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January's birthstone is the beautiful Garnet. A gemstone with unique properties both physical and spiritual. In this blog we will dive deeper into its origins, properties and care taking. Everything you would like to know about this month’s gemstone in one place, including jewelry inspiration.
Table of contents
Garnets are related to January, mostly reddish and symbolize life plus calmness. Making these type of gemstones the perfect candidate for Valentine’s day gifts that vary from heart shaped stones up to warm pieces of jewelry that radiate passion during the cold days and strengthen the warm sunlight during summer. Fancy any other colour? You're in luck because the Garnet is a colourful family of gemstones.
Garnets being used as jewelry are known to mankind since long ago. The first known documentations till date originates from 3100 b.c. A staggering 5000 years ago when the Pyramids were being built and mighty Pharaohs roamed ancient Egypt. It was during this period that mummies gained a chain of Garnet beads as a valuable possession during their afterlife and these gems were seen as the symbol of life.
A few ages later in ancient Rome, carved garnets were set in signet rings in order to stamp red hot wax for sealing. A gemstone that secured important documents was the perfect combination as they would secure letters and communication that only the rich could afford themselves.
During the Middle Ages (475 to 1450 AD) red garnets were the favorite gems of nobility and clergy, where the Garnets complimented the red accents in their clothing.
The name garnet comes from pomegranate and the latin word “granatum” which means seed. As the red garnet resembles the colour of its seeds. Although garnets come in various other colours, their first known discoveries were red tinted ones.
A Garnet hardness varies between 6 to 7.5 on Mohs scale (ranging 1 to 10). This means these gems can be damaged by materials rating higher but will remain largely unaffected by gemstones or materials rating beneath 6.
Most garnets are formed in rocks that are altered by heat and pressure for many many years. During this formation surrounding elements play a distinctive role in its creation. There are more than 20 different species all having the same crystal structure but varying slightly in their chemical composition. Only five of these species are economically available as gemstones. These are:
Pyrope is a pure magnesium - aluminium garnet that can be found in Myanmar, Thailand, Brazil, Tanzania, and Mozambique. These crystals are also found a lot within Kimberlite pipes where diamonds can be found and thrive extremely well under ultra high pressure in the Western Alps. Where they can form up to pure Pyrope crystals spawning 12 cm in diameter.
Ranging in colour from medium to dark reddish orange to slightly purplish red this is where Pyrope gets its name from. Meaning fire and eye in Greek. Its colour is defined by natural causes and is largely consistent throughout various batches and findings.
Almandine is the most common Garnet and is also known under the false name ‘Almandite’. This gemstone is a composition of pure iron – aluminium garnet and closely relates to the Pyrope. Its name originates from the Turkish city Alabanda where this gemstone has been discovered. These days major sources of this type of gemstone are: Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Brazil, Greenland, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan and the US.
This type of crystal varies in its colour from dark red to black with many earthly tones in between such as brown. Making this type of Garnet harder to work with on pieces of jewelry where stones tend to be more shiny and alive. Yet they can be used greatly for a more subtle piece when needed and manifest earth's warmth.
These gems are named after the Spessart district of Bavaria, Germany, where it was first discovered. It consists largely out of magnesium - aluminium silicate and is one of the more rare forms of Garnets. Today new deposits can be found in Madagascar, Namibia, Zambia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Nigeria.
This type of Garnet can be found in a variety of orange and yellow which is created by its richness of sodium. Darker tints can be related to the colour of whiskey in a glass giving it a luxurious yet warm touch. Which explains why some people call these beautiful gemstones ‘Garnet of the sun’.
Like the overarching group name Garnet, this type of gem retrieves its name from a plant and its seeds as well. 'Grossular' is derived from the botanical name for the gooseberry 'grossularia'. Grosslarites exist out of calcium-aluminum combinations and come in two variations. Namely Hessonite and Tsavorite, which have very interesting appearances when compared to each other.
Where Hessonites are referred to as ‘cinnamon’ stones because of their orange-brown tints Tsavorites are green. Making them stand out very well within the Garnet-group. This made these gemstones the perfect candidate for marketing purposes. Something Tiffany & Co did upon their discovery by both creating its name and market these stones by their distinguishable colour.
Andradite is usually opaque and not fit for jewelry. Yet there is one variation that is highly appreciated and valued by collectors and jewelry lovers: Demantoid. This word comes from the German word ‘demant’ which means diamond-like. Demantoid gems flourished in Russia where Czars loved its greenish colours.
Demantoid is ranging from olive-green to emerald-green. Long ago it was even sold as the Emerald because of its sometimes hardly distinguishable colour, especially for the untrained and naked eye. Opposed to many other gems inclusions are wanted into this type of gem because it creates ‘horsetails’. These patterns are very pleasant to see and empower the stones aliveness.
A question we get a lot is “How can I rate a Garnet or how to pick a gemstone to my needs and wishes?” In this paragraph we will discuss all types within the Garnet family to help you choosing the right one.
As with ‘regular diamonds’ the 4C’s can be used to validate the Garnets value. As various factors play a vital role and may influence each other each stone is unique in its own way and is best evaluated by the trained eye in a jewelry shop or diamond trader.
When looping the Garnet under a microscope (10x) inclusions may or may not appear. Depending on the amount of inclusions and the effect on its fractions that cause the shimmerings and reflections a stone can be valued higher or lower. Less inclusions usually mean a higher value.
Colour is an interesting aspect within the Garnet family as they can be found in almost any colour within the rainbow. Usually a lighter red is less valuable than dark red (making it look like a ruby). Consistent colours throughout the gem are usually a great indication for a higher value.
Carat refers to the weight of a gemstone, in this case the Garnet. Usually a higher weight means a bigger gem. Although some cuts can trick the human eye and make gemstones appear bigger (rectangle cuts). Yet the visual perception on size is not being used in its evaluation it may be a factor by people to choose one or another.
Although many people may think about the type of cut it is all about the quality of the cut. The right combination of facets can increase its fire or brilliance and opposite light may be less perceived by the eye when facets are not well aligned and light leaks out.
While most Garnets have a decent hardness for jewelry their cleaning and care taking is a process that should be maintained carefully in order to minimize damaging and / or creating blamages. You may want to consider to consult an expert for cleaning your Garnets.
If you would like to clean Garnets yourself the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) advises the following: warm soapy water is always safe for cleaning garnets. The ultrasonic cleaner is usually safe except for stones that have fractures and steam cleaning is not recommended.
Please note that Garnets are stable to light and chemicals but they can be attacked by hydrofluoric acid.