Tanzanite becomes a December birthstone

The American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) has added tanzanite to the list of traditional birthstones for the month of December.

Tanzanite, with its blending of royal blue and burgundy wine hues, was first introduced to the public in 1969 and has grown to become the most popular blue gemstone after sapphire. Adding it to the traditional list of December birthstones (currently turquoise and zircon) should help build even more demand for the stone, says Douglas K. Hucker, executive director of AGTA. The organization made the announcement Oct. 30.

Hucker said the idea was sparked during a meeting of industry association leaders earlier this year. Among a variety of gemological issues being discussed, someone brought up the idea of finding another alternative gemstone for December, and there was strong consensus among the associations that tanzanite would be a good choice.

But can anyone just suddenly declare a new birthstone?

“There’s no astrological authority [that assigns birthstones],” Hucker told JCK. “Most birthstones were established through tradition. Some date back to Biblical times, but the current, contemporary list was developed in the ‘30s or ‘40s by a group of jewelers in the Midwest who got together to develop a modern list of birthstones and alternate birthstones. The decision to include tanzanite for December was also reached through an industry consensus.”

Hucker said AGTA is working closely with other associations like the Jewelers of America and the American Gem Society to disseminate information quickly before the holiday selling season begins. Both AGS and JA already have included tanzanite in their promotional materials for the holiday selling season, he said. Other associations involved in the consensus included the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the International Colored Stone Association (ICA).

According to the National Retail Federation 2002 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, consumers plan to increase their holiday spending by 2.6% over last year’s projected spending, and 23% of this year’s survey respondents indicated they want to receive jewelry or precious metal accessories. “Consumers will be in the stores soon searching for the perfect gift—and we [AGTA] hope that gift is Tanzanite,” says Hucker.

The only known source of the gem is a five-square-mile area in the hills of Merelani, between Moshi and Arusha in Tanzania, Africa. While some tanzanite displays trace of blue when it is mined, most crystals emerge from the earth with a muted gray green color. All tanzanite gems have been subjected to heat during the fashioning process to produce the violet-blue hues consumers know, says AGTA.

For further information on tanzanite, visit the AGTA website at www.agta.org.

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