Steve Moriarty Visits the Mines for Tanzanite
Steve Moriarty is back in Tanzania! Steve is the owner of TanzaniteJewelryDesigns.com and the retail store Moriarty's Gem Art, located in Crown Point, IN. Every couple of years Steve travels to Tanzania in search of Tanzanite. He loves not only the Tanzanite hunting, but the people, the country and the culture. I, Jeff Moriarty, his son, was hoping to go with him this year, but due to work (elsewhere) I was unable to. I promise to do this trip one day, so instead I will be re-living this trip with you, the reader, through this blog!
This trip is different though. He has brought along Matt Bigelow, a professional photographer and close friend to the family. This means you are going to get an up-close-and-personal view of what really happens and how far Steve is willing to travel to get the most beautiful Tanzanite you have ever seen. Throughout the next days of blog posts, you will get close eyed view of Steve and Matt's travels through Tanzania. See what they see. Meet who they meet. Learn what Tanzanite looks like in it's raw, rough form.
Arrival in Tanzania
After 18 hours of flying, 5 hours or layovers and almost no sleep, Steve and Matt arrive in Tanzania. Steve has done this before, but for Matt, this is the furthest he has traveled but is going strong. But first things first...time for breakfast. This isn't your normal American breakfast eh?
After breakfast they planned on scoping out some local spots in town (They are staying in Arusha, Tanzania right now), get some coffee to drink (going to be a long day!) and set up some meetings with local contacts in the Tanzanite mining industry to start some gemstone buying.
One thing you have to get used to while traveling in Tanzania or any other country are the locals. When you are one of the few white people in town, many like to chat, but many also like to try to sell you things. Whether it be pushing to local markets, or selling different items or safaris, you can get it all. Always nice talking with them though.
One great thing about traveling to Tanzania or any other country (where it puts you out of your comfort zone) are the markets. So interesting to see what other countries and people sell. You can really find some unique items to bring back for gifts or just things for yourself. Here are some pictures from markets and random people they met with shops in Tanzania.
The first day was mainly about making contacts and checking out what was going on locally in the area. We would be in buying mode in the days to come. After a long and tiring day, Steve headed back to the hotel to rest, while Matt Bigelow decided to to some exploring and meet the people of Tanzania. These are some great shots he took. Expect more amazing shots from Matt Bigelow in upcoming posts and even more information about buying Tanzanite in Tanzania.
Day 2 in Tanzania (See Day 1). After waking up from a much needed night's sleep, Matt Bigelow (professional photographer and family friend) and Steve Moriarty set off to visit the Tanzanite mines in Tanzania today. Steve has visited plenty of mines in Tanzania over the past 10 years, but still gets excited every time he gets to visit a new mine.
Yes...visiting the mines today, Steve and Matt needed to pick up explosives, and of course, the paperwork to allow them to use the explosives in Tanzania. Before they set off to the mines, they stopped off for some supplies, snacks and water.
The mines that Steve and Matt were going to visit today were only about 1-2 hours from where they were staying in Arusha, Tanzania, so they decided to take a scenic route so Matt could take pictures. This scenic route was one of the worst rodes they have ever been on, but the pictures Matt was able to take were worth it.
On the way to the Tanzanite mines, Steve and Matt ran across some miners hanging out by the mines and sifting through "dump" piles. What are dump piles? These are basically the extra material that was excavated from the Tanzanite mines. It garbage to the mining companies, but you can still find Tanzanite if you sift through these "dump" piles. Matt wanted to take some pictures of these miners, so they stopped and did a few photo shoots...Steve even got into the action and did some "dump" pile sifting.
On to the Tanzanite Mines
When the pictures were finished, Steve and Matt moved on and finally arrived at the Tanzanite mines in Tanzania. When using explosives for the mines, there are a few things that need to be done. They set up the fuse, the charge and the explosives. They were all ready to blow the mine, but then the power went out. This is very common in Tanzania...power outages. Because of the outage, it was not safe to detonate the explosives and go into the mine. While waiting for the power to come back on, Steve, Matt and their new friends decided to eat and take some pictures.
Some pictures of Matt and Steve at the Tanzanite mines with the local miners.
No Power...Let's Go!
Because it was getting dark, and there was really no sign of the power coming back that day, Steve and Matt decided to at least head down a little into the mines to get to see them. Only armed with a lamp, a cable and ladders here and there, they both headed into the mines with the local miners. It was dark and damp...and the minerals in the mines glistened when the light touched them. What an experience.
