Birthstones: January - Garnet
Adding warmth, vibrancy and passion to an otherwise grey and dull wintery morning, people born in January are blessed with Garnets as their birthstone. January may be seen as drab and dull, but with a delectable piece of Garnet jewellery, you can brighten up any outfit.
Below, we have put together our guide to the January birthstone, exploring this popular and sought after gemstone.
What Makes a Garnet
Broadly speaking, there are a large variety of Garnets with differing chemical compositions for each variety. Yet, these are all made from silicate minerals. Garnets are renowned for their vivid, juicy red tone, however, they are found in a range of hues. Below are the different types of Garnet found around the world:
Source - Leaf
Almandine - One of the most common and precious types of Garnets, this type of Garnet is a mixture of iron and aluminium, occuring in metamorphic rocks. These Garnets are typically the signature red hue and they are named after the Alabanda region in Ancient Turkey, where these gemstones were historically cut.
19th Century German Almandine Garnet Ring, Source - International Gem Society
Pyrope - Named after the Greek word ‘pyrōpós’ meaning ‘fire-eyed’, Pyrope garnets contain magnesium, meaning that their colour ranges from a deep red to an almost black hue. These Garnets are also known as bohemian Garnets.
Early French Victorian Pyrope Garnet Cluster Ring, Source - Renaissance Antiques
Spessartine - These types of Garnet are made from manganese aluminium, pertaining to an orange and yellow hue. Yet, in some parts of the world where they are mined, they can also be found in violet-red tones.
Pyrope-Spessartine - A combination of the two above, these types of Garnets are incredibly rare. Plus, even more intriguing is that they can change colour depending on the colour temperature of viewing light.
Andradite - This type of Garnet has a mixture of calcium and iron. Andradite Garnets can be found in a range of colours, from red to yellow, brown, green or black. Within Andradite Garnets there are sub-types which are topazolite (yellow or green), demantoid (green), and melanite (black). In particular, demantoid garnets are one of the most prized and rare forms of Garnets, nicknamed the 'emerald of the Urals’.
Grossular - Grossular Garnets are made from calcium aluminium, and when mined in Siberia it is known to be green or can be cinnamon-brown, red or yellow. When mined in Kenya and Tanzania, these are known as tsavorite.
Grossular Garnets, Source - The International Gem Society
Uvarovite - These garnets are incredibly rare. Bright green in tone, they contain calcium and chromium within their chemical composition.
Where Garnets are Mined
As illustrated above, there are a large variety of Garnets to be found around the globe. Not only can they be accessed from certain mines, but also their colour may differ depending upon the mine in which it is found. For example, Pyrope Garnets, although usually ranging from deep red to black in hue, when found in Macon County North Carolina, they are a violet-red shade.
Yet, regardless of type, Garnets are typically mined in Brazil, India, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, USA, China, Kenya, South Africa, Zambia and Myanmar.
History and Significance of Garnets
It is no secret that Garnets have a long and convoluted history with humanity. Being one of the earliest gemstones used in jewellery, it is believed that as far back as Ancient Egypt Garnets were being inlaid into jewels and amulets and placed on top of mummified Pharaohs.
Gold Garnet and Agate Necklace and Earrings, 1st Century BC, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
In Ancient Rome, Garnets remained to be a popular choice, often being used for wax sealing intaglios. Associated with fire, warmth, and action, their glittering appearance is akin to bright burning coals, meaning they were excellent talismans for warriors and kings.
Maecenas Garnet Ring Stone, signed by Apollonios, 1st Century BC, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A stone that clearly possesses plenty of vitality, owning and wearing Garnets quickly became a sign of wealth and of noble birth. This meant that they were widely traded around the world, crossing multiple ancient cultures from late Antiquity to the migration period. Notably, Red Garnets opened up shipments between Rome, Greece, South India, Ancient Sri Lanka and the Anglo Saxons.
The name ‘Garnet’ itself comes from the 14th century Middle English word ‘gernet’ which translates to ‘dark red’. Yet, even more intriguing is that the name Garnet also comes from the Latin ‘granatus’ which is related to the ‘pomum granatum’, or as we commonly know it to be today - the pomegranate.
