This is a tempting title, isn’t it? Do you know the almandine gem? And did you know it has regeneration features? Well, I didn’t before I came across this red beauty.
Although ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, it is a dream of many to become young again with tight skin. So, it is time to tell you more about this exceptional gemstone.
Let me tell you first how I came across this rather unknown gem, that in fact, everyone knows.
An unknown gemstone?
While I was at work in the museum as a guide I noticed a stunning shield-fibula (round-shaped brooch), with red gemstones, cut in cabochon style, and set in a round golden kind of base. The fibula brooch was made in the 12th century and I wondered what the history of that fibula was.
I discovered that the red stones were almandines and that they originated from India or Sri Lanka. And so they traveled quite far ending up in a fibula brooch in the Netherlands.
Then I started to wonder whether I have seen that gemstone before. From the early Middle Ages on you can find pieces of jewelry here, made of gold and set with almandines. It looks like it was some sort of fashion, that color combination and combination of material.
According to my knowledge, they looked like garnets, but they were called differently. With so many remarkable facts, the only thing I could do is dive into this.
What is almandine actually?
Almandine or almandite as it is also called is a kind of garnet. You have about 20 different types of garnet and this one, together with pyrope and spessartine, are examples of the garnet.
The almandine is the garnet type that is mined the most and used in jewelry and the name is still rather unknown.
It contains a lot of iron and is often embedded in mica schists. Those schists form matrix pieces with perfectly formed crystals. Due to weathering the schists break easily and the crystals break too into separate almandine crystals, that can be rather large.
The name is a corruption of ‘the word ‘albandicus. Pliny the Elder – a Roman writer and philosopher- gave this gem the name, since it was mined and worked with in Alabanda, a place in Caria (Asia Minor), near Miletos and Ephesos.
But Pliny the Elder was mentioning a garnet cutting and trade center situated in this place. Did he recognize the almandine as a different type of garnet or did he think that it was a garnet? The garnets from Alabanda were considered to be very valuable.
Another source mentioned a man called Georgius Agricola (or Georg Bauer/Farmer) to give this gem its name in 1546?
So the one who gives this gem its name is not clear. And the fact whether people in those days recognize this type of garnet as a gemstone of its own is questionable. Besides that, the almandine has a lot of names too! And mixed-ups.
The gemstone is found in Sri Lanka or formerly called Ceylon where this gem is sometimes called the ‘Ceylon-ruby’. When the color of the gem becomes a little violet the name may change into ‘Syriam garnet’. Called after a place in Myanmar or Burma, where the stone supposedly was found (see later).
Then someone found them in the Northern Territory in Australia, and he thought they were rubies, calling them ‘Australian rubies’.
The almandine is also called Almandite or Oriental garnet. Or when they have a dark, brownish red to black and opaque color the name is Almandine garnet.
But when the color is deep red and transparent people call them Precious Garnet or Pyrope garnet.
In the Netherlands we have a proverb ‘can you make chocolate out of this’. Or the name almandine and what gemstone to give this name can be rather confusing.
Let us talk a bit about the history of this gemstone and after that where it is found!
The history of the almandine (and some legends)
Archeologists found in Egypt almandine jewelry, dated from 3500 BC, which makes this gemstone the oldest garnet type known to mankind. Especially almandine garnet necklaces and amulets were found in Egyptian tombs and on Egyptian mummies.
Also, the Ancient Greeks and Romans loved garnets (or almandines) and used them in their jewelry, and especially the signet rings to seal essential documents were popular in those days.
Later in history, in Europe, the almandine pieces of jewelry, especially in combination with gold were trendy. We have found several examples of stunning golden fibula decorated with the red almandine gemstone from the 6th and 7th centuries.
Of course, like all other gemstones, quite a lot of legends and remarkable features are known and attributed to certain gemstones, And the almandine is no exception.
Almandine in the legends
Noah, you know the guy from Noah’s Ark, supposed to use the gem to light up the Ark during the flood. No idea how that worked out, but it is stated in literature!
It is said that the almandine garnet was one of the gemstones on the breast shield of the high priest Aaron. And in the Christian religion, this gemstone was the symbol of the blood of Christ.
In ancient times, people loved this gem to prevent themselves from being poisoned. Or better… solve the problems when they were poisoned. And the Greek children wore a piece of this gem around their neck to protect them from drowning.
In the Middle Ages, the stone was believed to treat depression, cure liver diseases and ward off bad dreams. There was no other remedy, so the stone was popular as a kind of medicine.
Where is it found?
The story goes that almandine can be found in many parts of the world, but there is a caveat!
