Before I became a jeweler (and used garnets in my work) I worked as a tour leader in Pakistan and China. With a very old bus, I drove from Pakistan over the Karakorum Highway (one of the most dangerous roads in Asia) in the direction of Kashgar, where we should start the Silk Route. The weather was awful, it was raining already for days and there were landslides all over the road.
It was not looking good and I was really worried that we had to turn around, back to Peshawar in Pakistan. At one point we had to stop because they were moving the debris caused by a landslide by hand. And that could take a while. It did not rain anymore and we got off the bus.
Garnet: the treasure to be found along the road
Curious as I am, I see some funny-looking cubical stones just along the roadside. I gather a handful and ask the driver what they are. He said ‘Ohhh, that is just garnet’. ‘Garnet, I ask him, you mean the gemstone? Yes, but they are worthless when they are not polished. You will find them everywhere here’. What a shame to do nothing with those gems. Pakistan has so many hidden gems (not only garnets), that it should be a very very rich country.
My garnets back to the Netherlands
Anyway, I take a handful of them back to the Netherlands. My father is a jeweler and I am convinced that he can do something with them. That was before I studied mineralogy. My dad says that cutting them would be impossible since you lose such a lot of stone and that they will get too small to use in a piece of jewelry. The only way to handle this is by polishing them in a kind of washing machine with sand and water. That process takes about one week!
I do not have a ‘washing machine’ that can do the job. But my love for the garnet and all the mystery around it was born. One way or another I want a decent cut and polished garnet in a piece of jewelry. A lot of years passed by…
Sri Lanka, to look for beautiful garnets
A few years later I had a tour in Sri Lanka. And I tell you that being a tour leader is a hard job and you don’t have a lot of time to look for gemstones or souvenirs. I am lucky. Next to my hotel is a very small gemstone shop and I stop there for a moment (I plan to stop there for a moment). There is a very nice guy and he offers me a cup of tea and starts telling me about his collection, mostly garnets.
Most of the garnets are red, but he shows me gems in all shades of red, but also orange, brown, and black ones. He tells me that this gemstone is formed in the magma of the earth, then on the way to the surface mixed with all kinds of minerals, which causes the color differences.
The garnet washing machine trick does not work!
It is a hard stone and hard to polish. No wonder my ‘washing machine trick’ does not work with my gems. And because they are so hard in time the surrounding rock will erode and the garnet particles will be left behind. And that’s how I find them along the road of the Karakorum Highway.
If you think that the well-known dark red garnet is the only one, you are wrong. Due to different metal ions or additives in the gemstone, you can get a different structure, different colors, and different names. But the basis is still garnet. Let us see what is available in this gemstone:
- Almandine is the most common variety of this gem found. The color is red, reddish-brown, and even black. It is the hardest variety with 7.5-8 on the scale of Moh’s (hardness).
- Pyrope is the most well-known variety and you can recognize it by its red to dark red color. This variety is softer than the almandine and has a hardness of 7-7.5 on Moh’s scale.
- Rhodolite has a red to rose or even purple color, due to the magnesium in the gem (less iron than the other varieties).
- Spessartite can have many colors, from orange to red-orange, red, yellow, pink, or brown, due to the iron impurities in the stone. It has a high refractive index, which gives the gem a special brilliance. This variety was used in expensive jewelry of the 19th and 20th centuries.
- Grossular is in pure form it is colorless. But due to all kinds of impurities, it can have a lot of colors, like gray, purple, pink, brown, green, yellow, orange, etc.
- Tsavorite is a green variety of the garnet and it looks a bit like emerald, but it is rare and free of inclusions.
- and the gems mentioned above are the most common of the lot. We also have varieties called andradite and Urarovite.
01. The garnet is the birthstone of January, but also a gift to remember the second wedding anniversary
02. Mostly you find red garnets, but sometimes you get them in pink, orange, and green too!
04. It is believed that garnets can heal heart diseases. Also used with depression and sending off evil spirits.
05. The gemstone has been known since 3800 BC and remnants of pieces of garnet jewelry are found in a grave as beads of a necklace owned by a young man dating back to the Bronze Age (5000 years ago). In Egypt, it was a popular gem to use in jewelry as inlays and was a symbol of good health and as a symbol for lasting friendship and life. Also, the Romans, especially in the third and fourth century AD were fond of garnets, which they often used as the base of a signet ring.
06. It is a hard stone (about 6 on Moh’s scale) but can be damaged by harder stones, like a diamond.
07. The garnet was very popular in the Victorian Age, especially the Bohemian garnet. People who wanted to make fast money split the garnet added some red glass under the real garnet, and fooled the client.
08. The garnet was and is popular throughout all centuries. One of the proofs is the story about the King of Saxony, who collected garnets and owned one that weighed 465 carats. Another story tells us that the well-known Greek writer and philosopher had a garnet ring with his portrait engraved.
09. Bohemia, now a part of the Czech Republic, had the largest amount of garnets. The mining, cutting, polishing, and setting of the jewelry of all those garnets was once the largest industry in the country. You can see them everywhere around in churches and castles. The color of the Bohemian garnets resembles the pomegranate.
Garnet, the red birthstone of January, and more!
When you want a very special gift for your best friend or maybe for yourself and you want to make it very personal, you will find the best present in a jewel with a birthstone. You show that you care and have thought a lot about what special present will be best.
FlorenceJewelshop has an e-book, where you can find all the birthstones, with the stories behind them. Here you will see the birthstones you are looking for and why don’t you give this free e-book as an extra gift?
Just let me know where I have to send it too!
Hug Florence from FlorenceJewelshop