Tanzanite_Hayley Henning

You can buy Hayley Henning’s book, Tanzanite: Born From Lightning.

Haley Henning_Tanzanite

Kunal Sampat:                      Since its discovery in 1967, tanzanite has become one of the most intriguing and desirable gemstones of our time, managing to capture the imagination of jewelry designers and collectors who have fallen in love with its mesmerizing color, romantic origin and captivating brilliance. Today I have the honor to interview Hayley Henning. She is the author of the newest book on tanzanite, Born from Lightning. Hayley was the driving force behind the Tanzanite Foundation as the executive director. Her main achievement was to give tanzanite a sustainable position in the gemstone industry.

During her time as the executive director, Hayley was also making a difference in the lives of local communities outside the tanzanite mining areas, which led her to spearhead several corporate social responsibility programs in the region. This resulted in the construction of schools and orphanages, as well as setting up The Maasai Ladies Project teaching a group of Maasai women jewelry-making techniques and business practices. I hope you enjoy my interview with Hayley Henning. Let’s get started. My first question was, tell me about your inspiration for your newest book, Tanzanite: Born from Lightning. Why this topic and who’s it for?

Hayley Henning:                  First of all, as I had already explained to you, I have been involved in the tanzanite industry for a number of years. I started way back in my 20s in South Africa, which is where I’m originally from, and the company that I was working for acquired the mining license for what I assumed to be this new, new gemstone. I mean, nobody in South Africa had heard of tanzanite.

Anyway, I started to work for the company way back when in the ’90s. Very long story short, all these years later I found myself in New York running the Tanzanite Foundation, which was a marketing arm that was set up by the same company, by the way, been a long time ago, to promote and protect tanzanite and of course to market the gemstone, to educate the public or the consumer on the attributes of the gem. Tanzanite is much more known in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world because it was introduced here actually shortly after its discovery by Tiffany & Company, who actually gave tanzanite its name after the country of origin where it’s mined. Americans are quite familiar with tanzanite, sort of somewhat familiar with tanzanite.

Anyway, I’ve been running the Tanzanite Foundation for the last eight years in New York and obviously over the years I met with many, many designers, dealers, manufacturers, and really bridging the gap between what goes on at the mine and how the gem finds itself onto the necks and fingers and ears of the consumer. It is mostly through education because people who don’t know what tanzanite is, once you tell them the story, they’re intrigued.

Kunal Sampat:                      Exactly.

Hayley Henning:                   obviously the rarity of the gem, so that’s a little bit of the background and the inspiration for the book which is tanzanite itself. That’s sort of how it came about. We’ve always wanted to do a book because nobody has really done a book on tanzanite like this before. We’ve talked about it for a number of years and then my co-writer, Didier Brodbeck, is a journalist in Europe and he started Dreams magazine a number of years ago. When we met, he said, “Oh, I’d love to do a book on tanzanite.” I said, “Oh, my gosh. Well, me too, maybe one day we’ll collaborate on that,” and basically that’s what happened.

Kunal Sampat:                      Great. Who is this book for? What’s the audience that you’re trying to reach?

Hayley Henning:                  I suppose the audience is really just for gem and jewelry lovers.

Kunal Sampat:                      Hmm (neutral).

Hayley Henning:                  It’s a fantastic tool for the industry, by the way, promotional tool, because it showcases the most exquisite, one-of-a-kind tanzanite jewels, so it’s an inspiration tool for designers and people who are interested in working tanzanite, to see it used in exquisite pieces of jewelry with diamonds or other colored gems.

Kunal Sampat:                      Hmm (neutral).

Hayley Henning:                  From a jewelry point of view, that could be very useful. Is it consumer-orientated? Well, it is. It’s sort of written in a very mainstream way. It’s not particular, it’s not technical. It’s not a technical book. It was designed to be mostly images, and then of course it does talk at the beginning of the book a little on the history of the stone, even though it’s not a very long history. It talks about discovery and a little bit of the folklore behind tanzanite.

Kunal Sampat:                      Sure.

Hayley Henning:                  Then that just goes into page after page of exquisite tanzanite jewelry …

Kunal Sampat:                      Nice.

Hayley Henning:                  That’s designed by some of the world’s most well known brands and designers. For anybody who loves jewelry, they’re going to love this book.

Kunal Sampat:                      Right.

