When someone thinks of colorful gemstones, the average person thinks of the big three – sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. However, there is one gemstone that literally is available in every color of the rainbow. That gemstone is the lowly garnet. Most people think that garnets only comes in the dirty dark red that they see at their friendly mall jewelry store. However, the true gemstone aficionado knows that the other colors of garnet are as beautiful as any precious gemstone and are much cheaper to collect!
The garnet has several different origins for its name. The most accepted is its derivation from the word “granatum” which refers to the pomegranate whose seeds it allegedly resembles. It used to be said that garnets came in every color but blue. However, that changed in the 1990’s when blue garnet (also known as color change garnet) was discovered in Madagascar.
The garnet is also the birthstone for January, the traditional anniversary gift for the second anniversary, and the state gemstone for Connecticut. Garnets are reasonably hard in comparison to other minerals. Garnets are rated from 6.5 to 7.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. The variation is due to the variety of species of garnets each having their own hardness rating.
Types: Garnets are derived from nesosilicates (SiO4) modified by other materials such as aluminum, iron, calcium, manganese, and magnesium. Each modification creates a separate species of garnet. There are numerous species of garnet, but there are six species that are more common than the others. They include: Almandine, Pyrope, Spessartine, Andradite, Grossular, and Uvarovite.
Almandines are almost uniformly some amount of dark red, but sometimes a more violet color. Its modifiers are iron and aluminum. Almandines are most commonly found in Sri Lanka and are often called “Ceylon Ruby”. When they are violet in color, they are called “Syrian Garnet” which is named not from Syria, but from Syriam, an ancient city in Pegu which is in Burma (Myanmar).
Pyropes range in color from deep red to black. Its colors are modified by magnesium and aluminum. Its most popular type hails from certain mines in North Carolina and is called rhodolite. Rhodolites are violet/red in color and are a combination of both pyrope and almandine garnet in a 2:1 mix. The blue color-change garnet is also a pyrope, but a mixture of pyrope and spessartine. The color-change garnet changes in color from grey/green blue in daylight to red/purple in incandescent light.
Spessartines range in color from violet/red to orange/yellow and its colors are modified by manganese and aluminum. Spessartines are found in Australia, Myanmar, India, Afghanistan, Israel, Madagascar, Tanzania and the US. The orange/yellow spessartines are known as “Mandarin Garnet” and are found exclusively in Madagascar.
Andradites are found in many colors such as red, yellow, brown, green, or black. Their color is determined by modifications of calcium and iron. It is found in Italy, the Ural Mountains of Russia, Arizona, California and in Ukraine. One of the most prized of all gemstones is a Demantoid Garnet, a green garnet found in the Ural Mountains of Russia. They are nicknamed “the emerald of the Urals” for its beautiful green color. Demantoids are unique in that the most desirable stones have a special flaw in them – a yellowish feather in the stone that looks like a horse’s tail. Top prices are paid for these special stones.
Grossular garnets come in a variety of colors including red, yellow, green, and a lovely cinnamon brown. Their colors are modified by calcium and aluminum though either can be replaced by either ferrous or ferric iron respectively. The more common variety of grossular is called hessonite from the Greek meaning inferior, because of its inferior hardness to zircon, which the yellow crystals resemble. Green grossular garnets are found either in Siberia or in Kenya/Tanzania. Those in the latter region are known as Tsavorites, named for the Tsavo region in Kenya.
Uvarovites are uniformly green in color and get that from calcium and chromium modifications. It gets its name from Count Sergei Semenovitch Uvarov, a Russian statesman and amateur mineral collector. It forms as fine crystals and the crystals are rarely large enough to be cut as gems. They would be normally seen as a block of crystals rather than an individual crystal. They are primarily found in Russia, but are also found in Canada, Northern Europe, and Northwest Australia.
Myths and Legends: There are many myths and legends surrounding gemstones, their history, and their practical uses. Garnets are no exception. One of the oldest myths involved the Greek Gods. Hades, god of the underworld, abducted Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, goddess of the harvest, to be his bride. Demeter was so saddened by this that she refused to let anything grow until Persephone was returned. Thus the first winter on Earth came to pass. Zeus, angered by all of this, demanded Hades return Persephone. Hades agreed to do this but Persephone, having been warned on her arrival in the underworld not to eat any of the fruit found there, took a small bite out of a pomegranate she found there in her haste to leave. For this one bite, she was required to return to the underworld for three months each year. Demeter, saddened once more, causes winter to return during these three months. Because of this myth, prominence is given to garnets as the gemstones for loved ones and also to heal broken friendships.
Like most gemstones, the superstitious and mystical believed that garnets had magical properties that allow healing from all sorts of conditions, as well as provide mystic energies. Some of the conditions that garnets have been used for healing include gallstones, frostbite, arthritis, fever, depression, muscle weakness, infertility, and inflammations. Garnets have also been used to increase antibodies, regulate hormones, regulate the heart, give more energy, increase passion, and increase self-confidence.
As you can see, there is far more to the garnet than what is seen on the surface. It’s a complex mineral that comes in many varieties and colors. A true gem connoisseur can appreciate the subtleties and nuances in each gemstone, and they could spend years learning about garnets. The best thing about garnets is that, as a rule, they are not expensive stones. Even the most frugal collector could have a variety of types of garnets in his collection. It is a great stone to start a collection.
Bryan works at Images Jewelers, a fine jewelry manufacturer and retailer in Elkhart, Indiana. Images Jewelers is one of the leading manufacturers and retailers of custom jewelry on the internet.