Panagiarion with the Virgin and Child and the Three Angels at Mamre (Right) and the Crucifixion and Three Church Fathers (Left), Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
During late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, like most gemstones, Garnets possessed plenty of spiritual significance. Garnets were believed to be a happy stone, helping to ward off sorrow and negative emotional energy, and they also were used to help fight against the spread of plague. During this time, Garnets were largely cut in cabochons as it represented Christ’s passion and martyrdom.
Garnet Reliquary Pendant, ca 1640, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
It wasn’t just in western European cultures that were fascinated by Garnets, but interestingly in Hindu culture, Garnets are associated with female empowerment. This is because Garnets are associated with the first chakra, helping to promote healthy sexual activity.
Large deposits of Garnets were discovered in Bohemia (today Czech Republic) in central Europe in the 16th century, meaning that Garnets quickly became the gem du jour for the 17th and 18th centuries. A large majority of Georgian jewellery were inlaid with Garnets, regally displayed in flat cuts, maltese crosses, pansies and witches hearts.
Garnet Witches Heart Brooch, ca.1770, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
During the Victorian period, Garnets had a resurgence of popularity after the industrial revolution. Notably, during 1870 when the Holbeinesque jewellery trend emerged. These were pendants and earrings that were incredibly ornate, inspired by the Renaissance.
In the Victorian era, Victorian Garnet jewellery was all the rage, epitomising the glamour, sophistication and Gothic influences that swept through this period. It was the fashion to have Garnets in rose cuts set within low carat Gold, known today in the antique world as ‘Garnet Gold’.
Bohemian Garnet Gold Bangle, Source - Lillicoco
Difference between Garnets and Rubies
Due to their shared striking tones of deep red, Garnets and Rubies can often be mistaken for one another. Yet, they do possess a range of differences.
If you look closely between a Garnet and a Ruby, they both have a myriad of undertones. Yet, Garnets contain orange, brown, green undertones, whereas Rubies have purple and blue undertones.
You can also tell the difference between a Garnet and a Ruby by placing it under a light. Garnets will reflect bands of yellow and green, whereas Rubies will reflect blues and reds because they absorb yellow and green within the colour spectrum. What’s more, within the light you should be able to see that Garnets are singularly refractive and Rubies are doubly refractive.
One of the main differences however is the hardness between the gemstones. Rubies are a 9 on the Mohs scale, whereas Garnets are between a 6.5 to 7.5. This means that Rubies are a better gemstone for engagement rings as they are far more resistant to scratches and general wear.
General Tips on Buying and Maintaining Garnets
As one of the earth’s more abundant gemstones, it won’t be too difficult to buy raw or Garnet jewellery, unless you are looking for rare Garnets like demantoid or uvarovite which you can expect to pay a pretty penny for!
In modern jewellery, Garnets can be found in a variety of standard cuts and in antique jewellery you can find cabochons, rose cuts and flat cuts.
Rare Garnets like tsavorites and demantoids are often smaller, so they are cut into shapes that will retain most of their carat weight.
Red garnets are known for having exceptionally good clarity, with their transparent and glassy lustre and not usually having visible inclusions. On the other hand, orange-hued garnets like spessartine are known to typically have inclusions. Yet, these inclusions could be in the form of asterism.
As illustrated throughout this Lillicoco university article, Garnets come in a range of colours, yet the most sought after and recognisable hue is red. The more vivid the redness, the more valuable the Garnet will be. Yet green Garnets are incredibly valuable too.
For pyrope-spessartine Garnets, these rare finds change colour in incandescent light.
Garnets can vary in carat weight, yet generally, Almandines come in larger sizes and rarer species come in smaller sizes.
Garnets are known to have a fair toughness, meaning they are very durable. So, in the right conditions, plenty of antique Garnet jewellery has perfectly survived.
To clean your Garnet jewellery, always use warm soapy water, yet do not steam clean these precious gems.
To see our Lillicoco collection of antique garnet jewellery, click here.