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January Birthstone: Garnet

By Antonia Čirjak January 24 2020

Uncut and rough deep red rhodolite garnet gemstone.
Uncut and rough deep red rhodolite garnet gemstone.

Although typically associated with the glowing deep red, this gemstone comes in a wide range of colors, some of them only discovered recently. Its common varieties are affordable, and the rarer specimens, especially blue and color-changing ones, are sought after by collectors.

What Does Garnet Mean Or Symbolize?

Garnets have always been favored and valued. Throughout history, the name garnet always meant the red variety and was associated with blood as a fluid of life. Given that it is a color of passion, blood, battle, it is not surprising that the stone was considered a powerful talisman associated with success and protection in every situation involving bloodshed across several cultures, from Celtic and Saxon to Native Americans.

Warriors used to insert it into the armor, wear on their body, or even launch with bows and guns believing that it would inflict especially “bloody” wounds.  According to Judeo-Christian myths, King Solomon wore garnets into battle. Both Christian and Muslim warriors wore garnets during the Crusades. Similarly, it was placed over the battle wounds to ensure healing, improve circulation, and “blood restoration.”

Garnet gem stone.
Garnet gem stone.

Victorian royalty thought of garnet as a symbol of passion and “stirring the heart.” Garnets glow even in the darker conditions led to the belief that they can ward off the evil that lurks at night. This belief eventually transformed into the meaning of “safe journeys.” 

What Are The Qualities Of Garnet?

The similarity of the gem’s name with the word pomegranate is not a coincidence: the name comes from the “gernet”, old English “deep red,” and that one, in turn, stems from the Latin “granatum” - pomegranate.  Naturally occurring crystals of garnet sometimes remind of pomegranate seeds. 

The most recognizable characteristic of garnets is their “glow”: they have such a high refractive index that it looks as if the gemstone is emitting light even in the poor light conditions. It looks especially impressive in their deep red variety.

These days, garnet refers to a group of minerals found in the spectrum of colors from the noble red pyrope garnet to the vivid green tsavorite garnet. Here is the list of the most notable species of garnet, slightly different by the trace elements in their composition.

Garnet Varieties

Almandine is the most common variety among all garnets. The chrome pyrope garnet is typically quite dark, but also produce rich reds rivaling rubies. The blend of almandine-pyrope is a popular dark red color. Some almandine-pyrope mixes from Idaho change the tone from red to purple-red while andradite comes in beautiful yellow and yellow tones. These gemstones have more fire than diamonds due to the highest dispersion of all garnets.

Green demantoid that comes in true greens is the most valuable color. Spessartite produces a variety of oranges from yellow to almost red. Mandarin garnets are striking and highly valued. Grossular garnets differ from other garnets because they are rarely red and often light in color, including colorless variety. They make excellent jewelry stones. Uvarovite's vibrant green is comparable to emeralds, but high-quality gems are small and rare. 

Uvarovite in a rock.
Uvarovite in a rock.

There are also more varieties. Most recent discoveries include the blue variety and the color-changing garnet. Less than 15 years ago, blue garnets that are red with purple flashes under incandescent light were discovered in Madagascar. These color shifters are a pyrope-spessartite blend. 

Enhancements And How To Tell If A Garnet Is Real?

Garnets can be changed, but not easily. Proteus is the name for the only kind of treated garnets, and it is very obviously distinguishable. Proteus garnets get metallic, steel-color luster (almost like hematite) in reflected light.

Synthetic garnets had affected the gem world before the 1970s, as they used to be the main diamond simulant. Those stones still can be found today, although they lost their significance. Glass and similar materials can be used to imitate cheaper varieties of garnet. Looking for microscopic needle-shaped inclusions or imperfections or a typical hexagonal light reflection can be helpful for those occasions. 

Where To Find The Best Garnet?

Stunning rose-cut garnets in gold come Victorian era. In the 19th century, garnet adorned many decorative creations of the famous “eggs” by jeweler Fabergé and was a gem highly favored by the Russian royal family.

Garnets can now be found found in many countries worldwide, including Australia, India, Myanmar, Brazil, and Sri Lanka, to name a few. The latest valuable discovery comes from Madagascar. Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and Russia supplied garnets in the 19th century; today, the African continent is recognized for the abundance of garnets.

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