Malaya Garnet Buying Guide
One Stone, Many Names
Sapphire miners along the Umba River in Tanzania were the first to find these garnets in the 1960s. However, gem dealers in East Africa didn’t want them, as they didn’t fit the mold of any of the known garnet types. These miners dubbed them malaya (sometimes spelled malaia), the Swahili word for “outcast.” When Western dealers learned of these stones, excitement quickly grew. After the initial years of discovery, rough became scarce. The large and attractive water-worn rough from this deposit had sold out. The area now produced only a trickle.
Since then, new sources of malaya garnets have been discovered. While most new finds have occurred along the Tanzania-Kenya border, miners have also found malaya garnet in Madagascar. More recently, malaya garnets from a more southerly region of Tanzania have made a splash. These “mahenge garnets” with a beautiful range of hues are attracting attention.
Some dealers advertise “Umbalite,” though this name has an unclear meaning. While some insist that the term refers to malaya garnets, others contend that umbalite is a rhodolite garnet from the Umba valley.
Malaya Garnet Buying and the Four Cs
In terms of chemical composition, malaya garnets can vary widely. In some cases, these stones are difficult to distinguish from other, less expensive garnet varieties. A gemological laboratory can distinguish between these varieties, and buyers should obtain a laboratory report for any significant purchase.
The IGS garnet value listing includes pricing for malaya garnets.
Malaya garnets encompass a wide variety of hues, with orange, honey-brown, rosy pink, and pink-orange colors. These pink-orange padparadscha-like hues are the most desirable, with stones on the orange “sunset” side of the spectrum some of the most attractive.
For this range of hues, a medium tone of about 60% is often ideal. Much lighter stones may appear washed out, and darker gems may be too dark for anything but a deep brown. However, lighter stones in the peach-pink color range are highly salable and can even resemble morganites. These light tones are unusual for garnet, making these gems a good choice for collectors.
Many malaya garnets exhibit a slight to prominent brown hue. Collectors seek well-saturated stones with less brown, so such stones will fetch a good price. Nonetheless, brownish stones can still be attractive, and many consumers find these subdued hues highly desirable.
Many malaya garnets shift color between light sources. Often, red hues become more prominent in incandescent lighting, while brown hues dominate in fluorescent lighting. Tone usually deepens in artificial light. Make sure to check your stone under different light sources prior to purchase.
Malaya garnets are a Type II stone, which means that most specimens contain inclusions. Needle-like rutile crystal inclusions are common for this variety of garnet. In fact, they can add to the overall beauty of the stone. Light reflecting off of these needles adds sparkle to an already brilliant gem. However, avoid prominent eye-visible inclusions. These detract from the stone’s beauty and may make it more prone to fracture.
Due to its rarity, malaya garnets usually receive custom cuts. Typically, brilliant cuts, including rounds, ovals, and cushions, can best showcase the brilliance and fire in these gems. Look for a symmetrically cut stone and make sure it doesn’t exhibit a large window.
Though rare in any size, malaya garnets become rarer at 2 and 5 carats. Pricing jumps at these sizes. Above twenty carats, these stones become collector’s items.