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Of the four designated origins of birthstones, three point to the garnet as being the January birthstone. The traditional, modern and Ayurvedic birthstone systems all indicate this ancient stone as bringing the most luck to those born in the month of January. Used since the Bronze Age, this multi-color gem can be found in six individual “species” which are determined by the chemical makeup of each type. While most popularly this gem stone is recognized as a deep red gem, it actually comes in a variety of colors that have many uses that range from an industrial abrasive to water filtration!
The History of the Garnet
The name “garnet” is believed to have derived from the Latin word “Garanatus” which translates to mean “seed like” and refers to the pomegranate. This name was believed to have been given due to the resemblance of small red garnets to the seeds of the pomegranate fruit. Garnets are particularly old and durable gemstones that feature in numerous religious references and cultural beliefs which will be detailed a little further on. While the garnet has been referenced in a number of locations not too many examples of older garnets have been found to date. One of the oldest examples of a garnet that has been found, however, was found on a bead necklace found on the body of a young man in a grave which dates back to 3000 BC.
The Six Common Species of Garnet
As mentioned above there are six major recognized varieties of garnet which are classified by their chemical composition. These six types of garnet are: pyrope, almadine, spessartine, grossular, uvarovite and andradite.
Pyrope is a mineral that is part of the garnet family. For gemologists the pyrope garnet is recognized as being the only garnet that is naturally red in color. The pyrope garnet is slightly more difficult to find than other varieties of garnet. The chemical composition that sets pyrope apart from other varieties of garnet is Mg3Al2(SiO4)3; however, there are generally other elements present in pyrope garnets as they are not commonly found to be pure in composition.
Almadine is another mineral that is part of the garnet family and is generally a much deeper red than the pyrope garnet. The almadine garnet is much more frequently referred to as being purple in color. Almadine is referred to as being an iron alumina garnet and the chemical composition that sets this gem apart from other garnets is Fe2+3Al2Si3O12. This gemstone is commonly found in Sri Lanka which is why it is commonly referred to as being the Syrian garnet.
Spessartine is another mineral that is part of the garnet family and can be a variety of colors including an orange-yellow color and a violet-red color. Each variety of color in the spessartine garnet is generally contributed to a different geographical location. The orange-yellow variety of spessartine is usually found in Madagascar and the violet-red spessartine is found in Colorado and Maine. The chemical composition that sets this gem apart from other garnets is Mn3Al2Si3O12 and it is named after Spessart in Bavaria where the gem was first found.
Grossular is another mineral that is part of the garnet family that comes in a number of colors that are commonly not associated with the garnet including green, brown and yellow. The grossular garnet can also be red. The grossular garnet is so named because of the gems inferiority to the hardness of zircon – the gem which yellow grossular garnets most resemble. The grossular garnet is recognized as a calcium aluminum mineral species because of the unique chemical composition that sets this stone apart from others: Ca3Al2(SiO4)3.
Uvarovite is another mineral of the garnet family and is known for being one of the rarest of all garnets as well as one of the most unusual in color. The uvarovite garnet is naturally emerald-green and is such a beautiful and rare gem that it is highly coveted by gemstone collectors everywhere. The chemical makeup of this unique garnet species is Ca3Cr2Si3O12. It is because of this chemical makeup that the uvarovite garnet is recognized as a chromium-bearing garnet. This variety of garnet is commonly found in Spain, Canada and Russia.
Andradite is another mineral of the garnet family that comes in three individual varieties. The Melanite andradite garnet is black in color, the demantoid andradite garnet is bright green in color and one of the rarest and most valuable stones in the world and topazolite is yellow-green in color. The andradite garnet was first found in Norway and is recognized for its unique chemical composition: Ca3Fe2Si3O12.
The six varieties of garnet listed above are generally broken in to two groups: pyralspite and ugrandite. Pyralspite garnets are garnets in which the chemical formula features aluminum in the center of the chemical composition, what is referred to as the Y site. Included in the group of pyralspite garnets are: almadine, pyrope and spessartine. Ugrandite garnets are garnets in which the chemical formula features calcium at the front of the chemical composition, what is referred to as the x site. Included in the group of ugrandite garnets are: adreadite, grossular and uvarovite.
