Buying Tanzanite and Gemstones in Nairobi, Kenya


Being a gemstone centre in East Africa, Nairobi has numerous jewelery and gem stores selling various gemstones but dealing in Tanzanite in particular. This article explores the numerous pitfalls of buying Tanzanite in Nairobi and offers advice on what to look for.

Fraudulent Practices are prevalent in the Nairobi market

An article in the Nation Newspaper recently highlighted the unregulated nature of the gemstone and jewelry industry in Nairobi and East Africa in general. Fraudulent practices are widespread with many players selling inferior goods to unwitting buyers pertaining to be the finest qualities. With no Trade Descriptions Act in Kenya, shopping for Tanzanite, Tsavorite and gemstone jewelry is very much a case of caveat emptor (buyer beware). To avoid being a victim, take into consideration the following points:

What to look for :

Sales talk versus fact: First of all, it is important to have some idea of what you should expect from reputable sellers of gemstones. There are so many “merchants” in Nairobi whose sole purpose is to peddle gemstones for outrageous prices whilst purporting to be experts or even “owners of the mines”. The majority of such claims are totally unfounded and downright false. Mining in East Africa is done very informally by artisanal miners in some very remote areas. The channel of distribution generally follows the usual trend of the miners selling to established cutters and dealers who export to foreign markets or sell to local jewelery stores. Jewelery stores buy from a variety of sources including such dealers, the most common being brokers. If a jewelery store purports to own the mine and by implication, the supply, do not be taken in by this – it is pure hype and a complete misrepresentation. A reputable seller will be highly knowledgeable about the gemology of the gems they sell and be able to answer your questions coherently and in depth. They should carry some gemological qualifications to establish themselves as knowledgeable in the field rather than being purely merchants.

Gemology is an intricate field and there are a great deal of synthetics, imitations and false gemstones out there to risk buying from a seller who is not a gemologist. The days of being able to peddle stones with little knowledge of them and expect not to get caught out with a synthetic or imitation are long gone. Tanzanite for example, can be coated to enhance its colour. It has a synthetic counterpart called Tanzanique which looks exactly like it. How can you be sure you are buying a genuine gemstone when the seller themselves have no gemological knowledge or testing facilities?

The Gemstones themselves: My other Ezine article, “Tanzanite Purchasing Tips” goes much more in depth into what to look for in Tanzanite in Tsavorite to differentiate between fine stones and lower grades so I won’t go into too much detail here as it is beyond the scope of this article. However, in general, a layman can differentiate between fine stones and low grade ones simply by using common sense – the more vivid and deeply saturated the color, the finer the stone. The more flawless the clarity the finer the stone and often overlooked – the finer the cut, the more brilliant the stone, the finer the quality. Most of the stores I surveyed were selling medium to low grade goods as top grade. This is totally unscrupulous. I would suggest reading my article on Tanzanite purchasing tips on Ezine to get a good overview of what to look for. Also look at the bottom of this article for a link to my site where we list several very useful educational tools showing you what to look for in a fine Tanzanite. It is very easy to pay way over the odds for a mediocre Tanzanite in Nairobi whilst being led to believe that you are buying the finest quality.

AAA, AA, 4A, 5A: If you have been shopping in any of Nairobi’s jewelery stores you will have come across these terms. I was dumbstruck by how many stores fed misinformation using these “grades”. The first thing to understand is that none of these terms are actual gemological grades. AA and AAA were terms used by miners in early mining days to denote the 2 top grades of Tanzanite – triple A is an extremely deeply saturated color and is less than 1% of all Tanzanite, double A is a shade lighter. I was angered to find many stores in Nairobi misrepresenting very mediocre material as triple A, but even more angered to hear such sales talk as “but we also have 4A and 5A – very special and only from our mines, nowhere else” at which point they produce some double A stones at ridiculous prices. 4A and 5A are just made up hype – they have never been used by the industry and are simply terms coined by merchants to hype their stock.

You should look for sellers who issue proper gemological certificates carrying a proper scientific grade such as the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) grading system. It is all very well bandying around terms like AAA but these are simply subjective terms and they should be backed up with proper grading using a recognized grading system.

The store itself: Don’t be fooled by location – many of the stores I surveyed are located in upscale malls where they use their excellent retail location to peddle high volumes of mediocre goods to unsuspecting buyers. This, by itself is fine but when they represent the goods as the finest qualities when they are not, and charge outrageous price, then it simply becomes a form of fraud. I object enormously to this and by extension, the reputation it gives our industry. When you enter the store, look for an environment that appears professional – is the store an extension of a curio store with a merchant peddling a large array of curios with gems thrown in? Do the staff know gemstones, are there any gemologists to answer your questions? Obviously you want to look for a store that offers these things and don’t be persuaded to drop thousands of dollars on an impulse – do some research first.

Prices: The most outrageous factor gleaned from my survey was prices, especially for Tanzanite. Some stores were selling medium grade stones (which they represented as “4A” or “5A”) for over $1000 per carat. This is outrageous for the local market (in the US market this would be more normal). At the time of writing, even the very finest investment grade pieces (and I found zero stores actually selling this grade despite their sales banter promising the earth) shouldn’t be more than $780 per carat. This is for excellent cutting, flawless clarity and the very finest colour found in the top 1% of Tanzanites. Don’t be fooled into spending crazy money. Do some research first.

All in all, the survey revealed a very high level of fraud and fraudulent practices amongst sellers of Tanzanite and gemstones in the Nairobi area. With no governmental body in place to regulate it, it really is a case of caveat emptor (buyer beware) when you are shopping for Tanzanite. Do your research, go to several stores and do comparisons and look for professional and knowledgeable gemologists who are able to answer your questions fully before buying.


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