The name Garnet traditionally conjures up images of deep red gemstones with remarkable clarity. But, with the exception of Tourmaline, it’s not easy to think of another gemstone family that is discovered in such a wonderful inundation of different colours. The gem can be traced back to at least 5,500 years ago and, for over five and half millennia, Garnet has woven an enchanting path throughout history.
The stone is discovered right across the planet in many different lands, which may explain why its rich history spans the globe. Join us on our Garnet journey of discovery to learn about the history and science behind one of nature’s most colourful treasures.
THE HISTORY OF GARNET
Garnet has such a rich and diverse history that it has two regularly cited origin stories for its name. One states that the word comes from the Middle English word ‘gernet’ which means ‘dark red’, and another says that the name derived from the Latin word ‘granatus’, as it has a similar red hue and rough shape to the seeds of the pomegranate. It’s that latter of these two that is the true root of the name, as the word ‘gernet’ is itself derived from ‘granatus’.
It’s interesting to note that the colour red played such an essential role in the naming of the stone. Even today, many people associate the word Garnet with a deep, vibrant red gemstone that, throughout time, was often mistaken for Ruby. But Garnet has been discovered in a vast number of different colours and shades since its initial unearthing, as we’ll learn shortly.
It would be fascinating to know the exact moment that a Garnet stone was first picked from the earth and held aloft, its enchanting glow blooming in the sunlight. Alas, as with most gemstones, these moments are lost to time forever. What we do know, though, is that Garnet was found on the necklace of a mummified body that was uncovered in an Egyptian tomb, dated to around 3,500 BC; so, we know that Garnet was already being set into jewellery over 5,500 years ago.
About 200 years later, as the Bronze age dawned across Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia, Garnet was in widespread use both decoratively and as an abrasive - a purpose that non-gem grade Garnet still fulfils today.
The Greek philosopher Plato of Athens (428 BC - 348 BC) was said to have had his portrait engraved into a large Garnet by a Roman craftsman. Another noted Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC), wrote about Garnet nearly 2,500 years ago, saying, “The Garnet is a red gem, but not like the Ruby, its red is much more like that of a flame. If correctly cut and polished, it will reveal all its beauty and perfection.”
Garnet has been found in the ruins and graves of the Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations. In Greek mythology, the gem is regarded as a gift of love and is said to symbolise eternity. The Ancient Romans were known to wear elaborate Garnet jewellery at a time when gemstones and jewellery indicated one’s wealth and status, and excellent quality Garnet stones were often cut into cameos or intaglios of influential figures of the day.
The Anglo-Saxons (450 - 1066) were known to wear jewellery that featured Garnet, particularly small faceted or cabochon pieces, set into brooches, pendants and buckles. Garnet was also mined in abundance in modern-day Czechia during the 16th century; this created a large industry of cutting and polishing in the area, and Garnet is sometimes still found in this region. During Georgian and Victorian times, Garnets were very popular across Europe and were often set into intricate designs with filigree detailing. Long before laboratory gem testing was even thought of, Garnet and Ruby were often mistaken for each other. Both stones are referred to in many historical texts as ‘Carbuncle’, which became a catch-all term for any red gemstone.
Garnet has amassed a rich tapestry of legends and tales throughout its storied past. It was said that the jewel possessed the ability to illuminate even the darkest of rooms, and it is written that Noah used the gem to light the inside of the ark. Another tale tells of an old widow who, upon finding an injured crow in her garden, spent months nursing it back to good health. The widow became very attached to the bird, and when the bird was fully recovered, she wept as she reluctantly released it. Several weeks later, while in bed one night, the bird flew into her room and placed a large Garnet at the side of her bed, and the gem was said to have filled her room with light.
It was thought that that eastern Indians rubbed Garnet gemstones on themselves in the belief that the gem’s glowing qualities would be transmitted into their souls for their wellbeing. Several cultures have used finely ground Garnet and heated it to act as a medicinal remedy for illness, and it has long been held that Garnet could be used as a cure for nightmares.
When studying the myths and legends surrounding Garnet, whether it be stories relating to the Aztecs, Romans, Egyptians or even British royalty, there is one theme common in all civilisations and across all periods of recorded time: that Garnet is seen as the ultimate gift of love. Today, the gem continues to be a symbol of love, passion, eternity and warmth.
GARNET GEMSTONE INFORMATION
Garnet is the sole birthstone for January, which seems appropriate given the sheer number of varieties available. It's the suggested wedding anniversary stone for both the 2nd and 18th anniversaries, and is also listed as an alternate gift stone for the 15th, 19th and 25th celebrations. Garnet is the gemstone for the zodiac sign of Aquarius, too.
