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GARNET: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR METALSMITHS

Garnet is the January birthstone and a favorite among artisan metalsmiths, offering reds and oranges of every hue, as well as saturated purples, yellows and greens.


In this metalsmith’s guide to Garnet, we’ll explore its varieties and colors, where it can be found in nature, its historical use, metaphysical meaning and tips for designing jewelry with it.


WHAT COLORS DO GARNETS COME IN?


Garnet is a name used to describe a diverse group of silicate minerals, formed in both igneous and metamorphic rocks under high heat and pressure.


It is the presence of other minerals that lends the distinctive colors to garnets. Red and brown garnets form because of the presence of iron during formation, orange and pink garnets from the presence of manganese, and yellow garnets from the presence of calcium and green garnets from chromium and vanadium.





RED GARNET, ORANGE GARNET AND PURPLE GARNET


Garnet gets its name from the Latin granatum, meaning ‘pomegranate seed’, and this aptly describes the rich red color we associate with the stone.


Its red is deep and vibrant enough that garnets, especially the warm, dark red Mozambique garnets, are often confused with rubies, though they are distinctly different in their mineral formation.


The historical Bohemian garnets (now mined out) were pyrope garnets (from the Greek word ‘fire-eyed’). Garnets come in several hues of red, such as the distinct and sought-after orange of spessartine (spessartite) garnet (sometimes referred to as Fanta garnet, after the soft drink), to the rose-red to purple garnet shades of rhodolite garnet. There are also hues that tend to brownish or cinnamon red, like those shown in the hessonite garnets.


GREEN GARNET


Red is not garnet’s only color manifestation. There are several types of green garnets. Grossular, a calcium aluminum garnet, is best known in its hessonite garnet form, but grossular and hydrogrossular green garnets also exist.


Tsavorite, mined in Tanzania and Kenya and highly sought-after, is the most valued grossular green, owing its exceptional color to the elements chromium and vanadium that also color emerald.


Andradite garnets, especially the demantoid green garnets mined most famously in the Ural Mountains of Russia, are olive- to emerald-green.


Mali garnets have a beautifully unique color, which can range from a golden to chartreuse yellow, and there are even color change garnets, a favorite of collectors, in which the color change can be from greenish yellow to purplish red, or from blueish green to blueish purple.


WHERE CAN GARNETS BE FOUND?


Red garnets are found worldwide, and today’s garnets are mined on every continent. In early history, the garnets that made their way to Egypt and Europe have been shown to have their origins in India and Sri Lanka.

Today, rhodolite garnet’s major sources are Tanzania and North Carolina in the U.S.

The best-known deposits of hessonite garnets are in Sri Lanka, but there are deposits in Africa, North America, Asia, Australia, and even South America (Brazil). The most costly orange garnets (spessartine) are mined in Madagascar, but they, too, are found on every continent.

Australia is now the largest worldwide supplier of red garnets. Green garnets can be found in several African countries and in Russia.


Along the dune-covered Atlantic coast of Namibia, the sand is colored pink-purple by crushed garnets that have been deposited by streams flowing toward the ocean.



THE HISTORY OF GARNET JEWELRY


Known as carbuncle in ancient times (along with other red stones), garnet was believed to be one of four precious stones given to King Solomon by God.

Biblical legend suggests that Noah used a bright garnet to help steer his ark at night, giving rise to a popular belief that garnets helped the wearer see in the dark. For this reason, the Greeks referred to garnet as nuktalopos, or ‘lamp stone’.


American author Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a short story, The Great Carbuncle (1837), in which a group of men set out to find a legendary gem in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, reputed to shine with a red light so brilliant it could “make a noonday of midnight.”


carbuncle gold earrings
Gold earrings with carbuncles and pendants of birds