Other Garnet Species
While the six species of garnet listed above are recognized as being the “six garnet species” there are, in fact, a few other species of garnet that are much less common. These much less common varieties of garnet are grouped accordingly to chemical composition. The first group is the group of garnets which feature calcium in the “x site,” this group includes: Goldmanite, Kimzeyite, Morimotoite and Schorlomite. The second group is the group of garnets which feature hydroxide bearing calcium in the “x site,” this group includes: the hibschite and katoite varieties of the hydrogrossular garnet. The third and final group is the group of garnets which feature magnesium or manganese in the “x site,” this group includes: knorringite, majorite and calderite.
Sources of Garnets
There are a variety of locations that are good for supplying garnets but currently the largest supplier of garnets in the world is Africa. Garnets can also be found in Brazil, the United States, India, Australia and the Soviet Union. Many garnet pieces are sold to gem purchasers who go on to refine the gems and create jewelry pieces with them; however, many garnets are also cleaned up and sold as cut gemstones to be made in to custom jewelry pieces. There is a lot of competition over certain varieties of garnets that are found; however, the resources for the more common varieties of garnets are plentiful so there is no concern currently over the supply of garnets running dry.
Physical Properties of the Garnet
Due to the fact that there are a number of varieties of garnet the physical properties of this gemstone differ. When it comes to color the garnet can vary and can include: black, clear, brown, pink, purple, blue, brown, orange, red and yellow. The most common color associated with the garnet is a deep rich red color. The rarest of garnets is the blue garnet which contains large amounts of vanadium which allow this garnet to change from blue-green to purple. The crystal structure of this gemstone is nesosilicate meaning that regardless of the variety of garnet they all tend to hold the same chemical composition formula: X3Y2(SiO4)3. As mentioned in the chemical composition formulas above the X and Y elements of individual garnets change depending upon the variety of garnet being discussed. As with many aspects of the garnet the hardness of the gem varies depending upon the individual chemical makeup of each variety of garnet. The hardness of garnets can range anywhere from 6.5 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale. Like many other gemstones the size of the garnet varies, but the largest garnet crystal ever found weighed approximately 37 tons and measured 2.3 meters long!
The Importance of the Garnet
For many people garnets represent nothing more than another variety of gemstone; however, for gemologists and archaeologists the garnet holds much more significance. Due to the fact that elements diffuse particularly slowly in the garnet and the fact that the garnet is not easily altered, they tend to preserve compositional zonations that can be used to interpret temperature time histories of the igneous and metamorphic rocks in which they grew.
How Garnets Are Utilized
The most widely recognized use of the garnet is as a decorative gemstone in jewelry pieces, but there are actually a variety of uses for this diverse gemstone. The garnet has long been utilized in artistic productions but much more interestingly it has also long been used in industrial settings as well! Harder varieties of garnets are frequently utilized in sand form to sand blast and make a good substitution for silica sand. These types of angular garnet can also amazingly enough also be utilized to cut sturdy materials like steel when they are mixed in to high power water jets. It should be noted; however, that generally this type of garnet is divided in to either water jet grade or sand blasting grade based upon the size of the grains of sand. In keeping with its abrasive nature the harder types of garnet can be made in to a variety of sandpaper referred to as garnet paper which is extremely efficient at finishing bare wood.
Garnet use in industry is not limited to abrasive implementation and it can also be utilized in sand form as a filtration system for water. The fine grains of garnet sand are able to efficiently filter out imperfections from water much like regular sand found on beaches and in river beds is able to filter imperfections out of the water. The finer the grains of sand the more filtered a water source is going to be.
Symbolism of the Garnet
While the garnet is recognized for a large part as being the official birthstone for the month of January, it also has a variety of other symbolic interpretations. For those who follow the signs of the zodiac, the garnet is associated with the sign of Aquarius. Garnets are also recognized as the state gemstone of Connecticut and New York and the star garnet is recognized as the state gemstone of Idaho. The garnet is connected with the planet Mars. When it comes to energies, it is said that the garnet is associated with the energy for luck, love, money and healing. The garnet is also associated with the first chakra or root chakra located at the base of the spine. Lastly the garnet is also recognized as being the gemstone that celebrates the second and eighteenth marriage anniversary.
