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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Jewelry > Expert Tip: Birthstone > Garnet Gemstone


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Traditional Gem(s): Garnet, Rose Quartz
Modern Gem(s): Garnet
The garnet was once thought to be connected with the blood. This stone is supposed to protect the wearer from nightmares and offer guidance through the dark.

GarnetGARNET Deep red in colour, garnets were a particularly popular gemstone with the Victorians. The stones were usually cut as cabochons (rounded on the top and flat on the back, with no facets) and the back was then hollowed out to give a brighter colour. The resulting stone was known as a carbuncle.

 Suites of jewellery were made using the pyrope garnet, a dark red variety mined in Bohemia, in mainly floral designs. These garnets were also occasionally called Cape rubies.

 Among the other members of the garnet family are the almandine garnet, which is more violet in colour, and the demantoid garnet, which has a green hue like a peridot.

January's birthstone is famous for being as red as a ruby, but this colorful gem actually comes in every color but blue. Discover this elusive chameleon.

Garnet, January's birthstone, is one of the most exciting gems on the market. This hard, durable and often very brilliant gem offers great versatility because of its variety. Believed to represent faith, loyalty, truth and devotion, garnet is known as the stone of commitment. Most people think of garnet as a single type of gem that is dark red in color. Actually, garnet is a gem family that spans a range of red, green, yellow, orange, purple and brown shades. A majority of the garnet varieties on the market can be classified as one or a mixture of five types:

Almandine garnet, the most common type, is dark red to brownish-red. Pyrope garnet, also prevalent on the market, is usually blood red; finer gems may resemble ruby. Andradite garnet is found in yellow, green, or brown. Chromium-rich emerald-green andradite, found in Russia in limited supply, is known as demantoid garnet. Grossular garnet, the most colorful of the garnet family, comes in various shades of yellow, orange, green and brown. Green grossular garnet, found in limited supply in Tanzania and Kenya, is known as tsavorite garnet. Spessartine garnet is usually found in reddish-brown to yellow orange. A popular spessartine is mandarin garnet from Namibia.

Rhodolite garnet, a mix of pyrope and almandine, is found in light to dark pink to purplish red, even grape. Malaya--a rare garnet blend of pyrope and spessartine that is found only in Tanzania--comes in extraordinary bright light orange shades. There is also color change garnet that reveals strong purplish red in incandescent light to bluish green in fluorescent light. And star garnet--found in the United States in a reddish purple variety--displays a faint four-rayed star, similar to a six-rayed star ruby. 

Its name comes from the Latin "Granatus," which means "seed-like." Many garnet crystals have the shape and color of pomegranate seeds. On the Mohs scale of hardness, garnet ranks 6.5-7.5 -- hard but somewhat brittle, so avoid impact which could nick or crack the stone. Faceted garnets can display brilliant, rich, lustrous colors that look good in sunlight and artificial light.

In addition to an array of colors, garnet is found in a various sizes. In almandine and pyrope large stones of 40-50 carats are available, but gems exceeding 20 carats are usually not cut due to dark color saturation. In grossular and spessartine garnet stones over 10 carats are rare. In color change, tsavorite and demantoid garnets, gems over 3 carats are scarce. 

Natural gem-quality garnet varieties can be found in many parts of the world, including: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Madagascar, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Bohemia, Russia, Pakistan, India, Canada, Mexico and the United States (Arizona, Virginia and California).

To clean garnet, use warm soapy water and a soft brush. An ultrasonic cleaner is safe for most garnets, except andradite (demantoid). Do not steam clean garnet. It is important to buy gemstones from a reputable retailer who will provide, in writing, all pertinent information regarding the gems including enhancements and special care notes. 

Color is most important when determining the value of garnet. Lively, bright colors usually command higher prices than gems that are too light or dark. But remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and color preferences are subjective. Of course, clarity, cut and carat weight also factor into the cost of a gem. Better quality garnets are usually eye clean and very high clarity (not many inclusions) under magnification. 

Almandine and pyrope (and a mix of the two) are the most common types of garnet on the market. Their widespread availability makes them extremely affordable (under $40 a carat). Rhodolite, particularly in its reddish colors, and spessartite in its bright orange red, are more uncommon and therefore more valuable than pyrope and almandine. Spessartite is commonly called Mandarin garnet because in its best color it resembles mandarin oranges. 

The most rare and valuable of the garnet species are tsavorite (green grossular) and demantoid (green andradite). Tsavorite--in a lively, strong, bright green color--can command several hundreds of dollars per cart depending on quality and size. Demantoid, considered the queen of garnet, has exceptional brilliance, a higher dispersion than diamond, and a lustrous emerald-green color. A fine demantoid can command several thousands of dollars per carat depending on its size and quality. Demantoids are softer than other garnets, and must be protected from scratches and abrasions. 

Demantoids have been very hard to find ever since its exclusive Russian sources dried up. A new Namibian mine has brought them back, but just barely. carries some excellent tsavorite and spessartite samples in our Gem Store. Garnet is one of the few natural gemstones not commonly enhanced to improve its color or clarity. However, garnet is often imitated. The laser industry has perfected some synthetic garnets with crystalline structures similar to the natural gem, but different in chemical composition (it's a non-silicate). Synthetic ruby and spinel are also used as a garnet simulant, as is glass, particularly in inexpensive birthstone jewelry. 

Truly an ancient gem, garnet's history dates back to long before the birth of Christ. Noah used a fiery red garnet as a bow light while he sailed in torrential rain for 40 days and nights. Garnet was also a popular gem for ancient Egyptian jewelry artisans. Green demantoid garnet was a favorite among Russian Tsars.

Garnet was thought to help the wearer resist melancholy, cure heart palpitations, word off evil spirits, spark creativity and provide a grounding influence. This gem was endowed with the power to protect against poison, cure lung and blood diseases, and remedy anger and discord. It was also a talisman for travelers to keep them in good health.

The name garnet is believed to have come from the pomegranate, a fruit which features seeds of a deep red-purple color which resembles rhodolite garnet.

In addition to its place as January's birthstone, garnet is a recommended gift for couples celebrating their second wedding anniversary. According to Arab tradition, garnet was also the zodiacal gem for Scorpio (Oct. 24-Nov. 21).



A History of the World in 100 Objects
British Museum