It's hard to really tell how dark it was down in the mines. There was absolutely no natural light. At one point they turned off the lamps and it was pitch black...no light at all. Very scary! See that little tiny hole there, that's the entrance. Really shows how far they traveled into the mines.
When they came back up from the mine, they decided to see what the miners had gotten from the day at the mine. Wasn't much, but still exciting to see what was pulled from the mine by the few miners that were there.
Today is Day 3 in Tanzania. If you missed Day 2, you can see it here. Steve and Matt have been to the mines, and now today is the day where they do some actual buying of Tanzanite. Below we will go through the entire buying process and Matt Bigelow(professsional photographer and family friend) is going to be taking amazing pictures of the day.
Like the other mornings, Steve and Matt started off with a good local breakfast. After that they headed to Suni's office. Suni has been the contact here for buying Tanzanite. Steve met Suni a few years ago from another trip to Tanzania. It's hard to find someone you can really trust in Tanzania, well anywhere for that matter, so it's great to have a friend there. For this trip, Suni has been driving Steve and Matt to the different mines in Tanzania and is actually a local mine owner and gem dealer, that has a ton of contacts in the Tanzanite business. Great to be with him during this trip.
How to Buy Tanzanite
Buying Tanzanite or any other gemstones is a pretty straigh forward process. So what happens?
- You want to set up a meeting with the people that have the gemstones. So all the dealers are contacted and made aware that Steve (or any other buyer) is in the area and looking to buy stones.
- If there is a dealer that has something of Interest for Steve, than I meeting is set up
- When they meet, if Steve likes any of the stones, he and dealer agree to a price
Not to hard right? Well there are always things that happen between those steps, which we will talk about below, but that's basically the outline of how to purchase Tanzanite is Tanzania.
Rough Vs. Cut Tanzanite
When Steve looks at Tanzanite, many times they are offered in rough. Steve prefers this form, as he gets to then cut it the way he wants. But many times the dealers do bring him cut gemstones (the kind you are used to seeing). He has been cutting gemstones for decades, so he is a perfectionist, and many of the cut gemstones that dealers bring him are far from perfect, so that requires him to recut the stone when he gets back into the states, which means more time and more money.
Why Buy Tanzanite in Tanzania?
It's always best to go to the source for Tanzanite, or any other gemstone for that matter. And what's so unique about Tanzania is that it's the only place on earth you can find Tanzania. So you can take a trip out to Nevada and try to mine Tanzanite...it ain't going to happen! And this is why Steve travels here so much. This is why we have the biggest selection of the finest Tanzanite gemstones.
Like all gemstones, their are color variations in Tanzanite. With Tanzanite, most colors are a shade of blue to purple. Some colors are more desired than others, especially the deep purple. But you can even find Tanzanite with shades of red. Below is a redish Tanzanite that Steve says is particularly rare...and wow is it beautiful.
Buying Single Tanzanite vs A Parcel of Tanzanite
Above we listed out the common steps to buying Tanzanite, and like we said, this isn't always the case. And this actually happened today during the buying trip. After looking at all the Tanzanite from one particular dealer, Steve chosen 3-4 pieces of Tanzanite he wanted to purchase. Then came talking about the price. Werll come to find out, the dealer of these particular Tanzanite didn't one to piece them out, he wanted Steve to purchase the entire lot, also known as a parcel. Seems like a scam doesn't it? Well according to Steve, this this quite common in the industry.
Why do they do it?
So imagine that you have 10 pieces of Tanzanite. You need to sell them all. Out of the 10, 7 of them are bad to ok, 3 of them are amazing. If you go and only sell the 3 amazing stones, you are left with 7 ok pieces, which are going to be much harder to sell. But if you sell them as a parcel, you are guaranteed to not only sell the great ones, but the bad ones too.
What did Steve do?
Well after negociating for the entire parcel, the price was just too high for Steve. He hated leaving behind the amazing Tanzanite pieces, but didn't want to spend that much for the entire parcel. It was only day 3 of the trip, so he knew there would be many more opportunities for Tanzanite buying in the future.
Back to Suni
After the dealer meeting was over, it was time to talk with Suni again. He had brought some gemstones he recently aquired and wanted to discuss them with Steve. Having Steve there was good for Suni as well. Because of the Steve's knowledge, he can not only help Suni, but give him some education each time Steve comes to Tanzania. Matt was watching this whole experience unfold and said it felt like science class all over again.
