Tanzanite, Zircon, and Turquoise
Babies born in December can claim these three beautiful December birthstones as their own: tanzanite, zircon, and turquoise. All three stones are rich in meaning and symbolism, are alike in their beautiful yet varying shades of blue (and sometimes other colors), but individually they are all unique. Zircon is the oldest mineral on earth, while Tanzanite is one of the most recently discovered, and was added more recently as a December birthstone.
A Look at Tanzanite
Tanzanite was named after the site of its discovery — a small plot of land in Manyara, Northern Tanzania, at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The area is relatively tiny: it’s just 2 kilometers wide and 8 kilometers long. Tanzania is not just where tanzanite was found — the East African country also remains the only source in the world for this brilliant gem.
A Masai tribesman found the first tanzanite crystal in 1967, making it the most recently discovered December birthstone.
Tanzanite, geologically a variety of zoisite, has a brilliant blue-violet hue. Tanzanite is also pleochroic, meaning that it displays distinct colors depending on how you tilt it to the light. To this day, it has not been found anywhere outside of Tanzania. The government recently built a wall around the perimeter of this small site to protect the interests of small miners.
The blue in tanzanite is caused by small amounts of vanadium inside the zoisite. According to Hobart M. King, Ph.D., the stones must be heated to 600 degrees celsius for about 30 minutes to reveal its deep blue color and for the hue to achieve its deepest richness or improvement. This might seem “unnatural,” but is in fact very mild compared to the treatment often given to sapphires and rubies.
The tanzanite crystals were likely that shade from exposure to direct heat in the Tanzanian sun. According to the Tanzanite Foundation, tanzanite was formed millions of years ago by the same massive tectonic plate activity that formed Mt. Kilimanjaro, involving “immense heat, pressure, and a rare chemical called vanadium”, mixing deep in the earth’s core. This was a highly unlikely event in geological history — the chances of it ever happening again are a million to one.
As the quantity of tanzanite is limited, it seems highly likely that it will appreciate in the coming decades as it becomes a so-called “heritage” stone. Some estimate that tanzanite will be mined out within the next 25 years. Business writers have noted that thus far, tanzanite’s true worth — given its beauty, scarcity, and the demand for brilliant gems — seems to have eluded the Tanzanian economy. Steps are being taken to correct this undervaluing, however.
Tanzanite in Fashion
Being pleochroic, tanzanite is often cut in ways that emphasize its hints of other colors. For example, a flash of violet or even burgundy may be revealed inside a brilliant blue when a tanzanite crystal is held up to the light. Cutting, treatment, and polishing can make quite a difference to a tanzanite’s appearance.
Beautifully cut pieces of tanzanite make for striking earrings or other pieces of jewelry that don’t require a lot of wear. It is less suited for items like rings because of its relative softness. If jewelry is well-cared for, however, tanzanite can make a beautiful ring stone.
The Tanzanite Foundation lists 5 C’s to look for when considering the quality of tanzanite:
- Color: Deeper blues are more valuable than lighter violets.
- Clarity: Occlusions are less appealing than clear gems.
- Cut: The more tanzanite brilliantly reflects light, the better.
- Carat Weight: One carat is 100 points and weighs 0.2 g.
- Confidence: A certificate can show a tanzanite’s authenticity.
Symbolism of Tanzanite
Tanzanite, with its vivid blue color, is said to rest the mind and clear it of negative energy. It creates a deep sense of calm and tranquility, ushering out negative thoughts and providing a sense of focus. It is said to be associated with the third eye chakra, which is linked to intuition, awareness, and mental clarity, and the crown chakra, which is related to feelings of harmonious unity with the cosmos and the divine.
A Look at Zircon
Zircon is not to be confused with cubic zirconia, which is often sold as “fake diamonds.” Zircon is in fact a brilliant and striking gem. It’s often golden-hued but is also available in tones of yellow, green, red, and blue. Its qualities, including flashes of multicolored light called fire, have led zircon to be confused with diamonds.
Zircon’s name comes from the Persian zargun, meaning “gold-hued.” This then became Zirkon in German, which later turned into the English word we are familiar with today.
Zircon found in Australia is also the oldest mineral on earth: 4.404 billion years old.
While Australia still provides much of the world’s supply, zircon is also mined in countries like Tanzania, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and the United States. Different countries tend to produce different colors of zircon. Australia’s Harts Range produces zircons ranging from yellow-brown to purple. Sri Lanka’s zircons can be green and yellow. Its rarest natural form is green. Zircon’s orange and yellow-colored varieties are also known as “hyacinth,” for their resemblance to the color of the flower.
Zircon contains radioactive trace elements like uranium and thorium, so it is a highly useful stone when it comes to dating geological history. It is a very hard stone, related to its brilliant quality, and can survive intense geographic events like erosion. Zircon, according to Hobart M. King, Ph.D., has been used for 2000 years. It is quite common (at least in small particles) and is found in igneous rock — but larger crystals, useful as gems, are in rarer supply. Zircon is quite heavy relative to other gemstones, so the crystals may be smaller than you expect given their carat weight.
