‘By her who in this month was born
No gem save garnets shall be worn
They will ensure her constancy
True friendship and fidelity.’
Garnet is both the modern and the traditional birthstone for January, but far from being a ‘winter gem’, by virtue of its beauty, brilliance and multitude of colors, it is indeed an enticing gemstone for every season.
Known to humankind for thousands of years, and said to have been used by Noah in his lantern when steering his ark, garnets have been found in jewelry from ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman times. This vividly colored gemstone was popular not only for ornamental purposes , but also as a talisman and a protective stone. The Romans believed that garnets would light up the night and protect the bearer from evil and disaster.
Deriving its name from the Latin word ‘granatum’ meaning ‘seedlike’, due to its pomegranate seed resemblance, the term garnet applies to a group of minerals consisting of several varieties including grossular, pyrope, almandine, andradite, spessartite, demantoid, hessonite, rhodolite and tsavorite. The most popular and widely known, however, are the red varieties of garnets. The fiery pyrope with a light brownish nuance was a highly demanded gemstone throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, while the unique Bohemian garnets from the former Kingdom of Bohemia with their intense scarlet hue were famous throughout the world and particularly cherished by Queen Victoria and her affluent, fashion-conscious Court.
The star of all green garnets is the rare and very collectible demantoid, a gemstone for both connoisseurs and gemstone lovers alike. Its brilliance is tremendous, even greater than that of the diamond. Russia’s star jeweler Carl Fabergé loved the brilliant green garnet from the Urals above all other gemstones, and used it abundantly in his creations. The unique feature of the Russian demantoid, compared to those found in Namibia, is the presence of the so-called ‘horsetail inclusions’ by which a Russian demantoid is immediately recognized.
The second best known green garnet is the tsavorite, also belonging to grossularite group. This name was designated by Tiffany’s in New York, shortly after the discovery of the stone in 1967 by a British geologist, Campbell R. Bridges. The place of discovery was the north-east of Tanzania near the Tsavo National Park, hence the name tsavorite, a variety of green garnet with hues ranging from vivid and light to deep and velvety green, with excellent brilliance due to their high light refraction.
The red garnet has been held as the stone of inspiration and a remedy for diabolical influences since ancient times. In the Middle Ages the ‘carbuncle’, an almandine variety of garnets with its deep red color, was used as protection against the plague, to eliminate sadness and evil thoughts and when worn around the neck, it was believed to cure indigestion and a sore throat. Often cut en cabochon, carbuncles were regarded as symbolic of Christ’s passion and suffering and therefore cherished as a gemstone of sacred and spiritual significance. Epiphaneus wrote that “it is impossible to hide this stone when it is worn, for, not withstanding with whatever clothes it may be covered, its luster shows itself outside its envelope”.