Tanzania, the world’s only known source of tanzanite, boosted output of the blue gemstones by 17 percent last year, as the country introduced a certification program to boost exports.
Production grew to about 15,000 kilograms (33,000 pounds) from 12,733 kilograms a year earlier, according to provisional Mines Ministry data provided by acting Commissioner of Minerals Ally Samaje in Arusha, 330 kilometers (204 miles northeast of the capital, Dodoma. Tanzanite One Ltd., a subsidiary of Richland Resources Ltd., is the biggest miner of the gemstone.
“One of the goals of the certification of tanzanite is to curb smuggling, which will ultimately increase exports and revenue,” Samaje said in an interview yesterday at a trade fair in Arusha. “We started enforcing supply control of tanzanite after we realized that there were a lot of exports of tanzanite coming from Kenya. Clearly, those stones are smuggled and probably in significant amounts.”
Tanzanite has gained in popularity since its launch as a gemstone by New York-based Tiffany & Co. in 1968. The blue mineral, 1,000 times rarer than diamonds, was first discovered in the East African nation 40 years ago. It is mined in an area at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak.
Tanzanian Mines Minister William Ngeleja urged industry participants to help promote certification of the gemstone.
“No tanzanite will be exported without such certificates,” he said at the first Arusha Gemstones, Jewelry and Minerals International Fair. “Government urges you to offer your support in implementing this strategy.”
The fair, which is intended to be an annual event, showcases gems from Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Madagascar, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo, said Abe Suleman, chairman of the event.
“We have buyers from the U.S., China, Japan, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Thailand,” he said. “The government has made a three-year commitment to stage and promote the show.”
The American Gem Trade Association is considering admitting dealers of tanzanite from the East African country to showcase the gem, and popularize the certificate of origin at their February fair in Tucson, Chief Executive Officer Douglas Hucker said in an interview.
Ngeleja will lead a delegation to the main tanzanite-consuming countries later this year to ask them not to allow non-certified tanzanite into their markets, Samaje said.
“We have already asked our embassies in consumer countries like the U.S., India, Japan, Thailand to approach customs officials and dealers and discuss a possible memorandum of understanding with the Tanzanian government on the tanzanite certificate of origin,” he said.