The gem occurs entirely naturally in a kaleidoscope of colours, including red, orange, yellow, green, purple, brown, black, pink and colourless. The only notable exception is blue, but even then, a phenomenal colour change variety exists that shifts between blue and pinky-claret when viewed under incandescent light.
All these beautiful jewels fit into the Garnet family tree, which is made up of three distinct levels. At the top, we have the group, which is split into two halves called the Pyralspite Garnets and the Ugrandite Garnets. These two halves each contain three species; the Pyrope, Almandine and Spessartite species live on the Pyralspite side of the family, and the Uvarovite, Grossular and Andradite species live on the Ugrandite side. The specific variations of Garnet then sit under these species, with many varieties being a hybrid of two or more species.
As an example, Almandine and Pyrope Garnets exist as separate species, but a hybrid of the two - called Rhodolite Garnet - also exists. Garnets share a common isometric crystal system (the same as Diamond, Spinel and Fluorite), and a similar chemical composition that can be written as X3Y2(SiO4)3. In this formula, X and Y are placeholders for the elements that make up the different species. In the Pyralspite half of the group, Y is always Al or aluminium, with X being the variable element. In the Ugrandite half, the X is always Ca or calcium with the Y being the variable.
You can read more about this, with diagrams, here.
We’ll move on from the heavy science in just a moment, but it’s also worth noting the wide range of different chemical elements that provide us with the colourful varieties and natural hues of Garnet. Most red and brown Garnets will have come into contact with iron as they were forming, while pink and orange stones are likely to contain manganese. Green Garnet is often the result of aluminium, chromium or vanadium being present, which is also true of why Emeralds are green. Calcium is responsible for yellow garnets.
Just like combining different colours of paint, the presence of multiple chemical elements from the above list will further modify the colour, so a particularly reddy-orange garnet will likely feature iron and manganese together. The reason that Garnet was only thought to be a red gemstone for so many thousands of years was that it is the most abundant variety; after all, iron is so much more common in the earth than the other elements.
Back in ancient times, the Greeks and Romans are thought to have sourced their Garnets from India and Sri Lanka, and Garnets also made their way into southern Europe from South Asia. Analysis has shown that Northern Europe secured their Garnet supply from Russia and the deposits mentioned above in modern-day Czechia, in an area that was then known as Bohemia. But as time has marched on, Garnet has been discovered all over the globe in an extraordinary number of countries.
Much of the Garnet that Gemporia has sourced over the years has been mined in India, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Madagascar. But across the planet, the gem has also been discovered in Brazil, Canada, China, Czechia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Mali, Mexico, Myanmar (Burma), Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Scotland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand, the United States, Zaire and Zimbabwe!
Among the discoveries in more recent times include the peerless Demantoid Garnet, a bright green variety belonging to the Andradite species, which was initially discovered in Russia. Such was its sparkle and fire, it secured the name Demantoid, which means ‘Diamond-like’. In 1968, the legendary Scottish gem hunter Campbell R Bridges discovered Tsavorite Garnet in Tanzania, very close to the Kenyan border. This deep green beauty had to be rediscovered on the Kenyan side of the border after Bridges was refused an export license in Tanzania.
The famous Tiffany & Co. of New York were keen to bring the stone to the market, and named it after the Tsavo National Park in Kenya where it was (eventually) mined. It belongs to the Grossular species. A fiery orange Spessartite Garnet was discovered in the 1980s that was so noteworthy that it helped create a surge in demand for the stone. Various colour change varieties have been found in several locations, including Tanzania and in Tsivory and Bekily in Madagascar.
One of the most phenomenal attributes that almost all Garnets share is that their colour is almost always natural (occasionally Demantoid Garnet can be heated). Gem enthusiasts and scientists have yet to find a way to enhance the look of a Garnet and, quite frankly, the gems are so naturally beautiful that they don’t need to. The kaleidoscopic explosion of colour that Garnet represents is virtually unmatched by any other stone. Collecting Garnet is to obtain a piece of history and hold the colours of the world in your hands.
GARNET CRYSTAL HEALING
Gemstones are as old as time, and in the years since their first discovery they've picked up a lot more than adoring collectors and fascinated mineralogists. Many have gained stories regarding their legend, lore and healing properties, and whilst there's no evidence to suggest that any of these properties are real, it's still interesting to explore the esoteric side of Mother Nature's miracles.
It's worth asking ourselves, "If you truly believe in something, does that mean it's true"? Scientifically, the answer is no, but what about on a more personal, spiritual level? If you really truly believe that an item in your house is having an effect on you, are you more likely to feel that effect? It's really not for us to say, but it's a very interesting concept that deserves further research.
Once again though, we must point out though that no studies have ever found any therapeutic effects or properties in gemstones, and the following is for your information only.
