Garnet: January Birthstone
I believe almost everyone has seen or knows a garnet … that red or brownish red or pinkish red or brownish orange gemstone. All of this is true. But there is more, much much more. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the garnet family includes some of the most gorgeous gemstones in the entire world, and that includes almost every color imaginable.
The most common garnet in the earth is almandine (or almandite), the orangey-brown or reddish-orangey brown stone. It was named after the city of Cine, Aydin, south-west Turkey, where it was cut in the days of Theophrastus (315 BC) and Pliny, 400 years later. We believe that almandine is the stone named carbuncle, in the Breast Plate of Aaron, Exodus, Chapter 23. It is always inexpensive, and usually fairly deeply colored.
The most expensive garnet has a long name: demantoid andradite garnet. In its magnificent quality, it is a deep yellow-green with yellow and red fire bounding out of the top of the stone. The great stones have always been from Russia, a century ago, and now re-sold in fine vintage and antique jewelry. Large stones are exceptionally rare. It is not uncommon to price a 4 carats demantoid at $6000 per carat, making it hardly a “semi-precious” garnet.
The next most expensive is also green, but a different green from demantoid, and another long name: tsavorite grossular garnet, or just tsavorite. In its best qualities this garnet’s color is a deep almost pure green, with similar fire to the demantoid but not with the same colors exploding from the top. In larger sizes, tsavorite can be $3000 to $5000 per carat, the great stones all coming from Kenya. When I am teach my students the impossibility of identifying a gemstone by its color, I often place a demantoid, a tsavorite, and an African emerald next to one another, to show their similar colors. Buying, selling and just handling these gemstones for many years allows the seasoned buyer to make a reasonable guess; however, as in all gemstone identification, each stone must be tested for complete accuracy, so it can be represented honorably to the public.
The most beautiful pinkish or purplish red garnet is called rhodolite, more commonly found that demantoid and tsavorite, but not nearly as common as almandine. This is a gorgeous gemstone, to rival any of the purplish red stones anywhere in the world. In sizes above 5 carats, it is expensive, beginning at $500 per carat and ending about $1500 per carat.
There is one orange garnet that is so demanded world-wide that it is sometimes difficult to find a stone for a client. This is the “Malia” garnet, a subdivision of the famous spessartine garnet. This garnet may be absolutely pure orange, and when it is cut to hold and explode its light, it is truly like a piece of the sun. There are no gemstones like it … none, in any variety or species ever recorded. The orange is so vivid and bright, you gasp when you see the stone. Naturally, it is also pricey, beginning at $800 per carat and ending at $3500 per carat.
There are half a dozen other types of garnets, not famous as gemstones. And, here is one that even most jewelers are unfamiliar with. It is extremely rare. Ready? It is a blue garnet, blue like Montana Yogo Gulch sapphire. There are very few records of individual stones. Blue garnet appears as an included crystal in diamond. I have sold such diamonds, and the client has purchased the stone because of this fascinating “flaw.” Since we are discussing garnet, another diamond I have sold is one with a red garnet inside, and inside the red garnet was another diamond. Again, the customer loved the idea of a diamond within a garnet within the heart of a diamond, and purchased the stone because of that bright red color in the center.
Finally, nature produces garnet with visual phenonema. There are cat’s-eye garnets, star garnets and garnets which change color, like an alexandrite, when exposed to incandescent and ultra violet light. And in the garnets which change color, one of the colors it becomes is blue, like the blue garnet inside the diamond.
Clearly, garnet has outlived its century-old designation as a semi-precious gemstone. The beauty of many garnets is so astounding as to place them into the precious stone category, even without considering the lofty prices necessary to pay to own one of the extraordinary colors.