Hayley Henning:                  Specifically, if they love tanzanite, well then that’s obvious, but just anybody who loves jewelry is going to just love seeing these brands and designers, one page after the next with their exquisite, one-of-a-kind creations. That’s actually what’s unusual about this book because you don’t often get these names back-to-back in one publication unless it’s something that’s paid for and produced. It’s just, this is not, wasn’t obviously an advertising project. These people agreed to come into this publication …

Kunal Sampat:                      Right, right.

Hayley Henning:                  Which is sort of unusual because they’re sort of alongside one another.

Kunal Sampat:                      Exactly, exactly. My research has led me to believe that we’re in the tanzanite generation. There was a journalist that said that, or maybe it was a marketing statement, that we’re the last people to be the first-time owners of tanzanite.

Hayley Henning:                  Yes. Yeah, I said that.

Kunal Sampat:                      Oh, you said that? Okay.

Hayley Henning:                  Yes. Yes, but let me explain.

Kunal Sampat:                      Sure. Go ahead.

Hayley Henning:                  Tanzanite was really only discovered in 1967. It’s next year going to be celebrating 50 years since its discovery and people don’t realize how very rare this gem is. Only once you’ve really visited the mining area, do you realize that there is only four kilometers of stretch of land where tanzanite has ever been discovered. It’s a circumstantial presence of various minerals and crystallographic formations and of course water, H2O, that combines in this part of the world that creates the formation of tanzanite, which is over 585 million years in the making. Once this area has been mined out, there will be no more tanzanite.

Geologists and gemologists have been looking in other parts of the world where similar conditions may prevail but it’s never been discovered anywhere else, and it really is a circumstantial presence of the few elements that have come together in the particular part of the world. Upon gemological and geological exploration of this area, the conclusion that the geologists have come to is that the chances of tanzanite being found anywhere else in the world are less than one in a million. At the current rate of mining, the gems will be mined out within the next 15 to 20 years.

Look, I mean it is possible that mining can continue further but with any colored gemstone mining, one doesn’t really know for sure what lies beneath the surface of the earth or what the quality of that material is like.

Hayley Henning:                  Just getting rid of that call. We know that in the next 15 to 20 more years, there will be no more tanzanite. Even at the current rate of mining, you know the cost of mining becomes more and more expensive as the deeper one goes, so at the current dollar value of tanzanite, it just doesn’t make mining a business proposition. It’s going to be harder and harder to get one’s hands on this gem and within the next, as I say, nobody knows for sure … Is it 15 years? Is it 20? Perhaps 25 but I can assure you that within the near future, there will be no more tanzanite available. That’s why we talk about it as the one generation gemstone because if you take that 1967 date to 15, 20, 25 years from now, that literally is one generation.

Kunal Sampat:                      Hmm (neutral).

Hayley Henning:                  People who are born within this timeframe, which is basically you and I …

Kunal Sampat:                      Right.

Hayley Henning:                  We are the tanzanite generation.

Kunal Sampat:                      Right.

Hayley Henning:                  Your children or my children or grandchildren are only going to be able to inherit this gem.

Kunal Sampat:                      That’s great. Yeah.

Hayley Henning:                  People don’t realize that. Then in time, you know how jewelry historians look back at … There’s the estate jewelry or Victorian jewelry …

Kunal Sampat:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Hayley Henning:                  And they can say, “Oh, you know, um, you know, this is from a certain time.” You never find antique jewelry with tanzanite unless it’s been replacing an old sapphire but tanzanite jewelry didn’t exist before this time and it won’t exist after.

Kunal Sampat:                      Right.

Hayley Henning:                  It’s really going to form a place in jewelry history that’s sort of known as the tanzanite years.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah. Yeah, that’s great. I think that’s a great answer because I was really bothered in some ways that people didn’t realize that it was thousand times rarer than a diamond.

Hayley Henning:                  Well, that’s also … Sorry for interrupting you but that also sounds like some marketing “blah blah” but geologists have actually measured the amount of kimberlite pipes in the world basically. Diamonds aren’t even rare versus that one streak or vein, I should call, of tanzanite growth there down in Tanzania in East Africa, and they can safely say that tanzanite is at least 1,000 times rarer than a diamond.

Kunal Sampat:                      Sure. Okay. That’s great. Thanks for validating that.

Hayley Henning:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative). Pleasure.

Kunal Sampat:                      What about tanzanite do you love the most and what would you like people to get excited about?

