Many people think of a red gem when they think of garnet, the birthstone of January, but it is actually available in a rainbow of colours. From the scorching oranges and lush greens of Tsavorite Garnet, to the most widely recognised deep red ‘pyrope’, garnet is considered a symbol of friendship and trust.
Garnet’s name comes from the medieval Latin granatus, meaning “pomegranate”, in reference to the similarity of the red colour. The most familiar variety, pyrope, is named from the Greek pyrōpos, meaning “fiery-eyed”.
Where do garnets come from?
Bohemia was the main source of the red pyrope garnets which were incredibly popular during Victorian times. One of the most famous pieces of pyrope garnet jewellery was fashioned in this era – a rather extravagant pyrope hair comb which now lives at the Smithsonian.
In the 19th century, green demantoid garnets from the Ural Mountains were prized by the Russian royal family and used by the great jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé (of Faberge egg fame). Today, most of the world’s garnet comes from Africa, though it’s also found in Myanmar, Brazil, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, among other countries.
A rich history of use
Garnets have been used since the Bronze Age as gemstones and abrasives. Pharaohs of ancient Egypt wore necklaces studded with red garnets. Ancient Romans used garnet signet rings to stamp the wax that secured important documents. Warriors from Kashmir shot garnet pellets with bows and later guns, believing that the stones would cause enemies to bleed more.
Protection from harm and nightmares
The power of garnets to shield their wearers from harm was widely believed throughout history. Saxon and Celtic kings favoured garnet inlaid jewellery because of this supposed protection. Native American healers believed that garnets had protective powers against injury and poison. King Solomon and warriors during the Crusades, are said to have worn garnets into battle.
Others believed garnets protect their owners from nightmares, and protect travellers against accidents far from home. According to Indian astrology, garnet helps eliminate negative feelings and instil greater self-confidence and mental clarity.
With associations with the heart, blood, inner fire, and life force, garnets have long been considered symbols of love and friendship.
Garnet is enjoying a modern resurgence in popularity, thanks to celebrities such as the Duchess of Cambridge and Kate Beckinsale. The Duchess of Cambridge, born January 9, who has a garnet ring of her birthstone.
A special occasion stone
Garnet varieties range between 6.5 and 7.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness, making this birthstone more susceptible to damage than rubies, sapphires and diamonds. Not all garnets are suitable for daily wear, but they are ideal for earrings, brooches and pendants.