Spessartites: Brazil (4.05), Madagascar (15.40) // Amelia, Virginia (4.65), locality unknown (6.41). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
Spessartite usually occurs in a solid-state series or blend with other garnet species, such as almandine and pyrope. Gems closer to a pure spessartite content have a light orange color. Those with a reddish to red-brown hue have a higher almandine content as well as a higher refractive index.
This cushion-cut spessartite has a composition that includes a component of almandine, another garnet species. Therefore, it has a redder color than purer spessartites. 16.84 cts, Brazil. Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
Mandarin garnets have the highest percentage composition of spessartite (85-95% mol) and have vivid orange colors. Malaya garnets can have compositions of variable but high percentages of spessartite (2-94% mol), pyrope (0-83% mol), and almandine (2-78% mol). Their colors range from pink, pinkish orange, yellowish orange, orange, to red.
Large spessartite stones are very rare and usually quite dark.
Spessartite or Spessartine?
Both “spessartite” and “spessartine” are used in gemology to describe the same species of garnet. Originally, “spessartite” was the favored usage in the United Kingdom, while “spessartine” was more popular in the United States. Either term is acceptable when referring to these garnets.
Be aware, however, that the term “spessartite” is used to refer to a type of lamprophyre igneous rock also named after the Spessart Mountains of Germany. Context and appearance should suffice to distinguish them.
A rare and spectacular variety of spessartite discovered in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan has been marketed as “Kashmirine.” Its color ranges from slightly yellowish orange to brownish orange or red-orange.
This 1.13-ct oval “Kashmirine” displays the incredible richness and saturation of the material, which in melee sizes has the brilliance of sapphire or chrysoberyl. The raw material tends to be heavily fractured, and clean gems over 1 carat are rarely encountered in the trade. Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
Color Change Garnets
Spessartite is part of the composition of many color change garnets. Most such gems are pyrope-spessartite blends.
Unusual color change garnets with large amounts of vanadium (V) and chromium (Cr) have been reported from East African sources. These are primarily spessartite with unusually large components of grossular. Some of the color changes observed include the following:
- Greenish yellow-brown (transmitted fluorescent light) to purplish red (reflected fluorescent); reddish orange to red (incandescent light). Spessartite/grossular/almandine, N = 1.773, SG = 3.98.
- Light bluish green (transmitted fluorescent) to purple (reflected); light red to purplish red (incandescent). Spessartite/grossular/pyrope, N = 1.763, SG = 3.89.
Garnets with alexandrite-like color change have also been noted, from violet-red to blue-green. These are usually small, but a 24.87-ct stone was sold in 1979.
Scientists have synthesized spessartites for research purposes. In addition, synthetic garnets such as yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG) can be created in almost any color, including orange and reddish orange, and could serve as spessartite simulants.
An online search will easily find “synthetic spessartite/spessartine” jewelry for sale. However, some of these sites will also explicitly equate colored cubic zirconia (CZ) or synthetic corundum with “synthetic spessartite.” These are distinct species, not garnets, and would be better described as imitations or lookalikes. (Most likely, these vendors treat the term “synthetic” as synonymous with “imitation”).
Even rough material may be misrepresented. In at least one instance, lab-created corundum was sold as natural spessartite rough.
No known gem treatments or enhancements.
San Diego County, California, especially at Ramona, has produced fine, orange gems. Other notable sources in the United States are:
- Colorado; Nevada; New Mexico; North Carolina; Pennsylvania; Amelia Court House, Virginia (fine, gemmy orange to deep brownish material).
Spessartine with a vivid, cinnamon-orange color, 2.1 x 2.0 x 1.5 cm, Amelia Mine, Amelia Court House, Amelia County, Virginia, USA. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.
Namibia, Nigeria, and Tanzania are major sources of spessartites, including mandarins.
Spessartite cabochons, pear (10.64 cts) and oval (5.98 cts), Nigeria. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.
Other notable gem-quality sources include the following:
- Arassuahy, Ceara, and Minas Gerais, Brazil: large crystals (up to several pounds), gemmy, fine color.
Spessartites: Brazil (ca 4, 2, 2, 16). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.
- Sri Lanka and Myanmar: in gem gravels.
- Afghanistan; Australia; China; Germany; Italy; Kenya; Madagascar; Mexico; Mozambique; Norway; Pakistan; South Africa.
Spessartites, crystals up to 1.3 cm across, specimen 9.0 x 7.1 x 3.2 cm, Yunxiao Mine, near Tongbei, Fujian Province, China. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.
A few Brazilian spessartites have weighed several pounds and retained great transparency and fine color. However, these are very rare.
Faceters have cut gems weighing more than 100 carats from Brazilian and Madagascar rough.
Spessartites from Amelia, Virginia have fine, orange color. These stones have yielded gems up to about 15-20 carats. However, this site has also produced crystals weighing several pounds.
- Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC): 109 (red, Brazil); 53.8 (red, Brazil); 40.1 (orange, Virginia).
- American Museum of Natural History (New York): 96 (reddish, not clean, Brazil).
With a hardness of 7-7.5 and no cleavage, spessartites make durable gemstones suitable for any type of jewelry, including engagement ring stones.
However, since these gems tend to contain inclusions, avoid mechanical cleaning systems. Instead, use warm water, mild detergent, and a soft brush.
For more recommendations, consult our gemstone jewelry cleaning guide.
An early 20th century gold brooch designed as an insect. It has a body made from an old-cut diamond and oval spessartite, tsavorites for eyes, single-cut diamonds for wings, and a split pearl terminal bar. 5.2 cm in length. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Fellows.