One interesting thing they did during this session was the process of heating up gemstones. I, being Steve's son, have seen this process in action many times back at our shop in Indiana. It was cool seeing pictures of this happening in Tanzania. What does heating gemstones do? It can actually change the color of the gemstone! Not only can it lighten or darken a gemstone, but in some cases, completely change the color of a gemstone. In the picture below, a red gemstone is being changed to a peach color. Real cool stuff!
Another day has passed here in Tanzania. If you haven't kept up with the previous day, check out Day 3 here. If you haven't been keeping up with the previous blog posts, Steve Moriarty (owner of Moriarty's Gem Art and this website) and Matt Bigelow (professional photographer and family friend) are in the middle of their trip to Tanzania in search of Tanzanite and other gemstones. Day 4 is here and they are out and about for another round of buying Tanzanite and gemstones.
Beginning the Day
After a good breakfast, we waited for Jamal to arrive. He was a friend of Steve's and our driver for the day. Now they say a friend, but they have actually never met in person, so it was strange looking for someone in this town and not knowing what they look like. The good thing is that there are not many white people in town, so it would be easier for Jamal to find them. After he easily found them, they hopped in his car and headed off to his office.
Gemstone Buying in the Dark
When Steve looks for gemstones, he has to use an LED Flashlight much of the time. This allows him to see imperfections in the stone, as the light reflects off the cracks and imperfections, it makes them much easier to see from the naked eye (when natural light is an issue). The problem is that this isn't a true representation of the stone though, so you still want natural light when viewing gemstones. Also, due to the frequent power outages in Tanzania, it's good to have one as a backup if the power does go out. In this case, it's good he had it.
Once the power came back on, Steve was able to use his other tools to view the gemstones. The tool below is a much more accurate lighting tool and gives a much better representation of what the stone actually looks like.
Advantage of Being a Gem Cutter in Tanzania
Picking out good stones in only part of the battle. Because most of the stones you are looking at are in rough form, if you have the knowledge of gem cutting, you know what stones work for what cuts. This way you can pick out stones based on knowing how they will look after you cut them. Finding a stone with no imperfections is just not enough. Think about it, you could find an amazing stone at an amazing price, but if it is a awkward shape, you might not be able to cut it. Then the gemstone is awesome useless.
Once Steve finds the stones he wants, he measures them to make sure the dimensions of the stones meet the dimensions he needs to cut the stone when he returns back to the United States.
Spessartite Garnet in Tanzania
During this buying trip, the dealer had a ton of Spessartite Garnet. If you haven't seen this gemstone before, it's quite beautiful once it's cut correctly. Steve has a nice selection here. As you can see in the picture below, the dealer had a ton of Spessartite Garnet! This is good and bad. With so many, you have to go through each stone individually to find ones with few imperfections and that can be cut well. Steve did this...and it took a great deal of time, but he was able to find a few pieces that would work out perfectly.
During this long process, Matt even got involved in learning how to pick out a quality gemstone. Here he is viewing the Spessartite Garnet. And here is Matt happy for himself after his rewarding experience...lol.
Final Purchases for this Buying Session in Tanzania
- Rhodolite Garnet — 16.04 Grams
- Zircon — 7.41 Grams
- Spessartite Garnet — 23.74 Grams
- Merilani Mint Garnet — 1.46 Grams
- Star Sapphire Yellow — 1.84 Grams
No Tanzanite this time, but the trip is just beginning and I am sure there will be many more chances for them to purchase Tanzanite.
Steve Moriarty (owner of Moriarty's Gem Art and this website) along with Matt Bigelow (professional photographer and family friend) have been in Tanzania now for 5 days. Miss Day 4?They have traveled to the mines, visited with tribes and have been buying Tanzanite from dealers. What they have learned over the past few days is that buying has been pretty scarce around the mines and other areas in Tanzania. So for the next couple days they decided to stay in Arusha and do some Tanzanite buying from the local dealers in the area. Not only would this save them time, the risk of not finding something is far lower.
Meeting with Local Dealers
The first local dealer they met up with invited them in. There was a large security guard at the entrance, who led them up some steps to another door, which was guarded by another person. That security guard signals to the surveillance camera overhead and a buzz sound unlocks the latch, and then he head down another hallway. At the end of the hallway, they entered another gated room, which was the dealers office...wow a lot to get through to talk to a dealer!
Matt noted that as intimidating as this place was, the dealer was super nice (above).
The first thing they noticed when entering the room was a ton of large rocks. Matt couldn't believe this place was still standing with amount of weight from rocks on this floor. Steve told Matt that these were large chunks of ruby in zoisite. What is Ziozite? Zoisite is actually the parent to tanzanite and is basically the same mineral. The only big difference is that zoisite is green, while tanzanite is blue.
