January's Birthstone: The Glamorous Garnet

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One of my favorite times of year is the winter, with all of the deep and dark shades that come with it. Rather than the boldness of spring, the vibrancy of summer, or the muted shades of fall, winter's dreariness is often fought off with deep, genuine jewel tones. That brings me to the garnet, which is the birthstone for January. It isn't red like July's ruby, but it is a darker shade of red that makes me think of medieval times, velvet, warmth, and fire. The garnet, which looks similar to the seeds of a pomegranate, is most commonly found in beautiful deep shades of red that look wonderful in jewelry alone or in clusters or beads used to create beautiful statement pieces.

History of the Garnet

The garnet has been around for many centuries and has been known to be used as far back as the story of Noah and his ark. It is said that he used the gemstone in a lantern to help him navigate through the darkness of the water and rain. The beautiful stone was also used in Roman, Greek, and Egyptian times to help those who traveled see at night, as it was believed to light up the darkness. The stone's perceived ability to shed light is derived from its high refractive index. It was also thought to protect travelers from coming across evil or natural disaster. Pharaohs during ancient Egyptian times used the stone in ceremonies but also wore them as decorative pieces. Ancient Romans traded the stones and also wore them in rings on their fingers. It was believed that the stone would exude protection, strength, and healing. While many believed that it would relieve skin diseases, it was also thought to help lessen depression and regulate the heart.

During ancient times, the garnet was cut into cabochon shapes and called "carbuncle." The word "carbunculus" in Latin means burning embers. This word was obviously used to describe the stone's burnt red color. During the 1500s, the stone was mined in abundance in Central Europe, so garnet jewelry was very popular during that time period.

The Colors of the Garnet

Ideally, I think of that deep red color when I think of the garnet. It is most commonly found in that color. In fact, the word "garnet" comes from the Latin word "granatum," which means dark red. Another word that is derived from that same Latin word is "pomegranate," for obvious reasons. While the red garnet is the one most people think of first, the stone actually comes in most colors of the rainbow. Blue garnet was discovered most recently, about two decades ago, in Madagascar. It was very rare at first but has since been found in other garnet mines around the world.

While there are more than 20 different varieties of the garnet, only a handful of these are used in the gemstone and jewelry industry. Pyrope garnets are orange-red, purple-red, dark red, and crimson red. Spessartite garnets are red, orange, yellow, red-brown, and dark brown or black. Uvarovite garnets are typically lighter shades of green. Grossularite garnets are darker green stones. Rhodolite garnets are red-purple. Hessonite garnets are orange in color, orange-red, and pink. Some garnets have a color effect like the alexandrite, changing color depending on the lighting.

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Garnet Mining

Garnets are found in Argentina, Brazil, Scotland, Switzerland, South Africa, Myanmar, Australia, Tanzania, and in the United States in Arizona.

Other Interesting Garnet Facts

Because of the fact that the garnet is formed under high pressure and high temperatures, the stones are used by geologists to measure the pressure and temperature that occurred in a formation where they are found. They measure from a 7.0 to a 7.5 on the Mohs scale, which measures the hardness of a gemstone. The garnet is traditionally given on the second or the sixth wedding anniversary.