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G is for Garnet

In this instalment of A-Z Gemstones Uncovered, we will be delving into the history of Garnets. Well-known for their connections to royalty, association with romance/passion and their gorgeous deep red colour.



Even though Garnets are often called gemstones, this name is actually an umbrella term for a group of minerals consisting of stones with a similar chemical makeup. There are over 26 species of Garnets - out of all these, only five are commonly used commercially. Before I get into the history of these stones, I thought it would be best to do a little breakdown of these five:

  1. Almandine This is one of the most commonly used Garnets ranging from dark red to black. They are usually opaque. These are relatively inexpensive and easy to source.

  2. Pyrope These are the second type of Garnets most commonly used. The colouring is similar to Almandine; however, these stones are usually transparent with minimal flaws or inclusions. These tend to be highly desirable and more expensive compared to Almandine.

  3. Spessartite These stones vary from orange to orange-red. Over recent years this stone has boomed in popularity.

  4. Grossular The most varicoloured form of Garnet, which contains two beautiful varieties. A green variety known as Tsavorite and an orange-brown kind known as Hessonite.

  5. Andradite Out of all the Garnets, this one is the most lustrous with variations such as the rare green Demantoid, yellow Topazolite and black Melanite.


 

Now let's get into the history of these stunning little gems...

Garnets have a fruitful history, with records showing they have been considered prized possessions since the Bronze Age (3100 BCE – 300 BCE). Excavations in burial sites uncovered mummified pharos wearing Garnet necklaces. The oldest Garnet to date was found on a buried man in 3000 BCE.


In Ancient Rome, signet rings were carved and contained Garnets. These rings were used as stamps for wax seals that secured letters and important documents.


Centuries later, during the time Pliny the Elder (who was a Roman author and philosopher among his many occupation) in 23 CE to 79 CE, Garnets were among the most traded gemstones.


During the Anglo-Saxon period in Britain (410 CE to 1066 CE) Garnets were widely used. In 2009 news broke of a hoard of gold and Garnet military ornaments unearthed in a Staffordshire field. A large-scale conservation and research project began in 2010, carried out by the Birmingham Museum and The Potteries Museum. Out of the hoard, over 3,500 individually cut and mounted Garnets were discovered.


In the Middle Ages (around 475 CE to 1450 CE) Garnets were not only favoured by nobility and the clergy for their aesthetics but were used frequently as a cure for the Black Plague. The stone was believed to ward off danger, prevent arguments and ensure faithfulness.



Over the years, Garnets remained popular. Another boom of popularity increase happened during the Victorian Era (1837-1901), especially with "Bohemian" Garnets (now known as Pyrope); even though these first surfaced in the 1500s in Bohemia (now a part of the Czech Republic), Victorians were attracted to their glamorous, sophisticated vibe. These Garnets fitted in perfectly with their fascination for all things Gothic. Foiling the stones and enclosing the mounts fully at the back created the perfect appearance, especially when illuminated in candlelight. During the mid-1800s, Andradite Garnets were found in the Ural Mountains of Russia. These grew so much in popularity that it has now become a hallmark of Victorian jewellery.