Zale’s Suspends Sale of Tanzanite

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(Rapaport…January 14, 2002) Zale’s has discontinued the sale of tanzanite jewelry in its retail outlets because of possible links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network. A report published in the Wall Street Journal last November first alleged that Muslim extremists with ties to bin Laden profit from the gem’s trade. Zale’s then conducted its own investigation, talking with its suppliers and various jewelry industry organizations, and ultimately decided that it does not currently feel comfortable selling tanzanite.

“We certainly are not convinced one way or the other,” said Susan Lanigan, Zale’s senior vice president and general counsel. “We’ve read reports and conducted our own investigation into this, and came out on the other side not knowing much more than we knew coming in. It’s really a difficult issue.”

Zale’s has taken all tanzanite jewelry off its shelves, and Lanigan said it will not resume selling the stone until controls are put in place that will assure company management and its customers that the tanzanite trade does not benefit the wrong people.

“All of our suppliers are sincerely convinced that there is no link, but most of them are here in U.S., and we don’t think anybody can identify all of the hands that touch tanzanite as it moves throughout the commercial pipeline,” Lanigan said. “Mines there are difficult to control, I understand, and a lot of the stone is smuggled out.”

Lanigan said that she hopes the fight against conflict diamonds and the controls put in place to monitor the trade of that stone can serve as an example as to how the jewelry industry should deal with gem smuggling.

Tanzanite jewelry represented less than 1 percent of Zale’s $2.1 billion in sales last year.

QVC became the first retailer to stop selling tanzanite in late November, and Tiffany followed suit in mid-December.

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