Romancing a New Stone

An ambitious jewelry upstart is dusting off the 20th century's greatest promotional coup in its bid to make tanzanite the next hot rock

Photograph for TIME by Darin Haddad

A Tiffany and Co. cushion-cut tanzanite-and-diamond pendant, which sells for $100,000.

Most gems are found in several places in the world. Emeralds come from Colombia but also from Zimbabwe; there's amethyst on almost every continent; and diamonds—although associated with Africa—are mined in Russia and Australia, among other places.

Not tanzanite. The stone, which is often likened to blue sapphire but is more brilliant with violet overtones, was discovered only 40 years ago, and geologists are convinced that it occurs in only one place in the world: Africa's Rift Valley, 25 miles from the base of Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, in a little place called Merelani.

Twenty minutes down a dusty unpaved road, about...

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