January’s birthstone is the bold and beautiful garnet that brings good luck to those who receive it as a gift.
The deep red transparent stones we normally associate with gemstone quality garnets are called Almandine. However, garnet comes in many different colors including green, known as Demantoid and Tsavorite; orangy red called Hessonite; and pinkish red known as Rhodolite. the Rhodolite is the most valuable of the red garnets.
The name “garnet” comes from the Latin “granatum,” meaning seed, derived from the garnet’s similarity to the seeds of the pomegranate. The 14th century Middle English word “gernet” means “dark red.”
Garnets were the most widely used gemstones in Europe during the Bronze Age and the early Middle Ages. Many important artifacts including jewelry, ornaments, and weapons crafted with garnet inlay have been found in ancient burial sites and in Anglo-Saxon treasure troves.
Garnets have been popular in jewelry design throughout the ages, including the Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco eras. The red garnet was said to be one of Queen Victoria’s favorite gemstones. A garnet-eyed serpent engagement ring was given to her by Prince Albert.
The Victorians thought the garnet symbolized passion and believed it could cure depression.
Resembling pomegranate seeds—the little red gems were named from the Latin word, ‘Granatum.’ The gemstone Garnet is most commonly known as deep red stones with a hint of orange/brownish tones that are typically set in antique floret jewelry.
Exhibiting a lively light reflection, garnets are mentioned in the legend of Noah’s Ark, according to the Talmud, a single large garnet provided the only light source for the navigation of the Ark.
The oldest garnet jewelry that has been found are from excavations throughout the world are the Sumerian sites dating from 2300 BCE and from Egyptian tombs dating 3100 BCE, typically found as inlaid jewelry and fashioned into beads.
In Sweden, garnets were unearthed dating from 2000-1000 BCE. The Grecians and Romans used garnets as amulets for luck and intaglios (carved stones), worn as emblems of wealth.
A durable stone, garnets do not scratch or break easily. Garnet crystals form in a cubic system with a twelve-faced rhombic dodecahedron and the twenty-four faced icostetrahedron and in combinations of these two forms.
There are several common names, depending on the chemical compositions, for the different colored garnets. Garnet crystals grow in all colors except shades of blue. The most extraordinary colorful and rare garnets exhibit vibrant orange, green and magenta colors. Of the six types of garnet crystals, only five are large enough to be used in jewelry.
Almandite garnet is the most common color. Ranging from medium red to dark brownish red, the color is due to the content of iron-aluminum silicate. The inhabitants of the ancient city in Asia Minor, Alabanda, originally named the Almandite garnet. The Alabandans wore and treasured the almandite garnet in the fourth century BCE. Since 3200 BCE, India has been one of the main sources of almandite garnet. Almandite is the only type of garnet that can reflect a ‘star’ pattern of light, called asterism, when cut in a cabochon fashion (similar to that of ruby and sapphire.)
Pyrope is derived from the Greek word “pyropos” which means fire. Pyrope garnets have a brilliant reflection and deep saturation of fiery red and can also exhibit a deep red color with a tint of purple or a brownish red color (similar to the almandite variety). Magnesium-aluminum is the element that is the source for the coloring in pyrope garnet. They are usually found near diamond mines.
Nicknamed ‘Bohemian’, the pyrope garnet was originally found in the kingdom of Bohemia, now known as the Czech Republic. The old style of cutting and jewelry design using pyrope garnet was the main source of employment in the region, traced to the sixteenth century. Excavations have uncovered garnet necklaces dating to the Bronze Age in this area. The bohemian garnet jewelry became popular during the Victorian era– floret earrings, pins, rings, tiaras and ornate necklaces were copied from the old Bohemian traditional jewelry styles.
Large pebbles of pyrope garnets are also found on the ground in the Kalahari Desert, which frequently led to the discovery of diamond mines. The discovery of pyrope garnet in Russia, in 1953, instigated a search for diamonds resulted in one of the most important discoveries of diamonds; the first kimberlite pipe (diamonds) located in the upper Markha River. The main source for pyrope garnets today is from Africa.
