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Garnet, the January birthstone

Rhodolite garnet ring, by Soligems – Photo ©Bérengère Treussard

Rhodolite garnet ring, by Soligems – Photo ©Bérengère Treussard

For thousands of years, garnet has been used for jewellery under the name “red gem” or “carbuncle”. Courageous explorers would travel with garnets because of the popular belief that the stone would illuminate at night and protect them from all kinds of demons.

Roman brooches dating from the Merovingian period decorated with garnets are exhibited at the Musée des Antiquités Nationales in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. German philosopher Albert Le Grand (1193-1280) named the stone in reference to the colour of the pomegranate fruit. At that time, they are simply polished to preserve the rough stone. In the 18th and 19th century, garnet jewellery became fashionable, mostly the pyrope garnets, named also Bohemian garnets.

Pair of fibulae (Roman brooch) belonging to Queen Aregonde

Pair of fibulae (Roman brooch) belonging to Queen Aregonde
Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (National Archeology Museum)

The garnet is a family of gems comprising many varieties and different colours ranging from bright green (tsavorite garnet) to reddish brown, yellow, orange and even purple. Only blue is not represented.

Particularly interesting is the rhodolite garnet which is a variation of the pyrope garnet in a very attractive purplish-red shade. Rhodolite garnet tends to have a lighter shade than all other red garnets. It is composed of about 55% pyrope (red-brown variety) and 37% almandin (red-violet variety) and the iron contained in the latter sometimes gives it magnetic properties. The main deposits are located in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Brazil and the United States (North Carolina).

For the anecdote, in 1996 a university student discovered the biggest garnet in the world in Australia, weighing several thousand tons and measuring several meters in diameter.

Garnet has a considerable hardness (7-7,5), allowing it to be crafted into jewellery, as seen on the photo here above: a ring by Véronique Ragagnon, founder of Soligems, presented in November at the Paris jewellery show « Mes Créateurs Joailliers ».

Don’t miss our article for next month’s birthstone…

Sarah B – French Association of Gemmology

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