Updated: Jan 3, 2022
The birthstone for January is garnet, which most of us think of as a deep red gemstone. But did you know that garnet is not only mined in many colours, but is actually an umbrella term for a variety of different species and varieties of gemstone?
The garnet family is a pretty complex group of closely related minerals. The six main species are pyrope, almandine, spessartite (as seen above), grossularite, uvarovite and andradite, but within these species groups are several different varieties, too!
While garnets come in many colours, reddish shades are the most common. Indeed, the name garnet comes from the Latin word for pomegranate, ‘granatum’, thanks to its resemblance to the translucent, deep-red seeds of this luscious fruit. If red isn’t your thing, though, you can also find garnet in shades of green, yellow, brown, orange and black. Some varieties of garnet even exhibit colour-changing traits, appearing green in daylight, but red under incandescent light.
Garnet has been used in jewellery for thousands of years, and was a favourite of civilisations dating as far back as the Bronze Age. It’s rare to find a gem-studded piece of Anglo-Saxon jewellery that doesn’t use garnets and during the Crusades, garnet was used as a protective talisman against the enemy.
Colour is the main factor affecting a garnet’s value, with vivid red and brilliant green being the most coveted. Though garnets tend to be clean stones on the whole, some varieties such as spessartine and hessonite are more likely to contain inclusions (flaws). Sometimes these flaws can produce a light effect called asterism—making a star shape appear to float across the gemstone’s surface. Star garnets are rare to find.
Garnet is not a hard stone. Measuring 6.5-7.5 on the Mohs scale, it’s prone to scratching and therefore is not ideal in rings worn every day.
In countries where gemstones are worn for their healing properties, garnet is considered to be a stone of healing, and particularly associated with the heart and bloodstream. It is also said to boost positive thoughts and will-power, making it the perfect stone to help you keep those New Year’s resolutions!
Kim Rix, GG (GIA)
Be sure | Be smart | Buy with confidence
Image credit: a ring with a rough spessartite crystal from Tanzania. Thanks to Susi Smither of The Rock Hound.