Garnets; most have heard of the stone, usually in relation to a reddish stone set in antique jewellery, notably the GTD – garnet topped doublet. However, garnets exist in all colours except pure blue and are therefore often mistaken as another natural stone or dismissed as paste (man-made glass). Some of the earliest garnets on record date back to before the 18th Century, with six variations identified by the early 20th Century. Since then, a staggering 19 variants have been added to the overall garnet ‘family tree’.
The variations are determined by the slight nuances in their chemical composition with six considered as ‘gem quality’. These are:
Almandine: arguably the most known gem quality stone; very dark red, brownish/purplish red, the dominant element is iron which influences the reddish hues.
Pyrope: translates in Greek to ‘I see fire’, the colour is orangey/red predominantly due to magnesium and iron.
Spessartine: quite rare; bright orange/orangey yellow in colour with higher amounts of magnesium than pyrope.
Grossular: all shades including colourless, yellow, orange, red, and green, identified as different from their almandine/pyrope/spessartine cousins by inclusions visible in the stones.
Andradite: includes black (melanite) and transparent green (demantoid), coloured by titanium, chromium, vanadium, and aluminum.
Uvarovite: small and very rare, chrome-rich and intensely green.
The stones of reddish hues (almandine, pyrope and spessartine) are likely to have influenced the name, granatus in Latin, meaning seed or grain, and thought to be in reference to the seed of the pomegranate.
Garnet is the traditional birthstone for January and historically assumed to evoke the power of protection. A variety of religious and traditional practices hold the (most commonly red) stone in high regard, using it to adorn clothing, shields, and even tombs and mummies in Ancient Egyptian times.
These days, garnets are seeing a resurgence in popularity with the less traditional yellow, green, and even black stones being sought after by jewellers as an affordable alternative and point of difference to the widely used trio of ruby, sapphire, and emerald.
So, next time you are pondering what a stone may be, or contemplating a stone for a commissioned piece, I would encourage you to consider the garnet with its assortment of hues, most likely at price point more attractive to the hip pocket then some of its precious gemstone relatives!
Hannah Sass, Jewellery Manager