Those born in January are lucky to claim garnet as their birthstone. In this article, we explore this stunning gem; it’s meaning, history, folklore, as well as provide you with care and cleaning tips to ensure your garnet jewelry continues to sparkle with each year.
Meaning & History
Garnet’s word derives from the 14th century, where “garnet” meant a deep red color. It is derived from the Latin word granatum, which means seed; in this instance, a pomegranate seed.
Garnets have been used since the Bronze Age as gemstones and abrasives. Necklaces studded with red garnets adorned ancient Egypt’s pharaohs and were used in amulets and talismans, also buried with the dead. Garnet jewelry dating to around 2000 BC has been found in Sweden, and there’s evidence that the Greeks were wearing garnets as signet rings beginning around 400 BC. Signet rings in ancient Rome featured garnet intaglios that were used to stamp the wax that secured important documents. The clergy and nobility of the Middle Ages had a preference for red garnets.
One of the most famous garnet jewelry pieces (pyrope is from the Greek pyrōpos, which means “fiery-eyed”) is found at the Smithsonian – an antique pyrope hair comb. A large rose-cut garnet sits at the crest. The pyrope garnets came from the historic mines in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). During the Victorian era (1837–1901), these rich red gems were very popular.
Folklore, Religion, and Healing
In Indian astrology, garnet helps eliminate negative feelings, such as depression and guilt, and is believed to instill self-confidence and clarity to promote creative thinking and peace of mind. Garnet was also thought to alleviate inflammatory diseases and soothe the angry heart.
In the Old Testament, garnet is known as carbuncle, and is said to have been one of the 12 stones in Aaron’s “Breastplate of Judgement ” (Exodus 28:15-20).
Medieval warriors wore garnets to ward off being wounded in battle and as lucky talismans to help bring victory. King Solomon also wore garnets into battle, according to legend.
Fun fact: In the Middle Ages, people believed garnets would protect from poisoning.
Garnets have adorned many a royal garment, including Queen Victoria, Mary Queen of Scots, and the wives of Russian Tsars.
One of the most curious uses of garnets was during the early 1890s in India during a rebellion in the Kashmir territory when Hanza tribal soldiers used garnets as ammunition to fire upon British soldiers!
Where Garnet is Found
Bohemia was the primary source of the red pyrope garnets popular during Victorian times. In 19th century Russia, green demantoid garnets from the Ural Mountains were prized by the Russian royal family and used by the great jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé (1846–1920).
Today, the African continent supplies much of the world’s garnet. Namibia produces demantoids and bright green tsavorites come from Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar. Namibia and Tanzania have rich orange-to-yellow spessartine garnets. Garnet is also found in Myanmar, Brazil, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.
Garnet Care & Cleaning
The different garnet types range between 6.5 and 7.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness and are more susceptible to damage than rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. So while not all garnets are good candidates for daily wear, they are ideal for earrings, brooches, and pendants. Give thought to how you store your garnet jewelry. If you let it rub against harder gems – again, think diamonds, rubies, and sapphires – they can be scratched. And in turn, garnet can scratch softer gems, such as opals or pearls.
Most garnets are not treated. Rarely, however, some garnets might be fracture-filled, whereby treaters try to improve the apparent clarity of the gem by filling surface-reaching breaks with a glass-like substance. Such treated stones require special care. Regardless, using a soft brush with warm soapy water is always safe for cleaning garnets. Ultrasonic cleaners are usually safe, except for stones that have fractures or have been fracture-filled. Steam cleaning is not recommended.
Do you have a loved one with a January birthday? Garnet jewelry makes for a perfect gift. Browse our gallery or reach out to us to discuss creating the perfect custom garnet piece.