Garnet has long been associated with protection, and has been worn as a talisman against negative energy. It has been used in crystal healing as a way of bringing the seven chakras back into alignment. Aside from its protective aspects, it has been associated with having a calming influence that encourages the transformation of negative emotions and states to positive ones. It has been considered lucky for love and for increasing confidence in oneself. It is also associated with the zodiac sign of Aquarius.
GEMOLOGICAL PROPERTIES OF GARNET
- Colour Colourless, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, purple, brown and black
- Family Garnet
- Mohs Scale Hardness 6.5 - 7.5
- Specific Gravity 3.4 - 4.1
- Refractive Index 1.72 - 1.89
- Lustre Vitreous
- Crystal System Isometric (Cubic)
- Transparency Transparent to translucent
- Chemical Formula X3Y2(SiO4)3 (where X and Y vary by species)
- Composition Varies by species
WHERE IS GARNET MINED?
Most Garnet that we sell comes from India, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Madagascar. But the gem has been discovered in a surprising number of countries around the globe. These include Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, Myanmar (Burma), Russia, Sri Lanka and the United States, as well as many more. It has even been discovered on the British Isles. Ruby Bay, just to the east of Fife in Scotland, was named after a red gemstone which was found there. The stone was thought to be Ruby but was later discovered to be Garnet.
VARIETIES OF GARNET
This mix of Almandine and Pyrope Garnet types is a well known and much loved purplish-red variety with raspberry, rose and grape coloured undertones. Named after the Greek 'rhodon' and 'lithos', which together translate as 'rose stone', this name was first used to describe a pink coloured Garnet from North Carolina, USA. Rhodolite Garnet tends to be lighter in colour than most other red Garnets, and has even been confused with Ruby due to their similarity.
Rhodolite Garnet is also highly refractive which leads to its stunning brilliance. Due to its similarity in colour to several other members of its family, it is believed that Indian tribes used the gem to enhance the potency of fire and placed it next to those who were sick in order to aid recovery. Our Rajasthan Garnet is a top-quality Rhodolite Garnet variety that is mined in India.
A stunning, light, peachy orange through to cinnamon red member of the Garnet group, Hessonite is a real collector’s gemstone that achieves its vivid colours entirely from the work of Mother Nature. Hessonite has a slightly lower hardness than most other Garnets, and it is due to this that its name is unfortunately derived from the Greek word ‘hesson’ meaning inferior. However, the gem still registers seven on the Mohs scale, so is anything but inferior.
Its magical, almost mystical colours certainly make it favourite among gemstone connoisseurs. One of the main discoveries of Hessonite has been in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and small amounts have also been found in Brazil and California. Astrologers believed that, when worn as a talisman, your life will be both happier and longer.
Tsavorite has a beautiful, vivid green colour and is a bright, lively gem with a high refractive index. It is considered among the most desirable of all Garnets and, until its discovery in 1968, no other gemstone except Emerald could offer such a vibrant green colour. The first deposit was discovered in Tanzania by Scottish gemologist Campbell R Bridges, who later traced the gem to the Tsavo National Park in Kenya, from where its name is derived.
In 1974 the famous jewellery company Tiffany & Co started heavily promoting the gemstone in the USA. It was the company’s president Henry Platt who, together with Campbell R Bridges, decided to give this green type of Grossular Garnet its own name. Sources of the gem are becoming rapidly depleted in Kenya, with some reports stating that during the last two decades, yields are down by over 80%. However, there is some good news. A new deposit was discovered in Madagascar in 1991, and although small in terms of the gemstones found, the quality of Tsavorite from this mine is equally as impressive as that from Kenya.
HOW TO CLEAN GARNET
The best way to clean Garnet is the tried and tested ‘warm soapy water’ method. Add a little mild detergent (such as washing up liquid) to a bowl of warm water and then use a soft, ideally lint-free, microfibre cloth to gently buff the gemstone with the liquid. Always try to clean the underside of the gem too, as dirt on the pavilion of the stone can cause it to appear dull.
Jewellery Cleaning Methods
HOW TO CARE FOR GARNET
Avoid steam cleaning with Garnet, but high-quality stones with no fractures are safe to place in an ultrasonic cleaner. Err on the side of caution if you're not sure if your gem has a fracture or not, as they're not always visible to the naked eye. Keep your Garnet pieces in a soft pouch or jewellery box to stop them scratching or being scratched by other gems, and remove your jewellery before using any household chemicals or undertaking strenuous tasks or exercise.
WHERE TO BUY GARNET
There are so many different Garnets available that collecting this stone can be a hobby in itself! Whichever colour you prefer, or if you're looking to obtain one of each variety, Gemporia has scoured the four corners of the earth looking for the most beautiful jewels from this fascinating gemstone family. You can start your search for your perfect Garnet piece using the below buttons, and on the next page, you can use the options in the filter menu at the top to narrow the search for your next treasure. Happy hunting!
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