Sparkling Birthstone Gems Under the Christmas Tree: Fiery January Garnets
This is the first in a series of the "Twelve Hubs of Birthstones" which will cover some of the facts and legends about these fascinating gems. Gemstones have long been associated with healing properties, and signs of the zodiac, as well as each of the twelve months of the year...and what a nicer way to celebrate this most special of all Birthdays - this Christmas birthday - than to present your loved one with a piece of birthstone jewelry, to commemorate their own, very special natal day.
I still remember my very first grown-up piece of jewelry. My parents gave me, on my sixteenth birthday, a single pearl on a gold filigree leaf, with matching pearl earrings. I still have the earrings, and wear them often. My favorite piece of jewelry from my parents, though, will always be the beautiful, simply set, birthstone ring I received for my fourteenth birthday.
January's Gem - the Garnet
Garnets are as old as the world...these usually red gemstones have been used in jewelry since ancient times. According to Talmudic legend, a garnet provided the only source of light in Noah's Ark.
Garnet jewelry has been unearthed in Egyptian, Greek and Roman ruins, often set with other gems such as citrine, pearls, amber, and lapis lazuli, in a wide variety of jewelry and objet d'art. Some ancient Asiatic tribes fashioned garnets into bullets, because it was believed that they would be more lethal than lead bullets.
A thriving jewelry making and cutting industry flourished in Czechoslovakia from 1500s thorugh the nineteenth century. It was then the world’s largest source of gem garnets. The fiery red pyrope garnets of the type mined there were very popular in Victorian jewelry.
Two "new" types of garnets have been discovered in the twentieth century. In the late 1960s, in East Africa, a bright green Grossular garnet was discovered. Given the trade-name “Tsavorite” by Tiffany Jewelers, the tsavorite garnet can rival the emerald with its luminescent green color.
Then, in the 1980s, a fiery orange variety of spessartite garnet was found on
the Angola-Namibian border. This incredibly radiant orange color had never been seen before in a garnet, and was a major development re-popularizing the garnet as an exciting gemstone.
Garnet are reputed to the power to cure ill-health, and is often worn to relieve skin inflammation. . It is also believed to regulate the heart and blood flow and aid in preventing and curing depression.
According to legend, garnets give its wearers guidance while traveling at night, and protect them from nightmares. The garnet was also widely believed to promote long-lasting love, and to ensure stability and encourage success in business.
Some cultures believed that garnets provided strength, and protection to their wearers. In ancient times, garnets were exchanged as gifts between friends to demonstrate their affection for each other and to insure that they meet again.
Garnet is the birthstone for January and for the astrological sign of Aquarius, and is also the traditional gemstone given on both the second and sixth wedding anniversaries.
Antique Garnet Earrings
A Rainbow of Colors...
Garnets are sometimes mistaken for other gemstones, as they occur naturally in very color except blue. Most varieties of garnet are named for their particular color.
Garnet is the common gemstone name given to six similar minerals - almandine, pyrope, spessartine, grossular, andradite and uvarovite. Many garnets, though, are actually are actually a combination of these minerals.
Each combination creates another form of the garnet, and is often given another name that is used to refer only to that mineral combination. Rhodolite garnet, for example, is a combination of almandine and pyrope, and is sometimes referred to as pyrope-almandine garnet.
As well, there are a variety of trade names and other commonly used names which adds to the confusion, such as Rhodolite, Tsavorite, Hessonite, Malaya, Mozambique, Mandarin, Ant-hill, Leuco, Hydrogrossular, Demantoid, Melanite, Topazolite, Thai. Other names such as "cape ruby" are simply misleading and deceptive.
Almandite Garnet - also called almandine. Darker red than it's cousin, the pyrope garnet, it is also found in colors ranging from nearly black to pink-red, and some will show a distinct four-rayed star, much like the star sapphire, when cut in cabochon.
Andradite Grosular (Garnet) comes in two main color ranges - a yellowish-green (topazolite), and an emerald-green (demantoid - the most valuable, and one of the rarest gemstones.), to blackish (melanite). Grossularite garnets are extremely rare, and among the world's most expensive gems, and may also be pink, brown, or black.
Tsavorite garnets are green to to dark green in color, and belong to the category of grossularite garnets , exhibiting a translucent, pale green color like a gooseberry, or fine jade, occurring alone or as part of a common garnet.
Uvarovite, another emerald green garnet, is colored by the chromium it contains, and is actually another variety of andarite garnet.
Hessonite garnets are orange-brown, and cinnamon colored due to the presence of manganese.
Silver and Garnet Brooches
Here, kitty, kitty...
Imperial Garnets are light pink, and are very rare and unusual.
The Malaya garnet is dark brownish red in color. Malaya, in Swahili means "worthless". These garnets, found in Eastern and Central Africa, were once discarded in favor of the richer colored pyrope and rhodolite garnets. Today they are highly valued, but the Swahili name malaya - worthless has stuck.
Mandarin Garnets are a bright pumpkin orange to brownish orange gems, and are mined in South Africa.
The Mozambique garnet is a mixture of pyrope and almandite, and is similar in color to the rhodolite garnet, but slightly more red, and darker.
Pyrope garnet is colored a deep blood red by the iron and chromium, that it contains, giving a ruby like appearance.
Rhodolite garnet is a combination of almandine and pyrope, and is sometimes referred to as pyrope-almandine garnet. The name comes from the Greek words rhodon and lithos, meaning "rose stone" and is most often found in a raspberry red to a deep pinkish-red.
Spessartine or Spessarite Garnet is named after the Spessarite district of Bavaria, Germany, where was first found. Occurring in a bright orange to darker orange and red,it can easily be confused with other garnets and imperial topaz.
Umbalite garnet is another form of this fascinating mineral that occurs in only one place. A mixture of pyrope-almandite, with traces of spessartite garnet, light pink/purple in color, umbalite garnet is found only in the Umba valley.
The garnets mined in South Africa are sometimes referred to as Cape Rubies.
Some garnets, known as color change garnets, exhibit a "alexandrite-like" effect when viewed in natural light or artificial lighting. Alexandrites change from purple to green when viewed under natural and artificial light.
Whatever the color of garnet you prefer, as long as you don't yearn for a blue garnet, you may be sure to find one of the shade you desire.
Garnets may be found in many parts of the world, including Canada, the U.S. (Arizona and California), South Africa, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Myanmar (Burma), Germany, Scotland, Switzerland and Tanzania.
Probably from the first moment, our earliest ancestors beheld these shiny stones, and attributed mystical powers to them, gems have held a special place in our psyches. Beautiful gems have adorned the wealthy, the beautiful, and the famous. Fortunes have been squandered to find them, and wars have been fought over the right to possess them.
Though many disbelieve in the power of gemstones to heal and ward off evil, nonetheless, even the most modest birthstone can bring a smile to the face of the lucky person who receives such a thoughtful and personal token of affection.
"Like A Rock"
© 2010, Text by Elle Fredine, All rights reserved
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