Posted on October 10 2016
Garnet comes in many colors — beautiful, richly hued, readily available, and, for the most part, reasonably priced. But we have a couple of exceptions, rare members of this family that command particular attention. Tsavorite is one example.
Thank goodness for the buffalo
In 1961, Scottish geologist Campbell Bridges was working in what is now Zimbabwe. He noticed unusual combinations in rocks near his camp and decided to explore their gemstone potential. One day while investigating the area, he made his way up a gully only to find “an old rogue buffalo” — his words — ready to charge. He dove back down the ravine remaining there until the threat wandered off. It was there on the gully walls he first saw spotted “small bright green crystals,” though not of gem quality.
In 1967, he again laid eyes on the green crystals and this time, he found them in Tanzania near its border with Kenya. The crystals were remarkable for their intense color and high transparency. He gathered some for further investigation. And so tsavorite emerged from many millions of years in hiding.
What is it?
Gemological examination identified the specimens as green grossular or green garnet. This garnet was unusual for its richly saturated green color and, as time revealed, its rarity. To this day, gem quality tsavorite is found principally in northeastern Tanzania, southeastern Kenyan and two locations in Madagascar.
A place and a name
Sometime in 1968, Bridges contacted Henry B. Platt, president of Tiffany’s and told him about the green garnet discovery. Platt shared Bridges’ enthusiasm, and when Bridges could provide a steady supply from Scorpion Mine, Platt wanted Tiffany’s to introduce it to the U.S. market but they needed a name. Platt decided on Tsavorite after Kenya’s Tsavo National Park, not far from the site of Scorpion Mine.
What else do we know?
Tsavorite comes in vibrant green hues with some rivaling emerald. For this reason, it is considered an alternate birthstone for May. So how does tsavorite compare to emerald? Quite favorably. Though the range of colors and Mohs scale ratings are similar, there are striking differences. Tsavorite —
- Is more durable than emerald and better for daily wear.
- Has a higher refractive index than emerald: 1.74 to 1.58, and higher dispersion rate of 0.28 to 0.14 giving it more fire and brilliance than emerald.
- Has greater clarity than emerald.
- Has no treatments, enhancements or synthetics.
- Up to 3 carats, costs less than emerald.
Most tsavorite gets its color from vanadium. But a deposit in Kenya’s Kuranze area yields tsavorite with chromium giving them exceptional color with hints of blue. The mine produces few stones, most of them small, but they are considered the finest quality. Naturall they’re called Kuranze tsavorite.
Is there a mint green tsavorite?
In a word, no. Some people call them tsavorite, but the name refers to the vivid greens. Mint green is mint garnet or mint green grossular.
A legend in the gemstone world until his death in August 2009, Campbell Bridges led a colorful life.
- After his 1967 discovery of tsavorite, he began mining in Tanzania. Shortly after, the government embraced socialism and nationalized the mines.
- He followed the geological formation north of the Kenyan border and once again mined tsavorite. Life in Kenya was . . . Let’s say “unusual.”
- He named the Kenyan mine Scorpion Mine in recognition of the many 8′ scorpions that infested the area.
- Other challenges included swarming army ants that devoured all in their path, blood-sucking tsetse flies, and lions.
- He kept these perils at bay by living in a tree house 25’ off the ground. He said that it was “cooler up there, and the view was magnificent.”
- He used a python or cobra to guard his gems.
- When away from his tree house for long, one or two of the area’s leopards would drag their kill up there to feast. On Bridges return, the offended leopard would circle the tree growling angrily, scratching his claws on the bark.
Sadly, Bridges’ death proved as tragic as his life was remarkable. On August 11, 2009, an angry mob killed him over disputed access to his mine or property. The details are unclear. At the 2010 AGTA Tucson GemFair, the International Colored Gemstone Association, American Gemstone Trade Association, and Gemological Institute of America paid tribute to Bridges, an industry icon, and active contributor for many years.
Now that’s intense
Tsavorite weighing more than several carats is rare. The gems formed when tectonic plates collided. The pressure and heat were so intense that most were fractured at this time, emerging as small and even tiny pieces.
We offer calibrated tsavorite in sizes up to 5mm round and 7x5mm oval. Sizes greater than several carats are rare and costly. However, our special order department can find them.
The Smithsonian has two prized tsavorites. One is a 15.93 carat pear-shaped tsavorite. The other is a 7 carat cushion tsavorite (pictured).
Then something extraordinary happened
In early 2006, miners found a large extremely clean mint green grossular. When cut, it yielded a 120.68 carat gem. Shortly after and not far away, they found the largest known gem-quality tsavorite crystal, weighing 925 carats. It was cut into a spectacular 325 carat tsavorite (shown) and displayed at the 2007 Tucson Gem Show. How much is it worth? I couldn’t begin to imagine.
A powerful adornment
Tsavorite hasn’t had enough time to accumulate many unique powers nevertheless it has acquired some. And it shares the powers belonging to all garnet. Here’s the scoop.
- Protects all travelers
- Encourages love and compassion
- Helps build self-confidence
- Imparts strength, vitality, and optimism
- Aids in decision-making
- Helps calm emotions
- Supports the immune and respiratory systems
- Boosts the metabolism (strength and vitality)
- Detoxifies the wearer’s body
So go ahead and start sharing tsavorite’s story. You’ll find many rapt listeners and buyers.