What is a Garnet?
Garnets actually comprise a group of mineral species. There is no single garnet species but rather several distinct species. However, they virtually always occur in blends. Garnets can show almost any color, but most have red hues, from wine-like burgundy brownish reds to shades that rival rubies. Although red is the most traditional garnet color, some of the most highly valued varieties are orange or green. Eye-catching orange garnets have become very popular, and rare green garnets can rival emeralds in appearance and price.
As far as faceted ring stones go, the five most important species of garnet are pyrope, almandine, spessartine, grossular, and andradite. Gemologists may refer to garnets by blended names, such as almandine-pyrope, though sometimes they use only the name of the dominant species in the gem. In addition, some blends have their own names. For example, rhodolite, a popular purplish red garnet, consists of almandine and pyrope. This name is easier to remember and, thus, more marketable than “purplish red almandine-pyrope.”
How to Pick a Garnet Engagement Ring Stone
For larger sized garnets, color and clarity have the greatest importance. Inclusions, tiny internal crystals and fractures, shouldn’t be visible to the naked eye or interfere with the stone’s beauty. (Demantoid’s “horsetail inclusions” are a notable exception). For smaller stones, cut is more important.
In general, choose a garnet with rich, beautiful color. For the best performance when set in a ring, it should have no windowing (patches with little to no color) and little extinction (dark patches with no light return).
Popular Garnet Colors
Start your search for your garnet engagement ring stone by deciding on a color. Shades of red, orange, and green are the most popular choices.
Click through this mini-gallery of red garnets.
Red Value Factors
For red garnets in general, tone (its relative lightness or darkness) plays a very important role. Reds tend towards desaturation and darker tones, and if a red stone is too dark, it will appear black. To counter this, some gem cutters will create windows in dark stones to lighten them. However, red garnets are relatively affordable, so invest in a high-quality stone with a good cut, instead. A windowed stone will still appear washed out, even if it was dark before.
The redder and less brown, the more valuable a red garnet. The most expensive reds approach rubies in color. Nevertheless, dusty rose-pink garnets make beautiful ring stones, too.
Click through this mini-gallery of orange garnets.
Orange Value Factors
For orange garnets, the more reddish orange and fiery, the more valuable. The most expensive orange stones have a deeply saturated, “intense,” blood-orange or pumpkin color. Cinnamon or amber colors generally cost less.
Click through this mini-gallery of green garnets.
Green Value Factors
Green garnets that approach a rich emerald green will cost more, while yellowish and grass green stones will cost less, as will any gems with tones too light or too dark.
Very rare color change garnets most often result from pyrope-spessartine blends. Like celebrated alexandrites, they can change from bluish green under daylight or white light to red or purple under incandescent. (Some rare specimens even turn blue under artificial light). The more dramatic and complete the change, the higher the stone’s price, and a fine specimen can command over $1,000 per carat.
This garnet from Madagascar changes color from very slightly bluish green in daylight to purple under incandescent light. 0.97 cts, 6.1 x 4.5 mm, oval mixed cut. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
The “star stone” effect, the appearance of a four or six-rayed star apparently on the gem’s surface, can sometimes occur in garnets, usually in almandine blends like rhodolites. Inclusions of rutile needles within garnets may cause these stars.
What are the Best Money Saving Options for Garnet Engagement Ring Stones?
Since red garnets are fairly common and inexpensive, little demand exists for synthetic, lab-created material. However, wine-colored glass simulants or imitations sometimes appear in fashion jewelry. In decades past, synthetic garnets, such as yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG) and gadolinium gallium garnet (GGG) have been used as diamond simulants, but other simulants have now superseded them.
Green garnets do command higher prices in today’s market, so green YAG as well as cubic zirconia (CZ) sometimes appear as imitations. Both of these materials have a greater density than natural garnet, which helps gemologists identify them.
If you want an inexpensive red garnet, you can likely find a natural stone to suit your budget. If you want a rare orange or green garnet, you likely won’t settle for a cheaper imitation.
Cabochon-cut garnets do offer a less expensive alternative to faceted gems, typically selling for up to $50 per carat.
Caring for Your Garnet Engagement Ring
Many varieties of garnets suitable for engagement rings have a Mohs hardness of 7 or higher, which means they’re hard enough to resist scratching by household dust (which actually contains quartz). These are fairly durable gems, resistant to light and most common cleaning solutions.
Before using a convenient ultrasonic system to clean your garnets, have a gemology lab confirm whether or not they’ve undergone fracture filling treatment. Although garnets typically don’t receive any gemstone enhancements, a mechanical cleaning could damage your gems if they have been treated. Of course, you can always clean your garnets safely with a soft brush, mild detergent, and warm water. Never steam clean garnets.
Some garnets, notably demantoids and hessonites, can have a hardness of 6.5, which means dust will abrade these gems over time. However, resist the temptation to just wipe dust and grit off these stones. Instead, wash them with a soft brush, mild detergent, and warm water. Handle demantoid and hessonite with greater care than other garnets.
Red garnets tend to have a more vintage feel. In Victorian times, jewelers gave them rose cuts and set them in lacy festoons or clusters, whether in necklaces, earrings, brooches or bracelets. These highly detailed pieces also often incorporated flower or vine motifs with white pearls for contrast. For ring stones, jewelers surrounded garnets with filigree or milgrain.
Contemporary jewelers favor orange and green garnets, particularly in designs utilizing a mosaic of color. In high-fashion collections, you’ll often see solitaire rings featuring a vivid mandarin garnet and luxurious jewelry pieces accented with green garnets. For example, Dior’s Versailles Côté Jardins collection features luscious gem bouquets accented with spessartine and tsavorite garnets. Van Cleef and Arpels creates jewelry with unusual color combinations, such as spessartine garnets contrasted with blue gems like chalcedony or pink gems like morganite.
What are the Best Metal Choices for Garnet Rings?
Yellow gold brings out the orange or brown tones of red garnets and creates a regal, antique look.
White gold makes the color of the stone stand out in contrast. Rose gold can give red garnets a more updated, modern appeal, lending warmth to the ring.
Jewelers often set orange garnets in yellow gold, which enhances the stone’s warmth, while green garnets are very often set in white gold to give the jewelry a clean, cool appearance.