largest tanzanite gem
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
July 9, 2020 ·  3 min read

Miner to millionaire: Man sells largest-ever Tanzanite gems for $3.3M

Many of us dream of winning the lottery and becoming instant millionaires overnight. One man in Tanzania did almost exactly that. Not by winning the lottery, but by finding two of the largest pieces of Tanzanite in the world.

From Miner to Millionaire

Saniniu Laizer is a small-scale mining boss in Tanzania. Through his mining operation, along with a large cattle farming business, the 52-year-old employs more than two hundred people. 

Near the end of June, his employees found two massive pieces of the rare gemstone Tanzanite, one weighing 9.27 kilograms and the other weighing 5.1 kilograms. The previous record for the largest-ever tanzanite gemstone was 3.38 kilograms, making this the largest find in history [1].

Mr. Laizer, who does not do any of the actual mining himself was not present at the time of the discovery.

“He has logistics experts, engineers, geologists who help him in the planning of the operations,” said manager Kiria Laizer. “He doesn’t himself go to the pit to dig. He has a number of tried labourers who … do the mining,” [2].

His workers, for their part, seem to be very happy for their boss.

“It’s a really challenging experience. It’s tough of course, working in this dusty area. We inhale a lot of dust and get sick, but we haven’t lost the determination to work. We feel grateful that our boss has finally got these stones. We are planning to have roast meat together when we return to the mining site.” [2]

Laizer had sold the gemstones to the Tanzanian government for 3.3 million dollars US. Tanzanian President John Magufuli is also very happy about the situation.

“This is a confirmation that Tanzania is rich,” he said to minerals minister Doto Biteko [1].

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Why is Tanzanite so Precious?

Tanzanite is an exceedingly rare blue gemstone, whose mineralogical name is actually “blue zoisite”. It was given the name “Tanzanite” by Tiffany and Company because they thought it would be easier to market and spark customer interest.

The name Tanzanite is inspired by the location in which the gem can be found, since the only known deposits of the precious stone can be found in Northern Tanzania. All mines are located in an area that is about eight square miles in size and found in the Merelani Hills near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro and the city of Arusha.

Tanzanite was not discovered in commercial quantities until the 1960s, and is now the second most popular blue gemstone after sapphire. It is the only gemstone with a large and growing popularity that has such a limited known supply, and there are some who believe that the current source of Tanzanite could be depleted in only thirty years [3].

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Paying it Forward

Mr. Laizer has four wives and thirty children, but is not planning on using his newfound wealth on just his own family. First things first, he’s planning on throwing a big party.

Once the celebrating is over, however, he plans on giving back to his community. Having not had an education himself, he wants to use his money to invest in future generations so that they can go to school.

“I want to build a shopping mall and a school. I want to build this school near my home. There are many poor people around here who can’t afford to take their children to school,” he said [2].

He also plans on distributing ten percent of the profits among his workers, which would work out to be over fifteen hundred US dollars per person- an amount that can go very far in Tanzania.

Because Laizer has a mining licence, local mining officials are celebrating a find as a success story in the fight against illegal prospecting, which is a problem in the area [1]. Since last year there have been several trading centers set up around the country where artisanal miners can sell their findings to the government, in an effort to improve conditions in the industry [2].

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