While the colors of spessartine or spessartite garnet gemstones cover a wide range of orange shades, the mandarin garnet is as pure orange as this variety can be. Discovered in Namibia in the 1990s, this rare gem is highly desired as a jewelry stone for its eye-catching color, brilliance, and hardness.
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Mandarin garnet is unequivocally orange, but its exact definition can vary. “Mandarin garnet” has been used as a trade name for vivid orange spessartite garnets from Namibia as well as a trade name for all spessartite garnets that possess that color. In the mid 1990s, the only garnets that fit either description were from Namibia. Like other garnets, these gemstones were mixed species. Their average composition was 85 mol.% spessartite, 12.5 mol.% pyrope garnet, and 2.5 mol.% grossular garnet. The high manganese (Mn) content of spessartite gave them their striking orange color.
In 1998, Nigeria began producing gem-quality spessartite (95 mol.%) with an orange color that approaches that of the Namibian material. In 2007, gem-quality orange spessartite was discovered in Tanzania with a composition very close to the Namibian stones: 77.5 mol.% spessartite, 17.9 mol.% pyrope, and 4.6 mol.% grossular.
Whether defined by color, source, or chemical composition, Mandarin garnets made a splash in the jewelry world. Spessartite garnets are rare, and facetable material rarer still. The discovery of these gem-quality African gemstones meant jewelers and consumers could explore and enjoy the brilliance of these garnets.