (sounding remarkable like the English word "Suicide"). It was Tiffany's, (yes, THAT Tiffany's) that coined the name and started a huge marketing campaign, based on the stones outrageous color and rarity. Colors range from blues to violets; most are heat treated to 500 degrees. This heat treatment can erase any yellowish brown components frequently present due to the polychromaticity of the stone. 


Image credit: Treasure Gems and Coins

Turquoise is as ancient as tanzanite is young! The name dates back to 16th century France - as the mineral was brought to Europe from Turkey - actually Iran. Pliny the Elder, our gem buddy called it "Callais"; to the Iranians it was "Pirouzeh" meaning victory;  and the Aztecs? - Teoxihuitl!

An opaque stone, it gets its color from copper (blues) and aluminum (greens). Its a soft stone ( Moh's 5-6) and since porous - should be protected from chemicals, cosmetics.... 

Turquoise has always been attributed with good luck, good fortune, happiness, long life. It was believed to protect horse and rider from falls. It is said to increase protection, friendship, love; to augment communication and meditation skills; to shield the wearer from harmful influences.

My turquoise palette! Thanks to Marsha and Mary, as above, 

Location, location, location...

Some of the earliest mines, dating back to 3000 BCE are located on the Sinai Peninsula. The Ancient Egyptians mined their turquoise there... Persian mines, in what is now Iran, date back at least 2000 years. Other worldly locations where turquoise can be found include China, Tibet, Australia, Afghanistan, Chile, even Cornwall in England!

Of course the American southwest is a location famous for its turquoise. Cerillos, NM may be the oldest mine - from the 1920's. The town has evolved from mining town, to ghost town, and now tourist destination on the Turquoise Trail. Arizona is known for its famous, and still active mines: Sleeping Beauty and Kingman, 2 famous name among many. Nevada turquoise is available almost state wide! These stones are often identifiable for their attractive brown/black limonite veining, called "spiderweb matrix". 
Image credit - Turquoise Lady

Turquoise is too rich a subject - stay tuned tomorrow for a brief Art History visual tour. Thanks for stopping by!



  1. Fabulous post. I am loving learning about all these gem stones. Thanks for sharing it. :-)

  2. Fabulous post. I am loving learning about all these gem stones. Thanks for sharing it. :-)

  3. Wonderful post. Very interesting information and I loved the examples as well as the picture of the mines.

  4. Awesome! Reminds me of the book Jewels: A Secret History by Victoria Finlay. Love reading these fascinating tips! Enjoy the day. Erin

  5. I love reading your posts and all the information they contain!!!!

  6. I love the palettes you put together when you do a stone 'talk'. All very interesting. Andrea

  7. I love the colour of Tanzanite, I have a strand of very expensive little chips I have been too scared to do anything with! And turquoise is just my favourite, both the stone and the colour named for it.

  8. Wow - The Earth is pretty freaking Cool!!! Thanks for sharing all this great info!


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