In the Arizona, New Mexico and Utah deserts Native Americans discovered pyrope garnets by following the trails of termites. A prized gem, garnets were used frequently in decorating ceremonial headdresses. The Native Americans traded their treasured garnets to the Aztecs which was used to adorn their elaborately decorated masks.
Pyralspite is the name for series of garnets that are a mixture of minerals which do not fit into a specific garnet family.
Rhodolite garnet is a combination of pyrope and almandite. Named after the beautiful violet, pinkish-red color of the rhododendron flower, the rhodolite garnet is an unusually lively and a beautiful color. Originally found in North Carolina, U.S.A., in 1882 where rhododendrons are abundant. There are a few rare rhodolite garnets from East Africa that can exhibit a star reflection.
Malaya, Swahili for prostitute, is the name of a garnet that is a combination of spessartine and pyrope. Discovered in 1979, Malaya garnets are rare and vibrant exhibiting hues of reddish-orange and pinkish over tones.
The rare, pure orange spessaritite garnet has a high concentration of manganese-aluminum, producing an intense, stunning color. Originally discovered in the district of Spessart, near Schaffenburg, Bavaria, the gem was named after the district. Rare spessaritites are vibrant yellow and the common variety are yellow-brown, often mistakenly identified as citrine quartz or topaz.
Discovered in 1800, the andraite garnet was named after the Portuguese mineralogist, M.d’Andrada. Andradite garnets vary in colors, ranging from black to shades of yellow and green. Within the andradite family, each color of garnet has an identifiable name. The lively green and rare demantoid garnet is the most valuable of all the garnets and are incorrectly called “olivine”.
Demantoid, derived from the old German word for diamond ‘Demant’, is named so because of the intensity of its sparkle which is similar to that of a diamond. This unique, vivid reflection property is due to the color dispersion within the mineral. Comprised of calcium-iron silicate, with the trace of chromic oxide, the green hue of the demantoid is unique to garnets. Originally found in the Ural Mountains in Russia in 1851, most demantioids are rarely over four carats.
The gem buyer for Tiffany, George Kunz, purchased all the demantoid garnets available at the time of discovery–giving Tiffany’s jewelry collections the finest green garnets.
Grossularite garnets refer to a group that vary in colors: ranging from colorless, white, yellow, violet-red and orange-red. The name grossular is not used for one particular color of garnet; it is the mineralogical name for the calcium aluminum group. Each color is called by a separate name. Hessonite ranges in orange to brown colors. Nicknamed ‘cinnamon stones’ the earliest known source was from the ‘spice island’ of Sri Lanka. Translucent grossularite may be confused with jadeite or misnamed as “South African Jade.” Found in Transvaalit, grossularite garnet is also erroneously called “Transvaal Jade.” Some grossularite garnets may be grey or pink opaque and may have black specks.
South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya have been the primary sources of the clear green tsavorite garnet. Discovered in 1968, in the Tsavo National Park in Kenya, Tsavorite garnets were promoted and used extensively by Tiffany. Tsavorite garnets are rare and often mistaken for emeralds, although the color is a more vibrant green than emeralds.
Comprised of calcium chromium, with a clear dark green color, the Uvaorite garnet crystals do not grow large enough to be fashioned into jewelry.
In 1892, the Hanza Tribe used garnet bullets against the British troops during the hostilities on the Kashmir frontier–their ancient belief that garnet bullets were more deadly than those of lead. Some of these bullets are currently on display in the British museums.
Garnets represent faith, truth and the release of melancholy, according to ancient folklore of Bohemia.
Janet Deleuse, all rights reserved
Additional Information and Photo Credits: Getty Images, Alexander Deleuse
National Gem Collection, The Smithsonian Institution,
Jeffrey E. Post with photographs by Chip Clark, 1997
Gems, Their Sources, Descriptions and Identification,
Fifth Edition, R. Webster, Butterworth and Heinemanne 1962
Gems, Crystals, & Minerals,
Anna S, Sofianides, George E. Harlow
with photographs by Erica and Harold Van Pelt,
Simon and Schuster, New York 1990