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.

In addition, some prefer to use the name “pyralspite” in reference to the stone’s chemistry,…