If you're lucky enough to be born in January then the beautiful, bright and vibrant garnet is your birthstone. A rainbow jewel of the gem world, garnet displays the greatest variety of colour of any mineral and is one of the very few untreated gems in the industry.
With a paint palette of shades, varieties and hues, garnet is also recognised for its rich history and lore and was a favoured gem of many historic eras, including royalty of the Victorian times, pharaohs of Ancient Egypt as well as Ancient Romans.
Demantoid garnet with clear horsetail inclusions. Image by Pat Daly.
Colours of garnet
Garnet is commonly seen in a striking spectrum of red, from orange rust, deep-violet to rich royal reds reminiscent of a pomegranate fruit. The term 'garnet' comes from the name "gernet", a 14th Century Middle English word meaning dark red, further deriving from the Latin 'granatum' meaning 'pomegranate'. This connection is made due to the resemblance of garnet crystals to the seeds and rich red colour of the fruit. Garnet is a term for a group of minerals found in various colours from the red Pyrope garnet to the zesty green Tsavorite garnet.
The range of garnet colours comes from trace metals such as manganese, iron or chromium. Variations in chemical composition between different species of garnet result in a range of hardness from 6.5-7.5.
Polariscope garnet peridotite. Image by Pat Daly.
Left: Spessartine garnet with feather inclusions. Right: Hessonite garnet with crystal inclusions. Images by Pat Daly.
Types of garnet
There are five main species of garnet that have the same crystal structure but slight differences in their chemical composition.
- Almandine: purple to orangey reds
- Pyrope: purples to orangey reds
- Spessartine: oranges to yellows
- Andradite: yellows to yellowish greens
- Grossularite: colourless to yellow, to orangey red, to vibrant green (rare)
Where do they come from?
Garnets are commonly found in many countries worldwide, including Australia, India, Czech Republic, Myanmar, Brazil and Sri Lanka to name a few. In the 19th Century, garnet adorned many decorative creations of jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé and was a gem highly favoured by the Russian royal family. Bohemia and Russia were documented as primary locations of sourcing garnet throughout the 19th Century whereas today, Tanzania and Namibia are prized for their abundance in garnets.
Close up of a demantoid garnet with horsetail inclusions. Image by Pat Daly.
Garnet history and Ancient Folklore
Garnet has an extensive history and rich ancient folklore that spreads across many eras. Legend has it that garnet - known as the "Gem of faith" - has powers of good health, prosperity and peace and those that wear it and do good, are further rewarded with good will. The bright and striking nature of garnet is thought to be fitting to the vibrant personalities of those born in the month of January. It is thought that individuals who wear this stone can enter the New Year with a sense of renewed purpose, hope and lasting happiness.
This gemstone has also been used as a talisman of victory and protection by those going into battle. Many warriors would wear this stone to ward off disease and poverty and would place it on their battle wounds as a catalyst for healing. Historical reference dates garnet even further back to the time of Egyptians, who utilised this stone as inlays in their jewellery and decorative carvings as a symbol of life. Garnet was also a popular choice for signet rings worn by the Ancient Romans; additionally carved into intaglios to seal important documents. Hailed for its health benefits, garnet continued to be prized amongst clergy and nobility throughout history.
Garnet from Mali. Image by Pat Daly.
Today, garnet is used in a wide range of jewellery collections and bespoke pieces such as rings, statement pendants as well as tiaras. Its array of colour and transparency make for spectacular pieces of considerable value.
One of the most famous examples of garnet jewellery to date is the Smithsonian Pyrope Hair Comb from the Victorian era. The pyrope garnets that embellish the tiara-shaped comb surrounded the central stone crest, originate from the Bohemian mines (now part of the Czech Republic). These rose-cut garnets were often mounted in gold plate or yellow gold; a popular style during the Victorian era, when this piece was fashioned.
Whether you are looking for a talisman of prosperity for 2018 or buying a gift for someone born in January, the fire and sparkle of each unique garnet gemstone will hold great emotional value and remain a piece of timeless beauty.
A malayan garnet with rutile needle inclusions. Image by Pat Daly.
Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops.
If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.
Cover image: Almandine garnet with crystal inclusions. Image by Pat Daly ©Gem-A.
Did you think this might be emerald? You certainly wouldn't be the first to confuse the vibrant green of dioptase with the more recognisable, jewellery-lover's gemstone. Here, Gem-A assistant gemmology tutor, Dr Juliette Hibou FGA, explains more about the history, properties and origins of dioptase, an unusual collector's gem.