Hayley Henning:                  Well, I’ll tell you. I love this gem in case you hadn’t noticed. I truly love tanzanite. I think the color is absolutely exquisite, the combination of blue and violet is absolutely stunning and various shades of blue and violet. Some have deep, dark, and velvety, and other times it’s sort of the lighter periwinkle, more sort of pastel shades in the smaller stones.

Tanzanite ring

Kunal Sampat:                      Uh-huh.

Hayley Henning:                  But I have to say that the color’s exquisite and there’s no other large gem of this color. I don’t want to use the word precious or semiprecious because we don’t actually refer to that. If you compare it to a sapphire, a sapphire of 20 or 50 carats is absolutely out of reach of almost anybody’s budget. You’re really talking hundreds and thousands of dollars, whereas there’s an opportunity with tanzanite to work a nice, big gemmy stone and have something of size and still have it affordable. I love that about tanzanite …

Kunal Sampat:                      Right.

Hayley Henning:                  And that it is available in larger sizes. I think the rarity of the gem is just … One cannot stress enough, this is extremely rare and while we talk so much about tanzanite and we do see somewhat inexpensive tanzanite jewelry out there, as I’ve already mentioned, in years to come this is not going to be so. Everybody’s going to be kicking themselves that they didn’t get their hands on tanzanite when they could.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah.

Hayley Henning:                  I love the rarity and I love the story. I’m South African …

Kunal Sampat:                      Hmm (neutral).

Hayley Henning:                  And I love that the tanzanite comes from this gorgeous part of the world in Tanzania, East Africa, and it’s just beautiful for anybody who’s visited that country.

Kunal Sampat:                      Right.

Hayley Henning:                  It’s gorgeous and the tanzanite mining area has actually given a lot of opportunity to the people of Tanzania through the [inaudible 00:14:24] from the mining operation to employment in that area. It’s really given Tanzanians … I mean Tanzanians have a lot to be proud of but it’s something that’s really added and put the country on the map in many ways. You know?

Kunal Sampat:                      Right.

Hayley Henning:                  You’ve got the Serengeti and you’ve got the islands like Zanzibar from a tourism point of view, and then it has this very rare and exquisite gemstone. I think that that’s something also to be very proud of.

Kunal Sampat:                      Right. Right, that’s great, no. I know you’ve touched a little bit on the semi precious/precious. Maybe can you dig a little deeper into this? I want to understand like …

Hayley Henning:                  Yes.

Kunal Sampat:                      Is imitation tanzanite a problem and what’s the difference between precious and semiprecious when it pertains to tanzanite?

Hayley Henning:                  Yeah. I’ll tell you exactly. As a gemstone person, we hate to use the terminology precious and semiprecious. I think sometimes we do use it because it’s an easy way, it’s what people understand but all of these gems are extremely precious. For them to have been categorized in the old days as precious and semi precious really does these gems an injustice. They’re extremely rare and we prefer to refer to them as exotic gems. When we go out of the category of rubies and emeralds and sapphires, the other stones, rather than call them semiprecious we like to call them exotic because they all are extremely rare and the definition of the word precious really means beauty, rarity, and durability. Of course, all of these gems including tanzanite have all three so that’s how we … I don’t want to say differentiate between precious and semi but we really don’t … We really want to try and weed out those words out of our vocabulary because it doesn’t do anything any justice, frankly.

Kunal Sampat:                      Right.

Hayley Henning:                  That’s the first answer to that question. The second answer is that tanzanite … Tanzanite, if one does want to categorize, I mean, it’s absolutely precious. It’s extremely rare. It’s very, very beautiful and it’s durable. It’s something that can be worn in jewelry. Synthetic tanzanite does exist but it’s mostly out of glass or it can be corundum material that’s been compounded and colored to look like tanzanite. However, it can never be grown in a laboratory like what they’re doing with organic diamonds. It’s absolutely impossible to duplicate the trichroism that is so unusual and that gives tanzanite its blue-violet tonality. It’s also impossible to add water. It’s impossible to add that H2O … I don’t … Do we call it an atom? I’m not sure.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah. More like molecule. Yup, yeah.

Hayley Henning:                  Molecule, there we go. That’s the word. It’s impossible to add that after the fact so tanzanite cannot be grown synthetically but of course there is material out there that looks similar but that’s simply glass or something that’s compounded from corundum.

Kunal Sampat:                      Hmm (neutral).

