Garnet – January’s Birthstone

garnet cabochons

The picture above was part of a parcel of A+ garnets shown us by a gem-dealer in Jaipur, India, and the very first time I fell in love with these timeless stones.

As per usual the dealer was “washing our eyes” (a term used for the practice of any self-respecting gem-dealer of showing his lower quality merchandise first, and then moving up the scale until he finally brings out his best quality stones at a far higher price) and this was his final packet, near flawless gems with iridescent red brilliance.

It is this bright red colour that gave garnets their modern name, first from Middle English (gernet), which was derived from the Latin granatum, meaning ‘seed’, especially those found in a pomegranate, a reference to the bright red seeds one discovers when breaking open this exotic fruit. It would be this same red colour that through the ages has ascribed to garnets the properties of love and friendship as the red heart emoji has endured. Garnets were known to protect on voyages, bestowing on the traveller good health, prosperity and peace. A red garnet would be given to a travelling sweetheart as a talisman for the speedy reunion of the lovers. In the Middle-Ages they were believed to protect against plagues, eliminate depression and prevent evil thoughts.

When I first started helping Jay sort through and order the stones she sells, it was my belief that these stones were the red part of the family, with the purple of amethyst, the yellow of citrine, the brown smoky and the pink rose quartz. But while all the other stones are part of the quartz family, garnet is a gemstone in its own right and category, with its own unique crystal structure. Garnets are a large group of silicates that form under intense heat and pressure. And they do not only come in reds.

A Tsavorite garnet necklace Jay was commissioned to make for a client

Garnets come in many colours, from the more common red, to pink, to yellow, brown and purple, and the rarest of them all, bright green demantoid garnet. They also fall under different sub-categories, namely almandine, pyrope, grossularite, spessartite, uvarovite and andradite, the tricky thing being no garnet truly sits in one of these categories, but is rather a lot of one and a bit of another. The range of colours come from traces of metals such as manganese, iron or chromium.

Garnets measure 6.5-7.5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, which makes them ideal for jewellery, as they have been used through the ages. They have adorned the crowns of royalty and the hilts of many a warrior’s blade. The very first garnet known in the history of jewellery was discovered on the necklace of a young man excavated from a cave in France, dating back to 3000 B.C. Garnets are found across the world from India to Australia. Here in Africa Namibia produces a beautiful orange garnet, with the best red coming from Mozambique, and beautiful green tsavorite garnets from Kenya and Tanzania.

A unique pink garnet from Tanzania that we bought in… Sri Lanka

They have endured hype and fashion, and today is still a mainstay of jewellery gemstones. Although a cheaper version of ruby, a quick Internet search reveals that garnet can fetch anything from $500 to $7000 a carat (five carats = one gram) for clean stones with good colour.

We have some excellent pieces of jewellery that feature garnets on our website, so please contact us if you are interested in buying that special person with a January birthday a gift, or even just for their timeless beauty. Garnets are also known as 2nd anniversary presents, and feature in 18th wedding anniversary gifts. Below are pictures of a couple of my favourite pieces on the website. Please have a look around – there’s lots to see and more to come. And remember, if you are subscribed to our newsletter you have a 20% discount on first purchases before the end of January.

Until then, please stay safe
JD, and Jay


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