January Birthstone: Garnet
7 Minute Read
What Color is Garnet?
Garnets are beautiful gemstones. The name comes from the Latin word for seed, most likely a reference to a pomegranate seed. They come in a variety of colors because garnets actually belong to a group of minerals. There are many different garnet species, each with a similar but distinct chemical composition.
How Do You Judge Garnet Color?
Garnets are famous for their range of rich hues and tones. This makes color the most important of the "Four Cs" when evaluating the quality and cost of garnets. Typically, red garnets are the most common and affordable option. Rare green garnets, on the other hand, will come with a much higher price tag.
Red garnets are also evaluated based on their tone, which means their relative lightness or darkness. A lighter, more saturated or "intense" red stone will command a higher price than a darker stone.
Green garnets that come close to a rich emerald-green will generally cost more than yellowish or lighter greens. Greens with medium tones will also typically cost more than those with very light or very dark tones.
January Birthstone Varieties
The following are the principal garnet gemstone species. However, no garnet has a 100% pure chemical composition. All garnets combine the chemistry of two or more garnet species.
You'll usually find garnets for sale just described simply as "garnets." Sometimes, vendors will note a garnet's specific blend or describe it as the species that makes up the highest percentage of its composition.
The most common garnet gemstone, almandine can come in many colors. However, the almandine-pyrope blend creates the deep red color popularly associated with garnets.
Rhodolites are a purplish red almandine-pyrope mix with some spessartite. The more spessartite they contain, the lighter their color.
One of the rarest and most prized garnet types, andradite has the highest dispersion or "fire" of all garnets. That means it breaks up light and reflects it back in sparkling points of multiple colors. Andradite even has more fire than diamond.
Andradites come in a wide range of colors, including green, yellow, brownish red, and black. Demantoid, the green variety of andradite, is the most valuable garnet and one of the rarest gems in the world.
Grossular garnets come in nearly every color of the rainbow. However, unlike most garnet varieties, they rarely have red or dark colors. Gem connoisseurs love them for their light to medium tones. They make wonderful jewelry stones.
Light, minty green grossulars are particularly popular. "Cinnamon-colored" hessonites and emerald-green tsavorites are also highly prized varieties. Mali garnets combine grossular and andradite chemistry and can show green, yellow, or brown colors. If they have light colors, properly faceted Mali garnets can show exceptional brilliance or "brightness."
When mixed with other types of garnet, pyrope can create the classic red garnet hue. Chrome pyropes are especially popular for their deep red color than can rival rubies. Collectors refer to them as "anthill garnets" because ants in Arizona have been known to find these stones underground and carry them to the surface.
Somewhat rare, spessartites can display a range of orange colors. Mandarin garnets, a spessartite variety with a vibrant orange color, are highly prized.
Malaia garnets can have pinkish, reddish, or yellowish orange colors. These gems are a complex blend of many garnet species, usually with a large percentage of spessartite.
The rarest member of the garnet family, uvarovites show a beautiful, rich, dark green color. However, they usually don't have the size or transparency to be cut into jewelry stones. Jewelers sometimes use uvarovites in their creations as druzy, a layer of tiny, uncut natural crystals.
Color Change Garnet
Although rare, some garnets can display an extraordinary color change under different sources of light. For example, some pyrope-spessartite garnets discovered in Madagascar in the 1990s appeared blue-green in daylight but purple in incandescent light. One of these one-carat, color change garnets sold for $1.5 million!
Color change can occur in garnets of different blends. Some almandine-pyropes from Idaho can show a strong color change, from red to purplish red. Mali garnets may also appear grayish green in fluorescent light but brown in incandescent light.
How to Buy Garnet Jewelry
Popular since ancient times, garnets continue to fascinate gem lovers. A testament to their enduring appeal, they are considered both the traditional and modern January birthstone. Garnets have also remained popular as jewelry stones. Garnet jewelry can encompass all types of pieces. You'll find beautiful necklaces, earrings, bracelets, statement rings, and even engagement rings.
Beyond their incredible range of colors, garnets have properties that make them excellent jewelry stones.
Although not as hard as diamonds, garnets are still very durable. With Mohs hardness scores ranging from 6.5 to 7.5, most garnets can resist scratches very well. (Diamonds famously have a Mohs hardness of 10, the highest of any known material). However, with no cleavage — internal planes where the molecular bonds in the crystal are weak — garnets are actually more resistant to breaking than diamonds. Overall, garnets will hold up well against wear and tear, even if worn daily.
All garnets usually contain some inclusions, materials and cavities trapped within the gemstone. However, most red garnets are typically eye-clean. That means you won't see the inclusions with the naked eye and they won't affect the stone's appearance. On the other hand, orange garnets may contain noticeable inclusions. For example, hessonites may have a roiled, "heat wave" or "whisky in water" appearance.
Typically, eye-visible inclusions will lower the value of a gemstone. However, some garnets have very distinctive, attractive inclusions. For example, demantoids can have beautiful "horsetail-like" inclusions that collectors prize. Demantoids with these inclusions will command higher prices than those that don't.
Some garnets also contain inclusions that can create beautiful "cat's eye" or "star stone" effects. These types of garnets are very rare and highly prized.
Red garnets are quite common and come in a wide range of sizes. Therefore, the price per carat for these gems will usually not increase as the gem gets larger. In contrast, rarer garnets like demantoids are seldom found in sizes larger than one carat. Thus, their price per carat will increase greatly for stones larger than one carat.
Choosing a Metal for Your Garnet Jewelry Design
With all the possible combinations of garnet colors and metals, you can certainly create a garnet jewelry design in any style to match any taste.
Combined with red garnets, yellow gold can give a piece a classic, vintage look that will evoke the jewels worn by royalty during the Victorian era.
Rose gold can add warmth to a piece, nicely enhancing a warm-colored garnet with a romantic and feminine feel.
Silver is also a popular metal choice for garnet jewelry. It will create a contrast with any garnet color that will make the stone pop.
How to Buy Garnet Engagement Rings
The January birthstone makes a dazzling addition to any engagement ring, as an accent or center stone. (And you or your future spouse don't need to have a January birthday to enjoy this gemstone).
Do you and your partner like antiquing? You can find garnet engagement rings from virtually any era in antique shops. You can find a timeless garnet piece relatively easily.
Maybe you'd rather do your browsing online. You can also shop for garnet engagement rings at vendors like James Allen, Blue Nile, and Angara. Their expansive, searchable selections of rings will ensure you'll find the perfect garnet for your special day from the comfort of your own home — or at least your own phone.
Frequently Asked Questions About Garnets
Diana Jarrett GG RMV
Creative writer, author and Gemologist, Diana Jarrett is a graduate gemologist (GG GIA) and Registered Master Valuer.
Amanda is a student of geological sciences and environmental studies at Tufts University. She grew up hiking and mountain biking in the Bay Area and continues to explore nature and learn about the beautiful gems and minerals it forms in her free time.
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