To start with is the fact that it is mined in Australia, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and the USA. And one of the most famous sites to find it goes from the Zillertal and Otztal in Austria to the Passiria Valley in Italy.
There was a rather large garnet industry here. Here they mined garnet stones of low quality, used as abrasives, but also stones that have a gemstone quality. This industry ended when the mines in this region were exhausted.
The largest deposits are in India and Sri Lanka. And they were traded over the whole world. The Romans thought that the almandine garnets they bought originated in Carthago (Tunesia), Ethiopia, and Alabanda. But actually, they were Indian and were transported to the Roman Empire via the Silk Route.
The same story goes for Pegu (or Bago), a former kingdom in Burma, now Myanmar. One thought that there was an almandine garnet mine, but actually the deposit there was very small and had low quality. Pegu was a trade and cutting center for the Indian almandine!
And another example is the origin of the Syrian garnets. They were valuable because of their beautiful purple to red color. Then they found out that ‘Syrian’ is a corruption of ‘Syriam’, the name of a city south of Pegu, also a trade and cutting center for the Indian almandines.
Then Australia. In the Northern Territory, near Darwin, they found a large number of garnets in the rivers there, but the miners thought they were rubies. They called them Australian rubies and thought they won the jackpot.
Many ‘gold-seekers’ came to the North to find some rubies of their own, trying to gain a lot of profit. About 24 ruby companies were founded to organize the mining, cutting, and trade of the rubies.
Then a smart scientist examined the ‘rubies’ and discovered they actually were almandine garnets. Within days the rush was over, the companies collapsed and the trust in the Australian rubies was gone.
In the USA
And what about the USA? There are enough mines in the country that explore the large garnet deposits, but unfortunately, the quality is not always good enough to use in the jewelry industry.
From the low-quality deposits, they make abrasive agents, like emery paper. But you could find high-quality almandine garnets in the Barton Mine in the Adirondack Mountains in the state of New York.
The features of the almandine
The first people want to know is the color, to see whether that is appealing to them or not. Well, you have enough choice, regarding the color.
You get them in dark red (my favorite), reddish-brown or black. A rarity is color pink or purple, that is pink or purple hues. And you see them multicolored in black with reddish edges.
The almandine has a hardness between 7.5 and 8.5 on Moh’s Scale, which is quite hard and you don’t have to worry that much about breaking the gemstone or damaging it. Due to that hardness, the faceted almandine is often set in rings.
And it comes in transparent to opaque, with a vitreous luster. The deep red transparent variety is the most popular one, and the most valuable.
Most of the cut almandines have a little hollow in the lowest part of the stone, to allow the light to come into the stone, and to give it a lighter appearance.
Some nice to know facts:
- The almandine garnet is the state gemstone of Connecticut, USA
- This gemstone is frequently cut in the cabochon style and is called a carbuncle (especially the deep red colored stones have this name). Some have an asterism when polished like a cabochon and this type is known as ‘star garnets’. If this occurs the gemstone contains rutile needles that give the stone a four-rayed of the star-shaped figure.
- Most of the almandine deposits found are rough and opaque and don’t have a gemstone quality.
- This gemstone is so many times confused with other red-colored gemstones, like the spinel, the ruby, or the red tourmaline.
- The stone is easy to handle but is sensitive to heat and acid.
- Almandine does not officially belong to the birthstone family, but the garnet does. It is the birthstone of January. And since this gem is family of the garnet…
- The Crusaders in the 14th and 15th centuries wore the almandine for protection. They thought it protected them from getting hurt or killed.
- The almandine garnet is a gift between lovers and is mostly given when you celebrate your second, sixth or nineteenth anniversary. The stone is the symbol of a fast return and unseparated love. When you go on a trip and you want a safe and speedy return you may get this gem.
- This deep red gemstone represents the energy of fire, activity, passion, and zeal at home.
Its healing properties
At the introduction of this blog, I wrote that this gem has regenerative properties. You cannot claim these properties with me, but it is claimed that this gem has those capabilities. It seems that it restores your strength (intellectually and physically) and stamina.
People believe that it strengthens the immunity and prevents colds and the flu; ideal as an extra precaution against Covid-19 I would say. A great excuse to ask for an almandine piece of jewelry.
The world is so beautiful and gives us such a lot of extra-ordinary gifts, like this stunning gemstone. When you are interested and want to know more about gemstones, not only this one but also others?
FlorenceJewelshop publishes regularly blogs with tips & tricks to choose the right jewelry, and about gemstones. I wrote a PDF about birthstones and added also stories about some other gems. It is free, so you just have to let me know where to send it to.
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