A garnet a name applied to a group of closely-related minerals, many of which are used as gemstones.
There are more than twenty garnet categories, called species, but only five are commercially important as gems. Those five are pyrope, almandine (also called almandite), spessartine, grossular (grossularite), and andradite.
Garnets are most often seen in red, but are available in a wide variety of colors spanning the entire spectrum.
A garnet has a hardness of 6.5 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness.
Depending on the variety, quality and size of a garnet, one can pay anywhere from $40 to $5,000 per carat.
The name “garnet” comes from the Latin granatus (“grain”), possibly a reference to the Punica granatum (“pomegranate“), a plant with red seeds similar in shape, size, and color to some garnet crystals.
According to the Talmud, the only light on Noah’s ark was provided by a large garnet.
Hebrew writers include the garnet as one of the twelve gems in Aaron’s breastplate.
Garnet was also a symbol of one of the original 12 tribes of Israel.
Thousands of years ago, red garnet necklaces adorned the necks of Egypt’s pharaohs, and were entombed with their mummified corpses as prized possessions for the afterlife.
Plato had his portrait engraved on a garnet by a Roman engraver.
In ancient Rome, signet rings with carved garnets were used to stamp the wax that secured important documents.
In Roman scholar Pliny’s time (23 to 79 AD), red garnets were among the most widely traded gems.
Garnet has been used as a sacred stone by the Native American Indians, the South American Indians, the Aztecs, the African tribal elders, and the Mayans.
In the Middle Ages (about 475 to 1450 AD), red garnet was favored by clergy and nobility.
During the middle-ages, jewelers, in Scandinavia and Asia, used a technique called Cloisonné to decorate metal objects. The decorations consisted of compartments, with fine walls of silver or gold, filled with inlays of cut garnet and rhodolite gemstones, glass or other materials. The objects, known as cloisonnés were valued by royalty and those in power.
A thriving garnet jewelry and cutting industry based on the very popular red pyrope garnets was started in Czechoslovakia in 1500. Until the 19th century it was the world’s largest source of gem garnets.
The discovery of a bright green Grossular garnet in East Africa in the late 1960’s that was named “Tsavorite” by the Tiffany’s jewelry firm.
The discovery of a fiery orange variety of spessartite garnet on the Angola-Namibian border in the 1980’s also rocked the gemstone and jewelry world.
The rarest is the blue garnet, discovered in the late 1990s in Bekily, Madagascar.
The most expensive garnet is the brilliant green variety called demantoid (diamond like), which approaches emerald shade and exceeds the diamond in fire or dispersion. The finest of these garnets, which are quite rare, are found in the Ural Mountains.
A garnet is the birthstone for people born in the month of January.
It is also the stone that celebrates the 2nd anniversary of marriage.