Symbolism of Zircon
In traditional Hindu astrology, zircon is one of the navaratna or “nine gemstones.” The navaratna is a talisman of precisely arranged stones, representing the celestial bodies. Gems represent the important celestial bodies in Indian astrology, with ruby standing in for the sun, and zircon representing the riding stage of the moon. This was eventually adopted by Muslims, too.
According to the Gemological Institute of America, this arrangement of flawless gems, including zircon, are worn to “protect the wearer from the negative energies of the planets and strengthen the positive benefits of the different gems, bringing good health, wealth, mental strength, and wisdom.” All the gems in the navaratna are still found in India, and zircon is still mined in the eastern state of Orissa there. In the Middle Ages, zircon was thought to ward off evil spirits, as well as lull one into a deep sleep.
Contemporary astrologers and crystal healers recommend zircon as a gem that dispels depression and increases focus and meditative capacity.
A Look at Turquoise
Turquoise isn’t just a gem, it’s a color — a distinctive, lush bluish-green. There are variations in its exact shade, however, depending on the mineral composition of its source. Turquoise has always cast a spell on its admirers. Many indigenous cultures believed it to have protective properties.
According to the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture curator, Maxine McBrinn, the French, who found its distinctive color mesmerizingly exotic, called it turquoise “because they believed the beautiful blue stones came from Turkey.” In truth, the turquoise they saw was sourced in Persia — although it reached Europe via Turkey.
Turquoise still comes from modern-day Persia, aka Iran, as well as other dry, sunny desert climates like the Southwestern United States, Mexico, Egypt, and parts of China. According to Hobart M. King, Ph.D., the stone is formed when rainwater seeps down through rock and soil. Small amounts of copper dissolve. As the water evaporates, the copper combines with other elements — including aluminum and phosphorous. This creates turquoise.
Chemically, turquoise is a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminum. It is not very hard. Unlike many gems, turquoise has no industrial applications, so is used exclusively for artistic and ornamental purposes. But these uses alone have granted turquoise a special place in many cultures and for many artisans.
Today, turquoise can be found in many different places, so long as they have the necessary geographic requirements. Even California deserts like the Mojave have been known to provide amateur geologists with easily-discovered turquoise deposits. These can be found embedded in host rock and as small, egg-shaped deposits in dried-out river beds, formed by groundwater bubbling up through her rocks where copper deposits had been present.
The Historical and Cultural Significance of Turquoise
According to Fara Braid of the International Gem Society, turquoise held particularly great significance to the Aztecs. Distinguished tribal chiefs were buried with fragments of turquoise in their mouth, and offerings of this stone were made at the temple of the goddess Matlalcueye.
Additionally, turquoise — which the Aztecs called chalchihuitl — was used as a component of sculptures, masks, and mosaics of great aesthetic interest. These often depicted scenes and figures out of Aztec mythology or served religious functions. The British Museum collection includes many striking Mexican mosaic skulls, masks, and serpent depictions, all fashioned largely out of turquoise combined with other materials, like wood, hematite — and occasionally zircon, too. The masks fashioned with pieces of turquoise were often worn on ceremonial occasions.
In the American southwest, artisans from tribes like the Zuni and the Apache used turquoise (which the Apache called duklij) as an important element in their artistic pursuits, but also because they believed in its talismanic properties. Turquoise amulets, beads, pendants, and fetishes (hand-carved objects that represent animal spirits or other forces of nature) in the forms of small buffalo and other local fauna can still be seen in museums today.
According to the International Gem Society, turquoise was believed to be found like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in other cultures. Apache shamans needed turquoise to receive proper recognition from their tribes. Turquoise today still plays a rich role in the arts and economy of indigenous Americans throughout the Southwest. For example, it is often seen in handcrafted artifacts by Navajo artisans.
Turquoise, as noted by the New Mexico Museum of History blog, is made in sunny desert areas when water flows around rocks. It follows that this bright blue, visually refreshing stone is symbolic of the sky and water.
Both aspects of this symbolism can be seen in Navajo mandalas, which use elements of ground turquoise and coral to summon rain. According to curator Maxine McBrinn of the Indian Arts and Culture Museum, turquoise, in addition to standing for water and the sky, also connotes “bountiful harvests, health and protection”. Its color “symbolizes creation and the hope for security and beauty.”
Even without these connotations, many find looking at turquoise as restful and inspiring as looking at the actual sky or ocean.
Turquoise in Jewelry
In jewelry, turquoise is often paired with silver. The two colors and materials complement one another beautifully.
Navajo bracelets often set off pieces of turquoise with chunky silver. Usually associated with the “folk jewelry” look of places like New Mexico, turquoise can look more polished or rustic depending on how it’s styled. Sometimes, it carries veins of its host rock. This natural veining of black or dark brown threads can provide elegant complexity and contrast, which some people specifically look for.
Stylists advise that turquoise compliments olive-colored skin, although it can be beautiful with any skin tone. Turquoise is equally at home in bracelets, rings, and necklaces, and is often cut into oval shape. Jewelers often make use of differently-sized pieces for variety and contrast.
December Birthstones To Purchase
Whichever of the three December birthstones speaks to you, there are many lovely settings to choose from. Check out Brinker’s Jewelers today to find which gemstone you prefer for yourself or to find the perfect gift for your favorite December baby.