Steve Dives Right In
So Steve Moriarty dove right into what he does best, buying gemstones. Now as great as this dealer was, his selection wasn't anything unique. Steve only looks for the highly quality Tanzanite. He wants to bring back stones that are unusual and incredibly beautiful. Nothing this dealer had met his expectations.
But...by the end of this long meeting, Steve was able to grab up some amazing colored Tanzanite gemstones. You might only be used to blue or purple. Get ready for some amazing colors that Steve is bringing back!
Dealer #2 in Arusha
As soon as Steve and Matt were finished here, they moved on to the next local dealer in Arusha. The nice thing about meeting local dealers, no need for a taxi, just a peaceful stroll down the street to do some more buying.
Now Matt noted that this is was 'funkiest' office yet. It was very small, cramped and almost no room to lay out any gemstones to look at. How was Steve going to handle this one? Well this dealer only had a few pieces to offer and the prices were way too high...so Steve and Matt were out of there within 15min. Here are some pictures Matt took of this funky office.
At the end of the day, Matt and Steve met back at Suni's office to come up with a game plan for Day 6.
It's day 6 in Tanzania and today Steve Moriarty (owner of this website and Moriarty's Gem Art) and Matt Bigelow (professional photographer and family friend) decided to head back to the minds. If you want to check out what happened on day 5, click here for that!
Back to the Mines
On the way to the mines, Steve and Matt found many interesting sites along the way. From women carrying bananas, to men on bikes (bringing cooking materials to the men at the mines) to donkeys carrying water to and from the mines. Even the trucks bringing miners to and from can be found. It's amazing how much work is being done for Tanzanite.
Unlike the previous trip to the mines where Steve and Matt actually went into the mines, this trip was going to be different. They were going to take our chances and look to buy Tanzanite in the mining area, not in the actual mines. Because Steve has done this before, he knows you can make some good finds. This is because many miners in Tanzania are actually paid in Tanzanite gemstones, so they are willing to bargain to sell their stones.
So how is this done...it's pretty crazy as you can see. You basically drive into the Tanzanite mining area, park your car and wait. When a buyer like Steve is in the area, the word gets around the camps and very quickly your car is surrounded by miners looking to sell their stones. This looks very intimidating, but Steve has been doing this for decades and knows what to expect. This type of thing gets him in his element where he really shines.
Below - Steve giving Suni's son some pointers on buying Tanzanite
Below - Steve's Hat Full of Goodies
Below - Some Gemstones from the Miners at the Camp
Below - This Tanzanite Base Camp's Office
After this was all finished, Steve and Matt headed for a small mining town about 20 miles outside of the mines. Along the way, Matt got some great shots!
The Mining Town
When Steve and Matt finally arrived in the mining town, they decided to work with the local dealers instead of working in the street. This town was known for being a little sketchy and rough, so it's better to be safe than sorry. Plus when you come into a new town and work directly with the dealers, you don't stop on anyone's toes...this makes it even more safe for you.
One thing to know is that when you come to these mining towns, the dealers you meet with actually don't own all the gemstones you see. They are sort of like middle man. It's their job to provide you with a safe and comfortable working enviroment from the street sellers. They help connect the street sellers and you...this way you are not rushed from everyone in town. So what do they get from this if they don't actually own the stores? On average the dealers get 1-5% commissions on all profits for offering this 'protection'. This day in particular though, the prices were sky high...almost 3x as much as buying at the mines.
Steve and Matt started outside, but the street traffic was just too much, so they moved the buying indoors.
Matt commented that when they went to inside office, it was the strangest office he has encountered yet. There was basically a small waiting roomo (10x10). Then, the weirdest thing, in the corner of the room was a small 4ft miniture door. Through this ultra small door, was an even smaller office with a desk and 3 chairs...and yes, this is where they were to do the buying.
Below - Because of power issues, the dealer kept all the lights off in the room
Below - Suni's son looking at Tanzanite rough
Steve and Matt spent a little over 2 hours in this small, dark, cramped office. This was not the highlight of Matt's trip...lol. After doing some bargaining with the dealers, Steve ended up with some great stones!
So when all was said and done, they headed out. But because this process took so long, they got done after dark, which is not something they wanted. As mentioned before, this was not the safest town to be in, even more so after dark. Sune, our driver even did a few loops around town to make sure they were not being followed out of town. After doing some major buys all day, the locals pretty much know who you are and the kind of car you drive, so you need to be very careful. They made it back to the hotel safe and sound tough. Time for a rest day!
