This month, as part of our ongoing Meet the Gemstone series, we’re focusing on the richly coloured garnet, a gem featured on many of the special occasion pieces at Robert Gatward Jewellers.
The January birthstone is often associated with the winter months, thanks to its typically deep red colour that compliments festive wear. However, the gem is far more diverse than many first believe. In fact, garnet is a group name for the silicate minerals almandine, pyrope, spessartine, grossular, andradite, mozambique, and uvarovite.
This guide will delve into the intriguing properties of garnet and the meaning behind this fabulous stone.
The history of garnet
Appearances of the garnet stone stretch back many years, popping up throughout important periods of history.
Archaeologists have frequently found garnet clad amulets placed around the necks of prominent Egyptian pharaohs in excavated tombs. A stylish red garnet bead necklace was found in a grave in the country, believed to be more than 5,000 years old.
Elsewhere, leaders of the Ancient Romans wore dazzling garnet rings, which they used for stamping the wax seals on letters and documents.
Nowadays, garnet pieces are a fashionable and sought-after addition to any jewellery collection. Garnet stones are seen on the hands, necks, and ears of the rich and famous at celebrity parties, often in big and extravagant styles that intrigue onlookers.
In contrast, Kate Middleton’s understated pearl and garnet ring – given to her by Prince William prior to their engagement – captured the attention of the public with its romantic and royal meaning, as it contained each of the couple’s birthstones.
Indeed, garnet as the January birthstone and the gemstone of the second and eighteenth wedding anniversaries has cemented its popularity over the years.
Where is garnet found?
There are garnet deposits all over the world, with some deposits being much rarer and smaller in size than others.
The major garnet producing areas are Africa, Russia, Pakistan, China, Brazil, and Canada. However, most jewellery designers use garnets mined in India.
The country leads the world in garnet production and has some of the world’s most abundant garnet mines, producing a deep red garnet stone that is popular on jewellery. India also promotes modern mining practices, and gemstone production is conflict-free.
What colour is garnet?
Although garnet is typically thought of as deep red colour, the garnet stone is found in a variety of colours.
Garnet is the collective name for a large group of silicate minerals, all with distinct colour properties. While the most commonly found are the classic red variety, you will also see orange, pink, green, black, and even honey brown garnets.
Each garnet has the same main chemical formula, but the elements added to this formula define the colour of the minerals, thus creating diversity within the group.
The two main groups in the garnet stone family are pyralpites and calcic. Pyralpites are usually red in colour due to the presence of iron, while the calic stones get their colour from impurity elements. This means they can come in other colours, including green, pink, black, etc.
Garnet legend and folklore
The Ancient Egyptian royal roots that the garnet stone boasts have led to it being a gemstone steeped in fascinating lore.
In China, garnets were said to represent a tiger’s soul. After the animal’s death, it is transformed into the precious red gem.
The belief that garnets protect the wearer from harm is also widespread throughout history. Celtic and Saxon kings favoured garnet jewellery for their protection, while Native American healers also believed garnets possessed protective powers, specifically against injury and poison. King Solomon is said to have worn garnets into battle, and during the Crusades, Christian and Muslim warriors both wore garnets on their travels.
The connection between garnets and protection continued into more recent times, specifically among the royal families of the world. Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Victoria, and the Russian Czarians were all well-known for wearing garnet stones on their jewellery and clothes.
The classic red colour has also meant that garnet is often associated with the heart and blood. Many still believe that garnet properties include improving circulation, preventing haemorrhages, and soothing heart problems. Garnet is also said to improve the sexual energy of the wearer, and even fight against fatigue and apathy.
One of the most fascinating stories surrounding garnet comes from Greek mythology. Garnets were often associated with pomegranates, the only food that goddess Persephone ate when she was kidnapped by Hades and trapped in his Underworld.
Because of this, the garnet stone has come to stand for the safe return of a friend or loved one. Garnets were often exchanged between friends as tokens that they would meet again and always be bound together.
How strong is garnet?
Garnet is a mildly strong gemstone, according to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. The scale was created by Friedrich Mohs in 1812 and is still used today as a standard way to measure the ‘hardness’ of minerals.
Diamond is at the top with a hardness of ten, while garnet comes slightly lower at 6.5 to 7.5.
What is garnet used for?
Garnet is most commonly used on pieces of jewellery, particularly garnet earrings, rings, and necklaces. Often worn during special occasions and gifted during milestone events, the association between garnet and love makes garnet jewellery an especially romantic present.
You will also find garnets on decadent ornaments. It is a hard gemstone that is resistant to weathering, making it a great family heirloom to be passed down.
Garnet also has uses outside of the decorative and aesthetic nature. Today, the gemstone is used as an abrasive blasting material for water filtration, in the water jet cutting process, and to also make abrasive powders.