If you’re lucky enough to be born in January, garnet is your birthstone. A gem found around the world, garnet comes in a painter’s palette of colors. So there’s bound to be a hue to suit your taste.
Garnets also come with a rich history. Red garnet necklaces graced the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. Ancient Romans used carved garnets in signet rings to stamp wax seals safeguarding important documents. And the clergy and nobility of the middle ages had a particular affinity for garnet.
If you’ve ever wondered where your January birthstone comes from, read on to take a whirlwind tour of major garnet producing localities around the world. But before we start our trip, here’s a little gemological background on garnets to make it more meaningful.
The Scoop on January’s Birthstone: Garnet
There are 20+ species of garnets, but only five are commercially important as gems:
- Pyrope (ranges from purple to orangy red)
- Almandine (ranges from purple to orangy red)
- Spessartine (oranges and yellows)
- Grossularite (colorless to yellow, to reddish orange and orangy-red, to vibrant green)
- Andradite (yellow and yellowish green)
Variations in trace elements like iron, manganese, chromium, and vanadium produce the kaleidoscopic color range of garnets.
Garnets can also be mixtures of these five species, creating even more colors. Because of all the possible permutations, garnet comes in green, yellow, orange, red, purple, and various combinations of these hues that are often deeply saturated.
Some garnet varieties that you may see glittering in display cases include tsavorite (green), rhodolite (purplish red), demantoid (green) and hessonite (orange and orangy-red to brownish red).
Garnets from Russia
Discovered in 1850s in the gravel lining Russia’s Bobrovka River, demantoid, a variety of andradite, charmed the likes of the great jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé and the Russian royal family. Such was the allure of the vibrant green gem that it made its way into Victorian and Edwardian jewelry crafted a continent away. Even demantoid rough was coveted: fashionable Russian aristocrats prized them for their mineral collections. Villagers still search for the gemstone along the forested river banks and meadows of the Bobrovka as it winds its way through the Central Ural Mountains.
Garnets from the Czech Republic
Bohemia, now a part of the Czech Republic, has long been an important source of pyrope. It is found on the southern slopes of the České středohoří mountains, where mining began at least 500 years ago. Bohemian garnets dazzled the court of the Russian czar Alexander I in 1815. These garnets also come with a charming bit of lore: Bohemian garnets were believed to be ward off melancholy and inspire optimism.
Garnets from Tanzania
Tanzania is an excellent place to find garnets. Tsavorite, a variety of grossularite, was first found here but its name is actually derived from the Tsavo National Game Park in the neighboring country of Kenya where the garnets were also located. It is prized for its rich color and transparency. The mine’s environs in the Merelani Hills are as colorful as the gem: Lions and snakes inhabit a starkly beautiful landscape of grasses and barren hillsides.
Rhodolite is sprinkled across the country. The purplish gem is a mixture of pyrope and almandine.
Garnets that change color from blue-green in daylight or fluorescent light to purple-red in incandescent light are found in riverbeds in Umba River and along the plains that run from Tanzania’s border with Kenya.
Red-orange to yellow orange garnets found here are referred to in the trade as malaya (Swahili for “outcast” because they don’t fit into traditional garnet categories). Malaya garnets are a mixture of pyrope, almandine, grossular and spessartine garnet species.
Garnets from Namibia
Namibia is a premier producer of premium demantoid garnets. The Green Dragon mine in the Erongo region is one place where these gems are unearthed. Cradled by mountains, the Green Dragon mine lies in a sprawling semi-arid plain of bushes, grasses, and small trees.
The Erongo Wilderness Conservancy and the Erongo mountains define the landscape; the Namib desert sprawls to the west, and savannah to the east. The mine is also near the Spitzkoppe – a towering mountain known as the “the Matterhorn of Namibia”.
Spessartine around the World
Spessartine’s rich oranges and yellows are simply spellbinding. You can travel to Loliondo, Tanzania or the Little Three mine in Ramona, California to find high-quality specimens. The Navegadora mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India are other destinations that produce fine spessartine.
The Search for Garnet Continues
Myanmar, Brazil, Kenya, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka– garnets are found around the world. And the search has not ended: there are more localities waiting to be discovered. The western Himalayan range in Pakistan and the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan are just two promising places for new sources. That means yet-to-be-discovered garnets await lovers of the gemstone and all who proudly call this incredibly varied gem their January birthstone.
Considering a purchase of the January birthstone – garnet? Get some buying tips on what to look for in our Garnet Buying Guide.
Main image photo: Robert Weldon/GIA