If you had to ask most people to name a green gemstone, emerald would probably be the first gem that comes to mind. Some may mention tourmaline, some may even mention peridot. Very few, however, would name “Tsavorite”, a great pity as it ranks as one of the most spectacular green gemstones around.
Tsavorite is part of the garnet family, a gemstone that is normally associated with red, purple and orange colours. It is a calcium-aluminium garnet with trace amounts of chromium and vanadium that provide the unique green colour.
Compared to some gemstones, tsavorite can be considered a relatively new, or young gemstone. In 1967, whilst exploring the mountains of north-east Tanzania, in the Tsavo National Park, British geologist Campbell R. Bridges discovered some unique rock nodules. As he cracked open some of the rocks, he discovered spectacularly beautiful green crystals.
Renowed American jewellery company Tiffany & Co. showed an interest in marketing these stunning gems, but the Tanzanian government would not provide export licenses for the garnets. As a geologist, Bridges knew that rock strata extend beyond country boundaries and he suspected that the tsavorite bearing rock outcrop had to extend into Kenya.
Bridges’ perseverance paid off when, in 1971, he discovered tsavorite for the second time, in Kenya. Here, he was able to officially register the deposit and began mining of the gemstone. With the interest and marketing of the gem by Tiffany & Co., the stone grew in popularity in the U.S.A.
Sadly, Bridges was murdered in 2009, during a mob attack on his property in the Tsavo East National Park, believed to be connected to a dispute regarding Bridges’ tsavorite mines.
But what makes tsavorite so special as a gemstone? Most notably, it’s vivid green colour, but it’s high refractive index compared to rubies, sapphires and emeralds makes it a gemstone of great brilliance.
Naturally occurring in a range of green colours, many gemstone lovers prefer it to emerald, due to it’s more vivid colours, better clarity and of course, it’s more reasonable price-point. Garnet is considered a semi-precious gemstone and whilst tsavorite is priced more highly than it’s traditional red, purple and orange counterparts, it is still cheaper than emerald.
Unlike other gemstones, tsavorites are rarely subject to laboratory treatments, so to coin a phrase, “what you see is what you get”. Rated at 7.5 out of 10 on Moh’s gemological hardness scale, tsavorite has a similar hardness to emerald, but is considered the more robust of the two gemstones.