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 colors. 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 colorful 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 color 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 colors and shades since its initial unearthing, as we’ll learn shortly.
It would be fascinating to know the exact moment 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 is that Garnet was found on the necklace of a mummified body that was uncovered in a tomb in Egypt that was dated to around 3,500 BC, so we know that Garnet was already being set into jewelry 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 non-gem grade Garnet still fulfills 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 civilizations. In Greek mythology, the gem is regarded as a gift of love and is said to symbolize eternity. The Ancient Romans were known to wear elaborate Garnet jewelry at a time when gemstones and jewelry 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 jewelry 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. 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 civilizations, across all periods of recorded time. 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 is 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 colors, including red, orange, yellow, green, purple, brown, black, pink and colorless. The only notable exception is blue, but even then, a phenomenal color 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 aluminum, with X being the variable element. In the Ugrandite half, the X is always Ca or calcium with the Y being the variable.
We’ll move on from the heavy science in just a moment. Still, it’s also worth noting the wide range of different chemical elements that provide us with the colorful 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 aluminum, chromium or vanadium being present, which is also true of why Emeralds are green. Calcium is responsible for yellow garnets. Just like combining different colors of paint, the presence of multiple chemical elements from the above list will further modify the color, 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 Bijaar 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 was 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 color 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 color 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 color that Garnet represents is virtually unmatched by any other stone. Collecting Garnet is to obtain a piece of history and hold the colors 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.
WHERE IS GARNET MINED?
VARIETIES OF GARNET
- Rhodolite Garnet
- Hessonite Garnet
- Tsavorite Garnet
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.
WHERE TO BUY GARNET
There are so many different Garnets available that collecting this stone can be a hobby in itself! Whichever color you prefer, or if you’re looking to obtain one of each variety, Bijaar 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 in our store. Happy hunting!