Garnets have been cherished by royalty, ancient warriors and lovers from East to West for millennia. One of the oldest gemstones, they have long been believed to offer protection to their wearer as well being able to impart passion and creativity. For those of you born in January you can count yourself lucky that this mystical and magnificent gem is your birthstone.
What’s in a name?
We have to take a slight detour into medieval France to find out where we get the word garnet from. In early French the pomegranate fruit, with its luscious jewel-like red seeds, was known as a ‘pomme grenate’ (or seedy apple). Soon this gave rise to the adjective ‘grenat’ which meant red like a pomegranate. In English grenat became garnet and there you have it!
Beloved through time
Archaeologists have discovered garnets used as talismans for the afterlife in the tombs of ancient Egyptian pharaohs dating as far back as 3800BC. Thousands of years later, in ancient Rome, garnets were ornately carved with classical deities and used as seals for important documents that travelled throughout the empire.
In the middle ages the clergy and nobility often wore domed cabochon garnets as rings, the deep red color meant to represent Christ’s sacrifice. Later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, ‘Bohemian’ style garnet jewelry made up of tightly clustered pavé-set gems arranged in ornate swags and floral motifs were incredibly popular fashion items throughout Europe.
A little bit of science…
Slightly confusingly the word garnet refers to a family of gemstones that all share essentially the same crystal structure but differ in their chemical make up. These are divided into more than twenty species which are in turn categorized into different varieties. Only six species (namely almandine, andradite, grossular, pyrope, spessartine and uvarovite) are gemstones and it is from them that we get the garnets that we know today.
Color me interested
Most people immediately think of a rich cabernet color when they think of garnets and these mesmerizing tones are thanks to the pyrope and almandine species. Indeed the word pyrope comes from the Greek for fiery-eyed! However the garnet crayon box consists of more than just this one color.
The famed Russian jeweler Fabergé created a stir in the mid 19th century when he started to use the recently discovered demantoid garnet (of the andradite family) in his creations. In fact the different species of garnet (either on their own or mixed together) give us not just reds but a spectacular array of sunny yellows, burnt oranges and powerful leafy greens too. Many of these are recent discoveries in Africa.
Where are they from?
Pliny the Elder, writing 2000 years ago, believed garnets to be one of the most widely traded gems in the world. Indeed the famous 7th century Staffordshire Hoard – discovered by a metal detectorist in an English field a few years ago, and made up of intricately worked battle and religious pieces in gold, gems and glass – has garnets from the Indian subcontinent and the area known as the Czech Republic today. It is from these mines in the former Bohemia that the fiery pyrope garnets that so transfixed 18th and 19th century were found.
Garnets can be found all over the world and many of the garnets mined today are used by industry – if you’ve bought some sandpaper lately that may actually be made of garnet! However, the garnets prized by gem lovers are far rarer and only found at select mines throughout the world. Beautiful green tsavorite garnets, only discovered in 1967, come from East Africa. The demantoids that so captivated the Russian elite are still mined in Russia but also found at the ‘Green Dragon’ mine in Namibia. Just a few years ago the East African island of Mozambique was home to the discovery of a sensational purple garnet with unusual color change properties.
What better way to start your new year than with the purchase of a stone that has been valued for its protective properties for millennia? At JupiterGem we have an excellent array of the finest garnets from around the world and our experts are on hand to help you choose the best stone for you. What’s more we can have it set in any style you wish. So whether you would like a fabulous green demantoid, a burnt orange hessonite or a purplish red rhodolite we have something to suit both your taste and budget.