Red like the seeds of a pomegranate, literally. Garnet is one of the most historically used gemstones across Europe, with many medieval kings and queens unable to evade the allure of the red gem. The garnet can actually be found in all sorts of colours, but it is always the classic royal red which is most common. It can also vary in opacity, but an amber-esque translucent glow is the most abundant, and the most sought after.
The Meaning and History of Garnet
Unlike many other gems, the etymological roots of garnet are not too difficult to track down. The name filtered into English from the Old French ‘gernet’, which was in turn descended from the Latin ‘granatus’, or “seed”. This was taken from the Latin name for what we know as a pomegranate ‘pomum granatum’, or “seeded apple”, as the little red seeds of the pomegranate much resembled the garnet gems.
Unsurprisingly, garnets were a particular favourite of the Romans, who associated reds and deep reds with ideas of royalty and power. These ideas stuck around after the fall of the Roman Empire, and you find garnet gems in crowns and jewellery across the former extent of the Romans, all the way from Sutton Hoo to the Ukraine. The garnet has been of great use to historians in defining ancient trade routes, as many gems mined in Asia made their way across oceans and land to find themselves on the wrists and heads of European nobles. A gem found on a pendant around a noblewoman’s neck in Winfarthing, Norfolk came from all the way round the world, Sri Lanka to be precise. These great gem journeys show just how interconnected the ancient world was.
The only major source of garnets in Europe is in some mines of Eastern Europe, so many of the early garnets would have followed trade routes like the Old Silk Road from South Asia to Europe. Garnets can be found in jewellery all the way along these routes, from Sri Lanka to Iran, into Turkey and Europe. This goes the same for Ancient China, where the gems were also sold to from South Asia, as the colour red carries the idea of luck, joy, and happiness. The gem was less favoured by royalty who wished to maintain a more serious image, but merchants and “new rich” nobles were big fans.
As settlements in North America began to grow, many chose garnet as their representative gemstone. This includes the East Coast US states of Connecticut and New York, as well as the much further inland state of Idaho. All of these states produce significant amounts of garnet and chose the gem to represent their local culture and people.
Where does Garnet come from?
Garnet production is a slightly trickier one to nail down, as the stones can either be refined into gems or used as abrasives in a variety of industrial processes. So the largest garnet mine in the world, Barnet Mines in New York, does not actually produce a single gem, only crushed stones to be used as abrasives. These types of mine can be found across the world, as garnet’s relative abundance means it can be found and mined across the continents. In terms of sources of garnet gems for jewellery, the main sources are found in South Asia and East Africa. The Indian subcontinent has been a source since ancient times, but Sri Lanka and India specifically are some of the biggest gem sources nowadays. The biggest operations in East Africa can be found along the coast of Tanzania and on the island of Madagascar.
The Properties of Garnet
Garnet is not the toughest gem, ranking around the high 6s and low 7s of the Mohs scale. This puts them towards the bottom of the range for more common gemstones, below many of the other gems found in jewellery like topaz, emerald, and peridot. The variation of the colours is due to differences in what minerals were used in the creation process. The red garnets are high in magnesium, while orange ones are usually formed with high levels of sodium.
Garnet - the January birthstone
The garnet in the western world has become the gem for the star sign Aquarius, as the Aquarius star sign falls partly in January, the garnet has also become known as the birthstone for the first month of the year. The vibrant red is the perfect energy to be bringing into a new year, full of life and ambition for the coming 12 months.
Gold garnet ring
Mystical Powers of Garnet
The powers of Garnet vary along the trade routes that transported them from place to place. In the Hindu astrology garnets, along with other red gems, are associated with the sun and the sun god Surya. The effect of wearing the gem very much depends on the position of the sun when a person was born. If the position is auspicious, then it will bring wealth, health, and status. If the position is not particularly good, then it might bring bad luck, disrespect, and in the worst cases, disgrace. So do be careful with your garnet. It is also said that garnets can warn of danger by turning pale and alerting their bearer.
Gold garnet earrings
Interesting facts about Garnet
1.The Russians Tsarinas were well known for their headdresses with garnet inlay.
2.Mythical dragons’ eyes were said to be made from garnet.
3.Central Asian tribesmen once tried to use garnet bullets.
4.Garnet sandpaper is used by craftsmen to finish bare wood.
5.Garnets can be found in some rivers in Australia.
Gold garnet bracelet
Caring for your Garnet jewellery
Do be careful when cleaning and handling garnets, as they’re not the toughest gems and can be damaged if you’re not careful. It is best to avoid any extreme heat around garnets as this can cause them to lose their colour. Some warm water and a microfibre cloth can be all you need to give your garnets a quick once over. The main danger to garnets is that they can be easily scratched by other gemstones, so do take care when storing your garnets with other stones, as too much contact can leave scratches and streaks on your gems. Make sure to be careful with them, and take them to a professional if the gems begin to fade or scratch.
Where to buy Garnet
Thanks to the garnet’s lovely red colour it is a very popular gem for jewellery designers. The red can be paired with matching items or contrasted with other colours for a more striking look. Our garnet collection includes earrings, a ring, a necklace, and a bracelet, so you can choose which piece best suits what you’re wearing. That’s what makes it special, a garnet can go with anything if you wear it with confidence.