The Grandeur of Garnets
Red Garnets grace museums around the world as priceless artifacts, since they’ve been buried with Egyptian pharaohs, carved in the signet rings of ancient Rome, and decorated the nobility and clergymen of the middle ages. Now, they’re just as popular as ever, especially for those with January birthdays. Red Garnets are arguably the most well-known to the public, especially since they can be sourced on almost every continent. However, this special gem actually comes in a wide variety of highly sought-after colours, a few of which are some of Earth’s rarest minerals.
Similar to Tourmalines, Garnets are actually an entire group of minerals, (rather than a species such as corundum, which is Sapphire) so they are quite an intricate gemstone, with a large variety of chemical compositions and species. They are so complex, in fact, that many Garnets, such as the gorgeous raspberry red Rhodolite variety, are actually a combination of multiple species.
Like Diamonds and Spinels, the Garnet group quite uniquely belong to the cubic crystal system, which means their crystals form in cube-like structures and that they are singly-refractive. The latter helps some Garnet species reflect light in a way which allows them to sparkle in a stunning way, very comparable to the alluring fire of Diamonds.
Why are green Garnets so valuable?
Green Garnets, also known as the Tsavorite and Demantoid varieties, are some of the most valuable and sought-after green gems in the world. Demantoid Garnets were first found in Russia in the 1800s and became very popular with the Royal family as a personal favourite of Czar Nicholas II. They were also used often in the creations made by Faberge at that time. Demantoid Garnets famously owe their lovely green colour to trace amounts of Chromium, just like Emeralds. However, they also contain traces of Iron, which is what gives them their trademark yellowish tint. Demantoid Garnet’s most notable trait is their incredible dispersion, which gives them amazing fire and sparkle, similar to Diamonds. They range from yellowish to brownish green, but their most valuable colour is a true, intense green, very similar to Emerald. They are also the only gem with the potential to show “horsetail” inclusions—a fan like group of wispy inclusions, which can greatly increase their rarity and already very considerable value. Dementoid Garnets are still found in Russia, as well as Namibia, Italy, Iran, Mexico and Greece. However, their sources are far and few between, which of course ensures their prices remain incredibly high.
In contrast, Tsavorite Garnets weren’t actually discovered until the 1960s. Equally beautiful, Tsavorite Garnets get their green hue from Vanadium (also similar to some Emeralds), and can also range from a yellowish green to bluish green, with the most sought-after hues being in the bluish green to true green range. When green Garnet doesn’t possess enough saturation to be truly labelled a Tsavorite, it is sometimes referred to as a “Grossular Garnet.” While some Tsavorites are found in Pakistan, the most popular source is East Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar.
Both Demantoid and Tsavorite Garnets are highly rare in large, eye-clean sizes, especially over three carats. Therefore, they are most often used as small accent stones or in pave-style designs. They remain extremely valuable in any size, and are most valued for their strongly saturated colour and incredible Diamond-like sparkle.
What are orange Garnets?
Orange Garnets, which get their colour from Manganese and trace Iron, are known as Spessartine Garnets. Their beautiful and lively colour range is as broad as the hues of a flame: from a light yellowish-orange to bright orange, fiery red, and dark brownish red. However, the most valuable (by a mile) are those with an intense, reddish-orange hue with medium to medium-dark tone. While Spessartine Garnets used to be considered rare, collector’s only gems, new discoveries in Africa including in Nigeria, Madagascar, Namibia, Tanzania and Zambia, have made them much more accessible to the public in recent years. Other sources also include California, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Brazil. While they’ve become more accessible, prices for large, high-quality stones still remain at a premium and the interest in this gorgeous and uniquely-hued stone remain high, especially since orange gemstones remain more unconventional in the gem world.
The Popularity of Red Garnets
While deep red Garnets have been gracing jewellery boxes for thousands of years, we now know that not all red Garnets are created equal. For example, the finest raspberry-coloured Rhodolite Garnet can easily pass for a stunning Rubellite Tourmaline, or even Ruby. While the range of their colour can include a light reddish-purple to a deep berry red, these gems are most valuable when they have an intensely saturated hue, but are still bright and sparkle with reflected light. Garnets with areas of “extinction,” which are dark, nearly black, shadowy areas in the gemstone which aren’t able to reflect light, are common but certainly not considered the finest example of this lovely stone. These very deep red Garnets are technically a combination of the Pyrope and Almandine species, but are most commonly referred to as simply Almandine Garnets. Since they could often look so close to black, they were very popular in Victorian-style jewellery. While red Garnets were first discovered in North Carolina in the late 1800s, they are now most commonly found in East Africa, including in Tanzania and Madagascar, as well as India and Sri Lanka.