Hayley Henning:                  In other words, ground down and then colored and then made to look like a gemstone but it will never ever show up on any kind of a gemological device.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah, so it’s … As a consumer, is there a way for them to know if it’s real or no?

Hayley Henning:                  Not really but it’s like everything else.

Kunal Sampat:                      Sure.

Hayley Henning:                  I always say, “Buy from a trusted retailer. Do research on what you’re, what you’re purchasing.”

Kunal Sampat:                      Hmm (neutral).

Hayley Henning:                  It’s the same, buying a Louis Vuitton handbag. If you don’t know where you’re buying it or you’re buying it from a source that you think, “Ooh, no,”

Kunal Sampat:                      I love that example. I love it.

Hayley Henning:                  Sometimes it’s quite difficult.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, that’s great.

Hayley Henning:                  Or you know, it’s difficult to tell but it’s easy to tell once you put it on a refractometer, you know, from that point of view. Then also, very simply, if you look at a stone you can see from the top blue and from the side violet or vice versa, obviously more difficult to see when it’s set in jewelry but these are some of the telltale signs.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah, yeah. You mentioned about durability.

Hayley Henning:                  Yeah.

Kunal Sampat:                      People to refer to … There’s the hardness scale of a gemstone and tanzanite is between six and seven, but it’s still much harder than gold or platinum. Right?

Hayley Henning:                  Yeah.

Kunal Sampat:                      Should people be concerned about the softness of tanzanite compared to the diamond?

Hayley Henning:                  Yeah. You know what? While it does have this hardness, I mean, it’s the same as an emerald or an aquamarine but it’s not as vulnerable because it doesn’t have the same inclusion that’s so normal for an emerald to have, but it is vulnerable in that you can’t go smashing it around. I know I’ve broke, smashed a cocktail ring because I slammed my hand into a wall in a hurry and it broke. It needs to be well taken care of and I always recommend tanzanite in neck pieces or earrings where it’s not vulnerable. It’s a gem.

Tanzanite Necklace

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah.

Hayley Henning:                  Like you say, yeah, it’s harder than gold or platinum but it’s still something that needs to be treated carefully. One cannot apply heat onto the stone so the setting process is very delicate and of course we don’t recommend sizing rings or applying any heat to any piece of jewelry that’s got tanzanite in it. We also don’t encourage people keeping tanzanite jewelry in any kind of an ultrasonic, vibrating cleaning system.

Kunal Sampat:                      Right.

Hayley Henning:                  Yeah, this is just something that’s precious but having said that, that one shouldn’t treat any of their jewelry other than gently.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah.

Hayley Henning:                  You know?

Kunal Sampat:                      I’d like to change up courses a little bit. Maybe we’ll talk about fashion and style a little bit. Is there a particular shape that you prefer and why?

Hayley Henning:                  Is that a personal question?

Kunal Sampat:                      It is a personal question. Yes. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Hayley Henning:                  Okay. I love gems and I love all shapes of gems or cuts, I should say. I particularly love heart shapes. I collect heart-shaped gemstones, not everybody does. I don’t know. Do I like it better than any other? I just think it’s a little bit more unusual than an oval or a trillion with tanzanite but I love all the shapes. An emerald, there’s nothing more gorgeous than an emerald-cut tanzanite, you know, the purity and the depth of color and just the gorgeous, velvety look that you get in a stone that’s got not as many facets. Also, the cabochon tanzanites are just absolutely exquisite. I didn’t answer that question very well because …

Kunal Sampat:                      No.

Hayley Henning:                  I love all the cuts, I have to say.

Kunal Sampat:                      I think this is great because I actually, I published a blog on tanzanite and I know that the oval shapes I guess … Yeah, the oval shape is quite commonly available but the shapes that you mentioned are probably the ones I would want to go with, the heart shape especially.

Hayley Henning:                  Yeah.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah.

Hayley Henning:                  I love the heart shape. Not everybody likes heart shape but I love the heart-shaped gems. It also has a lot to do with the graphic formation of the stone. Of course, when people cut gems they cut to try to save size so that’s why you see a lot of oval because of the graphic formation sort of lends itself …

Kunal Sampat:                      Right.

Hayley Henning:                  To oval shapes.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah, yeah.

Hayley Henning:                  Anyway, that being said, there’s nothing wrong with an oval tanzanite. They’re stunning.

Kunal Sampat:                      … How do I say this? Okay. How does the consumer know that they’re paying fair market value for the stone? In other words, is there a way for them to know they’re not getting ripped off?