Garnets for Good Health
Aside from being associated with locations and times of the year, the garnet is also representative of other beliefs. For some cultures wearing a garnet is conducive to promoting good health, this belief is thought to stem from medieval times when gemstones were worn based on their color in order to supplement the natural endurance, health and vigor of the body. Specific colored gems were thought to have an effect on specific health conditions with red gems thought to influence a number of conditions. The garnet was recommended for individuals who had blood conditions, troubles with the heart, trouble with the male reproductive system, imbalance in the female hormonal system, lung disease and anything related to the circulatory system.
Garnets for Mental Health
While the garnet has long been believed to influence physical health, there are also those who believe that garnets influence mental health as well. It is believed that wearing a garnet can improve passion, attract friendship, attract fidelity, increase success, improve self-esteem, attract loyalty and devotion, increase energy, improve faith and be connected to the virtue of truth. In the medieval times when the power of gemstones was believed to be almost supernatural, it was believed that the garnet could scare away demons and evil spirits and protect against depression.
Garnets in Lore
The long-lasting durable garnet gemstones are mentioned in various major cultural references throughout time. According to Christianity the garnet is a symbol of the blood of Christ and it is mentioned in a number of Biblical references. According to the story of Noah, it was a garnet that was finely cut and glowing that lit the ark during the dark days of the great flood. It is also said that the garnet was one of the twelve gemstones that were included on the breastplate of Aaron. It is not only Christianity that believes in the power of the garnet; however, as other cultural references to the garnet occur as well. According to the Koran it was the garnet gemstone that illuminated the fourth Heaven of the Moslems.
Religious references are not the only references to the garnet that exist in lore. The Greeks believed that the garnet held mystical power and was able not only to protect against poisons but it was also able to prevent children from drowning. A native tribe in India is said to have utilized small pieces of garnet to hunt, shooting them from bows. Similar to the medieval parallel between the garnet and blood, this Indian tribe believed that the garnet had the power to inflict extremely bloody wounds upon their prey and would result in a hearty meal.
Other Uses for the Garnet
There are some who believe that the garnet has the power to influence business. These individuals believe that the garnet has the power to attract others to the wearer in a favorable way which can result in better business. Most commonly; however, even in the modern world, the garnet is believed to hold the power to ward away depression and promote healthy living patterns to chase away melancholy.
The Garnet As Used in Jewelry
While there are many varieties of garnet gemstones, not all of them are suited to being used in jewelry. The most commonly utilized type of garnet is the dark red pyrope and almadine combination stone. Garnets can be utilized in a number of jewelry pieces including rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings. Due to the variety of each garnet species as well as individual garnet stones, the cost of garnet jewelry varies much as it does with any other gemstone. The hardness and quality, as well as the size of each individual stone and the other stones or jewelry elements that are included in the jewelry piece determine the price of a garnet piece.
The Influence of the Garnet
When it comes to the ideal gemstone, many would have you believe that things don’t get much better than the diamond; however, this seems to be much more of a modern belief and idea pushed by diamond resellers and jewelers. Sure, a diamond may be a girl’s best friend if that girl happens to like diamonds or if the girl is a jeweler but there are many great aspects of the garnet that make it a gemstone worth seeking. Who knows whether those who believe in the mystical properties of the garnet are right in their beliefs of good health and wealth, but either way there is something beautiful in the individuality and variation that comes with each individual garnet stone. Whether looking for a deep red, bright green or mandarin orange stone there is a garnet that fits the bill. Whether looking for a cushion cut, oval facet, pear facet, square facet, heart facet, marquise facet or baguette facet cut there is a garnet that fits the bill. Unlike those highly spoken of diamonds, the garnet provides the jewelry purchaser the opportunity to add a touch of individuality to the piece that they purchase because just like the individual gemstones, pieces of garnet jewelry are all unique.