We were, and still are,proud of the fact that John was one of the first people in the world to facet rough tanzanite.”
“I was cutting tanzanite as early as 1973, just five years after it was discovered,” John recalled. “My specialty cuts were very popular with our collector clients. Tanzanite was an instant hit in the gem world. Because of its predominantly blue color, it was at first considered a possible substitute for sapphire. But those of us in the industry, who are gem lovers first and businessmen second, immediately saw that tanzanite had a unique beauty all its own.”
In those days, it was not unusual to buy tanzanite rough in large, several-kilo lots, which are impossible to find today. An occasional stone, finishing up at a huge 6o carats after cutting, might even find its way into a given parcel.
From Nairobi, which is inland, we traveled along the coast to Mombasa, the country’s most important seaport. The current population is estimated at 1 million. The name is musical, the city itself peaceful and beautiful despite the heat and humidity. We had an exp’}i-lsive view of the Indian Ocean from our quaint hotel room. We’d stand on the balcony just before sundown, listening to the sounds of the ocean and marveling at the beautiful blue-green water, the color of fine tourmaline. A huge shipwrecked freighter, abandoned near the beach, added to the mystique.
We worked hard during the day, visiting dealers and mine owners. Evenings were spent with newfound friends, many of whom owned mines. We bonded with them quickly through our mutual love of gemstones and we found ourselves fascinated by the stories from the bush that the miners shared with us. We learned that gem mining can exact a cruel price. One of the men spoke sadly of his partner, who was bitten by a dreaded black mamba snake while mining for tsavorite. Alone and unable to reach help fast enough, he died of the powerful, fast-acting poison.