Hayley Henning:                  It depends. This is such a difficult question because of course it depends where you buy your jewelry from and again, that’s know your sources. Do research and make sure that you buy from a reputable source.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah.

Hayley Henning:                  It’s very difficult to put a price on anything because once the gem actually finds itself into a piece of jewelry, it somehow loses its own identity and it also can lose its own initial value, now diamonds and gold or platinum is being added. Plus, if it’s a jewelry designer, you’re getting really a work of art.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yes.

Hayley Henning:                  So we can’t look, for example, we can’t look through the book that we’ve just published and look at the Dior jewelry and say, “Oh, well the tanzanite is five carats therefore, you know, it’s x amount per carat and the other materials are x amount per carat,” and then add it together and say, “Oh, but it’s worth more than xyz.” You know? One’s just got to, I think, just understand where they’re buying from and really understand what they’re buying a one-of-a-kind, handmade piece of jewelry, obviously it’s going to cost more than something that they produced in Hong Kong or, you know, just as an example.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah.

Hayley Henning:                  Again, it’s just being aware of what you’re buying and research. Anybody these days that buys something goes onto the internet and they look but you have to compare apples with apples. You can’t go onto eBay or onto Blue Nile, for example, the diamond industry, and expect to pay the same for something that you walk into Cartier and look at. You know? It’s different.

Kunal Sampat:                      It’s different, exactly. Yep, that was great.

Hayley Henning:                  Consumers got to be smart, you know. There’s plenty of tools out there.

Kunal Sampat:                      Sure.

Hayley Henning:                  And to ask questions and also to fall in love. If you fall in love with something, I mean you really … You consider your budget for something you really want it.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah, you go with it. Right? Yup, exactly.

Hayley Henning:                  Yeah, exactly.

Kunal Sampat:                      This is more of a personal question I have that I’ve been interested in. I would love to visit one of the mines in Tanzania. It would be like an adult field trip for me. Is that even allowed and would it be safe?

Hayley Henning:                  It used to be, certainly when I worked for the company, it was really … I spent a lot of time at the mine and we entertained a lot of guests. We had a lot of industry people visiting and we hosted many, many people in Tanzania, journalists and designers and investors. It is possible. I’m not there anymore so this is not something that I take charge of or could be responsible for any further. I don’t honestly know whether they still do it …

Kunal Sampat:                      Sure.

Hayley Henning:                  But it is possible to visit the mining areas. I have heard of people that fly to Tanzania. There’s pretty tight security so you’ve got to be connected and you’ve got to be in touch with the right people. I wouldn’t recommend going all the way there without looking into it first but it is possible.

Kunal Sampat:                      Sure. Is there a best way for consumers to support the miners in Tanzania? Aside from buying tanzanite I guess, is there another way for them to support …

Hayley Henning:                  Yeah.

Kunal Sampat:                      Or is there …

Hayley Henning:                  That was the primary work of the Tanzanite Foundation because a percentage of everything that went back to the foundation project, which were schools and pumping fresh water every day from the mine into the local village. That’s a number of different things. Honestly, I’m not sure if that exists as directly as it used to …

Kunal Sampat:                      Right.

Hayley Henning:                  With the Tanzanite Foundation.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah.

Hayley Henning:                  But certainly when people do invest in these gems, they are supporting somewhat people in the ground where these things come from because it provides employment and the people, miners and families of miners, they rely on these gems for their livelihood.

Kunal Sampat:                      Yeah. Okay. I think I’m on my last question. Where can people buy your book from?

Hayley Henning:                  Oh, okay. Perhaps I should send you a link. It’s available on Amazon.

Kunal Sampat:                      Okay.

Hayley Henning:                  It’s available on Amazon and I’m still working on various other sources. It’s obviously going to be available through the Gem and Jewelry Show Tucson coming up at the end of January, early Feb, probably the JCK show in Las Vegas, and to contact me directly or to just go onto Amazon. I can send you a link or you can just look on it yourself.


2 Thoughts on "Tanzanite – Interview with Hayley Henning"

  1. Anne Stenehjem
    February 14, 2017

    Very informative interview full of great information. I had no idea Tanzanite is considered a rare stone!

    • Jinal Sampat
      February 26, 2017

      Dear Ann, thank you for your message, glad that it was helpful. Tanzanite is a fabulous gemstone and definitely something very rare and unique 🙂

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