PHOTO: Garnets and other stones Genista

Garnet notes

  • The word garnet comes from the same word as grenadine, or pomegranate because they can look like pomegranate seeds (at least the red ones can).
  • It’s the official birthstone for January. Some people born in January can be disappointed by the fact that garnets sound rather less precious than, say, diamonds or rubies. But then they see some of the choices (see below) and get excited.
  • Garnets can be every colour except for blue.
  • Garnets are not a single mineral as, for example, sapphires and rubies are – but they are a group of silicate minerals with different chemical compositions but similar structures.
  • The Tsavorite green garnets are so very beautiful that they are going to deserve a page of their own.

    Tsavorite garnet from the thaigem website

  • Garnet names include rhodolite (raspberry pink), grossularite (which is so much prettier than its name), hessonite, green demantoid (which the Tsars used to love, Faberge used, and is more brilliant than a diamond, splitting light into spectral colours in delicious ways), pyrone, almandines (see below, named by Pliny after the city of Alabanda in Asia Minor), spessartine (another favourite, a deep orange, red colour). Thaigem has a good few examples.

Mandarin orange garnets

Mandarin orange garnet from

Interesting article in Gemstone Forecaster about geologist Alan Roup’s discovery of mandarin orange garnets in Namibia. These are electric orange stones described as being “what orange diamonds would like to be”.

Summary: In March 1994, Roup and his crew went to the Namibian desert in search of mandarin orange garnets. They were finding garnets, but not gem quality ones. Three months later funds were growing low and Roup and his team were beginning to get depressed.

About May 20, the Chief of the local Ovahimba tribe turned up at the camp, saying they were mining on his mountain. Without permission to make holes in the mountain, he said his ancestors would make sure they would fail. However, he said, if the miners could provide beer for the tribe, then he would ask the ancestors to help. They found two bottles of wine in the supply hut.  The wine was presented, and the Chief started talking to his ancestors. The wine was handed out to his tribe and the drinking began. The following morning the miners blasted the mountain in a new location. And the ancestors had kept their promise: they discovered the first gem quality garnets.

Almandine garnets in the tomb of Childeric:

Amazing almandine garnets were discovered in the tomb of Childeric at Tournai, now Belgium. These dark red stones, nuanced with violet were particularly fashionable in the reign of Napoleon III. In the 19th century it was discovered that garnets struck “spontaneously” to glass during fusion. Tugny de, Anne. Pierres de Rêve. Flammarion: Paris, 1987. (translated very roughly by me)

NOTE: Childeric was the father of Clovis, later King of the Franks, and himself the Merovinian king of the Franks, who died in around 481. As well as garnets, his tomb included some very beautiful golden bees, only a few of which survive.

The finest large garnet crystal

The finest large garnet crystal ever found in the United States, at least until the 1880s, “was discovered, strange though it may seem, in the midst of the solidly-built portion of New York City. It was brought to light by a laborer excavating for a sewer in West 35th Street, between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, in August 1885. A quartzite vein, traversing the gneiss, contained the crystal. The laborer took it to Mr JJ King, from whom I received it.” It weighed 4.4 kilos (nine pounds, 10 oz) and measures 15cm in its greatest diameter and 6cm on its largest trapezohedral face… it was reddish brown, “with an occasional small patch of what is apparently chlorite, which greatly enhances its beauty”. Kunz, George Frederick. The Magic of Jewels and Charms. First published 1915. New York: Dover Publications, 1997.

(The book includes an engraving of this huge garnet crystal)

Please note that these are just random notes that I typed in very quickly one day in a library, or on a plane or something, and then – because there wasn’t a Garnet chapter in Jewels, I never actually used. They are here for interest, or a prompt to researchers about where to look… but if I had actually used them in my books I would have checked them carefully against the originals.


1 thought on “Garnets

  1. Pingback: An enormous garnet, discovered in a sewer | Victoria Finlay

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