Day 8 has come and Steve and Matt Bigelow are ready to get back to work. Did we skip Day 7? Nope, but it was a rest day for both of them. Steve Moriarty and Matt Bigelow have been out so many days and nights, that they just wanted one day to just relax and take a break from work. Matt noted that it was hard not to go out and explore this beautiful country, Tanzania, but it needed to be done...everyone needs a break...even when in Tanzania.
Day 8 Begins in Tanzania: Gem Cutting
So Steve and Matt planned on doing quite a few different things today. The first thing on the list was to go by a local dealer's office and do some gem cutting. You might be wondering why not just take the rough back to the USA and get it there. Well it is illegal in Tanzania to export any rough greater than 1 gram (Learn more here). So this means that if Steve buys any stones in the rough that are over a gram, he needs to cut and polish them, so they are in a "finished state". This then allows his to legally export them out of Tanzania. Why do they do this? It helps Tanzania keep Tanzanite within the country, as this is a huge part of the economy here.
This is the cutting and polishing machine Steve used while over in Tanzania. He has been cutting gemstones for over 25 years (see many of his stones here). The machine is water cooled and uses blades to cut the stones. Watch out for your finger Steve!
Once Steve was finished, he was able to hand over all the stones he cut in about an hour or two over to the dealer's men. They will then do the finally finishing process to get them ready to take out of the country. Amazing how many services like this are available in Tanzania.
Many of you may know that heating gemstones can cause them to change color. Typically it lightens the color of the gemstones and if you heat it for too long, it can actually cause the stone to be clear in color...not something you want usually, especially with Tanzanite. Steve has previously bought some Tanzanite that was pretty dark in color and wanted to see if he couldn lighten them up a little bit. Great luck that the Tanzanite dealer has an alcohol lamp and Steve got to work lightening up his stone!
Now this is what Steve basically did for Day 8. This is all in the job. Matt, who was with Steve, and is actually a professional photographer decided this was the day to take some pictures of the local tribes in Tanzania. For a great story and some amazing pictures of the tribe, head over to Matt's Blog here.
It's day 9...Steve Moriarty (the owner of this site and Moriarty's Gem Art) and Matt Bigelow (family friend and professional photographer) decided to head out and go back to the mines. They had a huge success the first time they traveled to the Tanzanite mines to do some buying, so they decided to go back.
Why Buy From The Mines Directly?
When you go to the mines, the actual miners are bringing you the stones they find...direct. This means no broker and no middleman which can cause the price to skyrocket. When Steve and Matt were at the mines the first time, they were getting stones 1/3 the price that the dealers were selling them. Now, going to the mines can be intimidating and more stressful, but the deals are worth it!
The $100 Mine Fee
When entering a mining area, there is a large gate guarded by groups of men. There is a fee of $100 for every time you enter the mine. Doesn't matter if you are alone, with a broker or even with the mine owner, you have to pay the $100 entrance fee each time. Even with Sune (a friend, the driver and owner of this mine), they still had to pay the $100 fee.
Buying at the Mines
On this day, Steve was taken by surprise as even before entering the gates of the mine, a gentleman came up selling a huge piece of Tanzanite as you can see below. This person was on his way to the next town in hopes of selling it...and came across Steve!
This was a great piece of Tanzanite, but the issue was if he had purchased it, he would have no money left over for the rest of the day's buying. Since they hadn't even been into the mines yet, it would have been a rushed decision and possibly not a good one. So he passed on this stone.
One great thing about Steve is his knowledge of not only Tanzanite, but the tools to grade and test Tanzanite. He does things such as immersing the Tanzanite in a special liquid to see inside the stone. It sort of covers the outside of the stone so you can more accurately seen the inside's imperfections if it has any.
After dealing with the same group of miners for quite some time and Steve knowing that he wanted to purchase quiate bit in stones, he thought it would be best to head over to Sune's mining area where it would be more secure and they could start bargaining and taking a better look at all the Tanzanite gems available.
Reviewing & Bargaining
Once they made it to Sune's mining area, they pulled up to a picnic table and Steve did his thing. From taking a closer look at the stones they had to offer, to testing them, to bargaining with them. This is when Steve pulled out another special tool which measures the conductivity of the stone that you touch to it. This is very valuable when you are dealing with a strange shape, a rare color (like green Tanzanite) or a stone that you are not quite familiar with.
Because Shillings are used, it's takes a lot of them to even equal one US dollar. This makes it look strange when you are spending a lot of US dollars. But Steve found what he was looking for that day and it was time to make the exchange.