Garnets are a complicated family. The story of malaia or malaya garnet illustrates this well. Discovered in the 1960s in the Umba Valley in Tanzania, these pink gems were called malaia, Swahili for “out of the family.” Miners who were being paid to search for violet rhodolite literally set aside these finds. At that time, they didn’t fit into any known garnet varieties.
When malaia garnets came to the attention of the gem world in the 1970s, however, the outcast quickly became quite popular and valuable. Since then, new discoveries have revealed these gems occur in a wider range of colors than the pink that initially garnered so much attention.
What is a Malaia Garnet?
Popularity notwithstanding, these rare gems remain complicated. Currently, the name has two different uses. It’s a trade name for pyrope-spessartine garnets with light to slightly dark colors ranging from pink, pinkish orange, yellowish orange, orange, to red. It’s also a variety of pyralspite (a blend of pyrope, almandine, and spessartite garnets) with a very wide range of possible mixtures. Malaia garnets may consist of 0-83% pyrope, 2-78% almandine, 2-94% spessartite, and 0-24% grossular, with no more than 4% andradite.
However, take care when cleaning these gems and garnets in general. Inclusions may burst due to extreme heat or ultrasound and fracture the stone. Avoid mechanical cleaning systems and stick to a soft brush, mild detergent, and warm water, instead.