Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

Lightning Strikes

Tanzanite: Born From Lightning is a coffee-table book that showcases the story of this violet-blue gem.

By Sheryl Jones
233.69-carat Bahari tanzanite and diamond brooch from Tiffany & Co. Photo courtesy Carlton Davis.
According to a Maasai folk tale, once upon a time lightning struck the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro burning the land. When the fires cooled, a spectacular blue crystal that flashed violet colors was left shimmering in the ashes. This crystal, whose mineral name is blue zoisite, came to be known as tanzanite, named by Tiffany & Co. for Tanzania, the only place in the world where it can be found, in the country’s Merelani Hills, near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro and the city of Arusha.
   The Maasai story of tanzanite’s origin was the inspiration for the title of a new coffee-table book, Tanzanite – Born from Lightning, by Hayley Henning, former executive director of the Tanzanite Foundation, and Didier Brodbeck, luxury goods consultant and former advisor on the De Beers account at J. Walter Thompson (JWT) and publisher of the French magazine Dreams, dedicated to watches and jewelry for women. Featuring images of tanzanite jewelry made by the most prestigious jewelers, the book also includes photographs of rough tanzanite gems of 100 carats or more, along with first-person accounts about the discovery of the gem and how it came to market.

Dream Come True
   The book is a dream come true for Henning. “I have always loved this gem,” she says. “It is this incredible, mesmerizing, fantastical color that is sometimes blue, sometimes violet, depending upon how the stone has been cut.” She goes on to say, “Because of my connection with tanzanite, it seemed like the book was such an obvious thing to do. While it was discussed for years and years, nothing ever happened. But it was always on my mind.”
   Brodbeck says he, too, always had a soft spot for tanzanite. The first time he came across it, he says, “It was 15 years ago and I was preparing an article on American jewelry for Dreams. While visiting New York, I discovered this fascinating and strange gemstone already quite popular there, but totally unknown in France.”
   Recalls Brodbeck, “Three years ago, big brands from Place Vendôme discovered the unique charms of tanzanite and I decided it was time to educate the jewelry industry. I approached the Tanzanite Foundation in New York to organize a lecture with the French Gemological Laboratory in Paris. Together with Hayley Henning, we did a show that was a huge success.” It was at that presentation that Brodbeck told Henning about his fondness for tanzanite. Henning promised Brodbeck that one day they would do the book, but they didn’t start until after she left the Tanzanite Foundation.

Organic Growth
   According to Henning, “The book took us two years to put together. We needed to let it happen organically, which meant a lot of back-and-forth getting information and images from different brands.” The result is an extraordinary compilation. As Henning says, “Seldom does one see these brands side by side together in one publication.” There are old and new pieces by modern designers, including Stephen Webster, Wallace Chan and Erica Courtney, along with traditional designers, including Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Bulgari. The breadth of jewelry they included, Henning says, “comes from Brodbeck’s relationship with the design houses. They trust him implicitly and knew it would be a beautiful book and that is why they participated.”
   Icaro Carlos, a jewelry designer, provided the art direction. “Behind the artistic direction of the book, there is a personal fascination for tanzanite,” says Carlos. “As a gemologist, I can say that tanzanite is without doubt one of the most magical and charming stones of all. I received so many pictures of extraordinary pieces that I opted for a clean layout avoiding distractions, focusing solely on the beauty of the stone and the creativity of the jewelers.”

Fifty Years
   Next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of tanzanite. Henning says the book just happened to be completed around this time. “If you think about it, there are no gemstones that fall into the same category as tanzanite,” Henning says. “There is nothing that comes in really big sizes, gemmy, rare, velvety, gorgeous and affordable. Tanzanite has all these fantastic elements that make it so special and that is why designers love to work with it. I am sure in time, as tanzanite becomes less and less available, people will understand just how rare and special it is. If you were to show consumers these gorgeous images in the book and ask them, what do you think this gem cost? People would expect it to be so much more.”
   “Walking up and down the aisles at trade shows, we can become blasé about all the jewelry we see, or looking through a jewelry book, we think this is just nice. But,” Henning concludes, “if you really look closely at this book at the jewelry and magnificently cut tanzanite, you will see that each piece is spectacular, an art form in and of itself. Each piece of jewelry is handmade and unusual.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - November 2016. To subscribe click here.

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