A little-known gem called tsavorite is making waves in the jewellery world. Later this year, luxury labels such as Assael, Hemmerle, Boodles and Jamie Wolf, will use the green stone, which is 200 times rarer than emeralds.
Discovered in Tanzania in 1967 by Campbell Bridges, a British geologist, the stone first captured the interest of Harry Platt, Tiffany’s then chief executive, who brought tsavorite to limited public attention with a marketing campaign in 1974.
The jeweller has carried the gem ever since, and recent interest could be down to a secondary push by Tiffany to mark the company’s 175th anniversary.
“We did a whole legacy gemstone collection building on tsavorite and tanzanite,” says Melvyn Kirtley, the jeweller’s chief gemologist. “We bought a lot more and used it in many of our designs. Last year, we carried a lot more than we had in previous years, which created interest.”
But the gem remains little-known among consumers, and that could be down to a scarcity of large tsavorites.
The stone is mostly available in sizes suitable only for pavé work, and rarely turns up in news-making pieces. Angela Cummings, a jeweller who worked at Tiffany during the years that the company brought tsavorite to market, says publicity around large gems is essential.
“You have to see it to understand it, and only then can you appreciate it. There are not enough to go around as they don't often come in five carats or larger, so people don’t know they are there,” she says.
At wholesale, a one-carat quality tsavorite costs about $464. Once stones exceed small carat sizes, prices skyrocket into the hundreds of thousands.
Tiffany recently offered a 20-carat tsavorite ring in a platinum mounting with diamonds and sapphires at $170,000, a beaded tsavorite necklace for $115,000 and a bracelet made up of 30 round stones for $180,000.
Part of that high cost lies in the source of the gem. Tsavorite is found mainly in Tanzania and Kenya, which presents problems. “Tanzania is very rich in minerals, but just getting it out of there isn’t easy,” says Ms Cummings.
Shortly after the discovery of tsavorite, Tanzania underwent political reform. When its economy had difficulties in the 1970s, the government was driven to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund.
Though the economy has stabilised, and the country has developed into a destination for luxury travel, local problems continue to plague procurement of the stone. Random attacks on miners are a frequent occurrence.
Production in Kenya is also problematic. In 2009, Campbell Bridges, was murdered in Kenya and local police suggested that the killing was over a dispute surrounding control of the gemstone mines. Since the murder, the Bridges family has halted extraction of the stone at their company’s mining concession.
Tsavorite has so far not been discovered anywhere else, which limits the amount of the stone to any that might remain in the hands of gem dealers.
Scarcity and difficulty in bringing the stone to market may have led to limited appearances throughout the past 20 years, but some designers cite more prosaic reasons.
Rosanne Karmes, founder of Sydney Evan fine jewellery, attributes this to consumers’ love-hate relationship with the colour green.
Ms Karmes, a designer who is often credited with spotting trends early, says: “There have been times when green wasn't selling too much. Blue stones are the number one bestseller. Red depends on the year. Blue is subtly appealing, whereas green is flashier.”
Despite the difficulties, designers seek out the stone. Christian Hemmerle, of Hemmerle, the German jeweller, says: “Tsavorite offers unparalleled dispersion and colour intensity. The crystals are much clearer and with fewer inclusions, as it is not mined with explosives. Connoisseurs are always after rarity, as people have realised there are gemstones rarer than rubies, diamonds and sapphires.”
For other jewellers, practicality wins out. Ms Wolf, whose collection is carried at both Bergdorf Goodman and London Jewelers, says tsavorite meets an important consumer need. “It is harder, less sensitive to fracture, than emerald. Clients buy something they can wear day in and day out, so the notion of stones with strength is an important property in a way it didn’t used to be.”
Despite the trend, it is unlikely that tsavorite will become as popular as emeralds.
Lawrence Lewis, chief executive of Assael says: “Emerald has been known for centuries, and there just isn’t enough tsavorite to saturate the market.”