Just a glance at the accompanying photo and you understand why these relative newcomers became so popular so quickly. Tanzanite and Tsavorite were both “discovered” in 1967. In 1967 these gems from East Africa were brought to the attention of European and American gem buyers and quickly caught on. Why—the color of each has so much immediate eye-appeal.
Tsavorite is much more rare that Tanzanite and comes in smaller sizes. So, Tsavorite has never been quite as well known. Also, Tsavorite has always brought much higher prices—size for size in comparison. But think about it. Tsavorite is a green garnet. That is very exciting. At least 100 years earlier a green garnet was discovered in Russia. That gem is Demantoid Garnet. Demantoid is a different type of garnet with its own interesting properties.
Tanzanite hit the world with an almost sonic boom. The color and the comparatively larger sizes were an instant hit. At the time Tanzanite made it to Europe and the USA sapphire of good color was almost impossible to find. Tanzanite was initially promoted as a Sapphire substitute. However, the look of Tanzanite is distinctly different and unique. Having its own “look” has put Tanzanite in the position of being appreciated for its own sake. Sapphire in good colors and clarity and size is still an expensive proposition but does have the advantage of being 9 in hardness and suitable for daily wear.
Discussing the trade-offs between gems brings us to one issue of being a collector. Just like a mom loves all her kids a gem collector loves all the gems—differently but equally.
We’ve shown a lot of garnet photos over the past few weeks. One of our favorite garnets is Tsavorite which many Gems At Large aficionados know is named after Tsavo National Park in Kenya. We’ve been in Kenya buying rough Tsavorite as early as 1977—directly from the mine owners. I remember cutting some of my first experiences cutting Tsavorite go back even further to as early as 1974—not that long after its original discovery. Commercial mining of Tsavorite is reported to have begun only in 1971.
What a beautiful color of green we get to see in Tsavorite. Tsavorite is a color variety of grossular garnet—which is a calcium rich garnet. Initially gemologists assumed that the green color was caused by chromium as is the green color in Emerald and Demantoid garnet. Oops. It turned out that it is vanadium that gives Tsavorite its color.
A couple of gems that we really love come from East Africa. Our first trip overseas together as young marrieds was to East Africa in early 1977. We were early adopters to East African gems and Tanzanite and Tsavorite were on our list even back then. We were dealing directly with miners in the region. As you can see from the photo there is a good reason the entire population of the earth immediately fell in love with these two gems.
While it is normal for Tanzanite to occur in larger sizes it is quite unusual for Tsavorite to come in larger sizes like the 6 carat gem in the photo. This is especially true for larger sizes in good colors. Some times Tsavorite is too dark or too light in the larger sizes. The piece featured is a “Goldilocks Just Right” color. If you haven’t added these two beauties to your collection you might want to save up. They’re worth it!
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Garnets are actually a group of minerals that have a lot in common. As the world becomes more and more gem-savvy, more people are coming to know the wonders of garnet.
First of all, garnets are all silicate minerals and crystallize in the isometric crystal system (also known as the cubic crystal system). The most common crystal form within the isometric system in which Garnets form is a “rhombic dodecahedron:” a 12 sided form that is somewhat of a cube with fanciful flourishes. While a true cube has 6 sides, garnets add another 6 just for fun.