Tsavorite – The Unknown Green Gem

When it comes to green gemstones, the first (and perhaps the only) gemstone that comes to many peoples’ minds is emerald and rightfully so.  The history of emeralds as a precious gem goes back ages.  However, most people find bright green emeralds expensive.  Images Jewelers would like to introduce you to an alternative that’s even brighter, more durable and less expensive than an emerald – tsavorite.

Tsavorite is a member of the garnet family, which may surprise many people who think that garnets are only reddish-brown gems. They share some characteristics with emeralds – some distinctive elements and the conditions of their formation. Both derive their green color from their content of vanadium and chromium. And both are formed by the immense pressures placed on them by being located in shale at the bottom of the sea many millions of years ago.


Because of the constant shifts  at the bottom of the ocean (at that time, continents were still very much on the move), many of the known deposits of tsavorite were ground up, making very large stones extremely rare. About 85% are under 1 carat and a stone of 5 carats or more is exceedingly rare.

Tsavorite and emeralds also have some distinctive differences, however. Emeralds are often included, which diminishes their clarity somewhat. As a result of those inclusions, emeralds are often more difficult to cut without breaking. They also are often treated, unlike tsavorite. Finally, emeralds are more fragile than tsavorites, so daily display, particularly in rings, presents a greater risk of stone damage. In spite of their rarity, tsavorites are still less expensive than emeralds that are comparable in size and cut.

Tsavorites were first discovered in 1967 by Scottish geologist Campbell Bridges in Tanzania. Unfortunately, however, exportation from Tanzania wasn’t allowed at that time. But Campbell knew that the strata in which he found them existed elsewhere, as well. He continued searching for more tsavorite, finally finding deposits of it further along the same ridge in Kenya in 1971.

He had better luck in Kenya, regarding exportation, but unfortunately, only a few gem specialists were even aware of the existence of tsavorite. While he lived in a tree-house to avoid wild animals, and stored his tsavorite under a python’s watchful guard to keep away snake-fearing, would-be thieves, word slowly seeped out in the gem community of the nature of his find.

In 1974, Tiffany & Co. gave it its name, after the region in Kenya where tsavorites were discovered. – the Tsavo valley. They launched an aggressive marketing campaign for tsavorite in the USA and the rare gem quickly became a popular alternative to emeralds. Other campaigns soon made it a sought-after gem around the world.

The intense green color of tsavorites and emeralds is due to the same two elements in their make-up, but tsavorite’s dispersion (the “fire” seen in a gemstone) is twice that of emerald.  Tsavorites are also much less included, adding to the brilliance of the color and durability of the stone.

Unlike emeralds, however, the supply of tsavorite is rare, at best.  There are very few producing tsavorite mines – only a handful of the 40 or so mines that have yielded the gem – with those that exist having been subject to gang-related violence in recent years.  Because of this, most mines are currently shut down.  In addition, the Asian markets have been buying a substantial quantity of tsavorites, which has contributed to their scarcity on the open market, driving up the price.

For those that enjoy the beauty of emeralds, and want a bright green gemstone they can wear daily, a well cut tsavorite can be a very attractive choice.  Because of its rarity, many smaller jewelers won’t have it in their inventory of stones. But most established shops like Images Jewelers can show you just how beautiful tsavorite can be.

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