When I was about 15 or 16 Mum worked at Elton’s Jewellers in Nairobi. I hung out there a lot and one of the in-house jewellers made me this little pinkie ring. The value was definately in the gold, but I chose this stone because I loved it – a purply-pink almandine garnet. Three years later I graduated to my much more expensive and important green Tsavorite garnet engagement ring (see Where it all began) but I didn’t realise how much I loved garnets until I started working with Polly and we began buying some serious stones, including garnets. It stands to reason that eventually the magpie in me would need to know more about these delicious gems.
The word garnet comes from the Latin word for seed – granatus – most probably in reference to pomegranate seeds which are a rich red. But garnets were being used long before Latin was invented; there is evidence of Bronze Age man using garnet not just as decoration but also as an abrasive tool, and of course it’s still used in garnet sanding paper today. The Egyptians, the Greeks and of course the Romans loved garnets, and one of the most fantastic applications of garents can be found in the Anglo Saxon Staffordshire Hoard in which there are about 3500 pieces of the most incredible garnet cloisonne work.
But the garnets used far back in history are the much more common and well known Pyrope garnets which are the pomegranate red ones, and probably Almandine garnets too which are a more purple red. The next to be discovered in the 1800s are Andradite (yellow and green) and Uvarovite (tiny green crystals) found in Russia; then came Grossular garnets like my green Tsavorite found in Africa in the 1960s, and then Spessartite garnet (orange) although, to be fair, it was discovered in the 1800s too, but commercial quantities didn’t come to light until 1991. Dividing garnets into their proper family groups is really difficult because there are about twenty species of garnet and then their subspecies, but only five of them are commercially important gems and those are the ones listed above. The end result is that garnets come in just about every colour, and even though blue garnets are very rare, they do exisit.
On the subject of subspecies though, there’s an interesting little story out of the Tanzanian garnet mines; apparently when the newly discovered Fanta orange Spessartite garnets were sold to dealers in Europe, the dealers removed what they felt were substandard stones of a much paler orangey/brown, orangey/pink colour. These were called Malaia garnets (or Malaya garnets) because, apparently, the word malaia means ‘outcast’ in Swahili. I happen to know that it actually means prostitute, so over to you to decide the translation connection.. and in my humble opinion they are an absolutly wonderful colour range of gems and worthy of being partnered with 22ct gold any day. It’s not the most expensive garnet available, though. The most expensive and precious (including blue garnets, actually) is a green garnet called a Demantoid garnet which is only ever green and the very desireable ones have yellow asbestos-type inclusions in them that look like golden threads and are called horsetail inclusions. These beauties were only found in Russia until quite recently when they were discovered first in Namibia and then in Madagascar. A collector’s dream, apparently.
But I digress… Going through the archives of Polly’s work I found images of some of the wonderful pieces she’s made using garnets in her signature 22ct gold, and the colour range is impressive too;
A little known factoid… garnet is magnetic! Watch this…
You might wonder what the advantage of this piece of knowledge could possibly be but just think about it; if a smooth-talking gem dealer is trying to sell you an incredibly expensive garnet and you’re not convinced he’s on the up-and-up, all you have to do is whip out your magnet and if it doesn’t attract the ‘garnet’ he’s probably trying to sell you a spinel. See? Knowledge is power!
And as for this magpie who is already seriously attracted to garnets, the mission is on to keep searching till I find a blue garnet which has managed to elude me thus far.
A very nice write up about garnets.
I adore garnets they are by far one of my favorite stones. I also love peridots. And They’re magnetic! This is so cool! I’m actually in awe and I’m going to check and see if the raw stones I have are Garnets by checking if they are magnetic. This is so exciting!
Thanks again for another amazing ,informative and exciting blog.
Thank you for being such a loyal fan!
I bought 3 stones in Calgary and finally had them set into a ring and earrings. I didn’t realize how many different families/subspecies there are! And I’ll trust your meaning for malaria!
Malia – malaria is Italin for bad air (just a little linguistic update.. 😉