Malaya Garnet Buying Guide


Summary
Malaya garnets have gone from rags to riches. They exhibit a wide range of warm-toned hues and fire worth drooling over. Once discarded for their unusual appearance, these gems are now prized as a rare and exciting variety of garnet. So, malaya garnet buying requires learning all about the quality factors for these rarities.
Reading time: 4 min 11 sec
malaya garnet buying guide - rose gold necklace with malaya garnet and diamond
A deeply colored malaya garnet adorns this rose gold dress up/dress down necklace. © White Cedar Studio. Used with permission.

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.

malaya garnet buying guide - 4.15ct mahenge surrounded by rough
A 4.15-ct cushion-cut mahenge malaya garnet sparkles amidst rough. © JL White Fine Gemstones. Used with permission.

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, a mix of pyrope, almandine, and spessartite.  Malaya chemistry sometimes includes grossular as well.

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.

Color

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.

malaya garnet buying guide - honey cinnamon malaya
Hues of a vibrant sunset and a unique cut would let this gem stand out in any jewelry piece. © Pebble Sprout. Used with permission.

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.

malaya garnet buying guide - peach malaya and sapphire ring
Light tones in garnets are highly unusual. The delicate peach-champagne hues in this malaya garnet have gained popularity. Ceylon sapphires with intense color provide contrast and make this ring’s design stand out. © Cecile Raley Designs. Check out the blog. Used with permission.

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.

Color Shift

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.

Clarity

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.

Cut

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.

malaya garnet buying guide - 2.08ct golden-peach brilliant malaya
This light-toned gem shows a rare and attractive color shift from peach in daylight to golden in incandescent. With a highly symmetric cut, this gem will perform well in any lighting. © Earth’s Treasury. Used with permission.

Carat

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.

About the author
Addison Rice
A geologist, environmental engineer and Caltech graduate, Addison's interest in the mesmerizing and beautiful results of earth's geological processes began in her elementary school's environmental club. When she isn't writing about gems and minerals, Addison spends winters studying ancient climates in Iceland and summers hiking the Colorado Rockies.
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