Origins: Africa, India, Russia and Central and South America.
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The garnet family is one of the most complex in the gem world and a huge topic to write about! It’s not a single species but rather consists of several species and varieties. 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), andradite.
Also, Uvarovite, which is a green garnet that usually occurs as crystals too small to cut. although It’s sometimes set as clusters in jewellery, but is rarely found as special enough to be classed as ‘gem quality’.
Garnets have been known to Man for thousands of years. Noah, it is said, used a garnet lantern to help him steer his ark through the dark night. Garnets are also found in jewellery from early Egyptian, Greek and Roman times. Many an early explorer and traveller liked to carry a garnet with him as a talisman and protective stone, as it was believed to light up the night and protect its bearer from evil and disaster.
Garnet rates on the Mohs scale of hardness at 6.5 to 7.5.
Garnets in reddish shades are most common and well known. Sadly, however, far too few people are aware that the world of the garnets is far more colourful and interesting than that. Spectacular finds, especially in Africa, have enhanced the traditional image of the garnet with a surprising number of hues – even if red does continue to be its principal colour. Blue garnets are the rarest and were first reported only in the 1990s.
A further plus is their high refractive index, the cause of the garnet’s great brilliance. All species of garnets possess similar physical properties and crystal forms, but differ in chemical composition.
Variety names include:
Rhodolite (rose-red to violet)
Spessartite (orange to orange-red)
Tsavorite (deep green)
Hessonite (orange to orange-brown)
Demantoid (olive-green to emerald-green)
Gooseberry Garnet (light green to light greenish-brown)
Hydrogrossular or Hydrogarnet (veined opaque white to light green)
Imperial Garnet (light pink)
Mali Garnet (greenish-yellow)
Malaya Garnet (reddish-orange)
Mandarin Garnet (bright orange to orange-red)
Melanite (opaque black or very dark red)
Mint Garnet (light mint-green)
Mozambique Garnet (red)
Raspberry Garnet (raspberry-red)
Rosolite (light pink to raspberry-red)
Star Garnet (exhibits asterism),
Tangerine Garnet light orange to orange-yellow
Spessartite Garnet Oranges
Amongst Our Favourite Garnets are: Grossular Andradite or Mali Garnet
The grossular andradite, originating from Mali, commonly referred to as a “Mali garnet” in the trade, is a natural mixture of two garnets species: grossular and andradite and drew a lot of interest in the gem trade because both grossular and andradite garnet species are among the rarest and most valuable garnet varieties. Grossular can be found in a variety of colours including yellow, white, colourless, green and red, but Mali garnet is typically limited to shades of yellowish to brownish-green. Mali garnet is known to exhibit remarkable fire and dispersion, as well as transparency, which makes it a perfect stone for faceting. Grossular Andradite Garnet in fine gem quality is a relatively new discovery from around 1994. Large, faceted Mali garnets are very uncommon, and most of them are under 2 carats.
Rhodolite garnet is an attractive raspberry-red, purplish-red garnet. It is a mix of pyrope and almandine in composition. Rhodolite garnet gets its name from the Greek word, “rhodon”, meaning “rose coloured”, which refers to its pinkish hue. Considered a fine gemstone, its colour may vary from pink to purplish-violet red and, like all garnets, it is celebrated for its perfect gemstone properties of brilliance, hardness (6.5-7.5 on the Mohs scale) and colour. Lighter in hue than most other red garnets, rhodolite can be distinguished from its darker red siblings The name ‘rhodolite’ was first used in the late nineteenth century to describe the new rhododendron shade of garnet first discovered in North Carolina, USA. In the late 1890s the Rhode Island mineralogist William Earl Hidden discovered rhodolite in the Cowee Valley in Macon, North Carolina, but deposits have also been found in Brazil, Greenland, Kenya, Mozambique, Norway and the United States, with the most important sources today being Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and India.
Tsavorite is a green garnet belonging to the grossularite group occuring in metamorphic rocks; it’s rare because it needs unusual rock chemistries and special conditions to form. The green of tsavorite runs from vivid and light to deep and velvety and, like all garnets, it has particularly good brilliance.
In 1967, a British gem prospector and geologist Campbell R. Bridges discovered a deposit of green grossular in the mountains of north-east Tanzania. The specimens he found were of very intense colour and high transparency. It took several years until 1974 before the gemstone became more widely available and Tiffany & Co. launched a marketing campaign which bringing recognition of the stone. The name tsavorite was proposed by Tiffany in honour of Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. Apart from this area and the source locality in Tanzania it is also found in Madagascar. With small deposits of gem grade material found in Pakistan and Antarctica. No other occurrences of gem material have been discovered.
Malaya or Malaia Garnet
Malaya garnet is reddish orange in colour.
The term ‘malaya’ was derived from a Swahili word meaning ‘outcast’ or ‘prostitute’. Miners gave it this name because when it was first discovered, local dealers wouldn’t buy it, simply because it didn’t fall into any of the standard garnet categories; thus, it was cast aside. The first findings were believed to be a type of spessartite and they were often mined and mixed with parcels of rhodolite garnet. Since its discovery, the production and mining of malaya garnet has been very irregular, and because of its rarity, it is highly prized by gem collectors. Larger specimens, especially those over 3 to 5 carats, increase in value substantially and can demand very high premiums.
‘Merelani’ Mint Green Grossular Garnet
Minty Green in colour
A new gem, discovered in very recent times and only found in unique mines in the Merelani Hills of Tanzania. The same area that is noted for producing Tanzanite is also the source of these recently discovered lively mint green Grossular Garnets – hence the popular name of ‘Merelani Mint’ in the trade. Mint grossulars are exceptional gems in all respects – great colour, superb durability and rare. It is a lighter, rarer, more exquisite garnet to the better known ‘tsavorite garnet’ It certainly appears that the Mint Green Merelani Garnet’ has now gained the respect it so deserves; there has been a dramatic upward swing in the price of these in the last few years, especially as availability of gem quality is patchy.
The Gemstone world was amazed a few years ago by the fantastic find of a type of garnet which had been very scarce until then. At the Kunene River, on the border between Namibia and Angola, a deposit of radiant orange to red ‘spessartites’ was discovered. The spessartite was originally named after the site of a find in Germany. Spessartites had led a quiet, shadowy existence as stones for gemstone lovers and collectors until that momentous discovery in Namibia. There were hardly any used in jewellery because they were so very rare. But this new find changed the gemstone world. Since then, its wealth has increased by the addition of this unusually fine, intensely radiant orange-red gemstone. Under the trade name ‘mandarin-garnet’, this wonderfully orange garnet became world-famous in no time at all. Unfortunately, the mine in the quiet hills of Namibia was only able to be used for a few years. That is, until another deposit of the orange treasures was discovered, this time in Nigeria. Their colour and brilliance are so similar to those of the mandarin garnets from Namibia that only an experienced specialist can discern the subtle differences.
The star of green garnets is the rare demantoid, a gemstone for connoisseurs and gemstone lovers. Its brilliance is positively tremendous, even greater than that of the diamond and named ‘demantoid’ meaning ‘diamond-like’. Russia’s star jeweller Carl Fabergé loved the brilliant green garnet from the Urals more than anything else and used it repeatedly in his creations. Meanwhile, the demantoid is no longer quite as scarce in the gemstone trade, thanks to some new finds in Namibia. Demantoids from Namibia are of good colour and brilliance, but they lack one tiny feature: the so-called ‘horse-tail inclusions’. These fine, bushy inclusions are the unmistakable, a typical feature by which a Russian demantoid is recognised.
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