Garnets are such a boring birthstone”, lamented my January-born cousin, Amy, recently.

Thinking I knew what she had in mind, I asked “What colour is garnet?”.

Dirty red-brown”, replied Amy, saying exactly what I’d expected her to say.

Like most people, Amy had no idea that garnet was available in a wide range of colours, in addition to the red-brown colour she knows (and dislikes!).

Almandine garnet ring January's birthstone

A classic example of January’s birthstone – a red (Almandine) garnet set in yellow gold.

Consequently, if you are lucky enough to be a January baby, you have an entire rainbow of colours from which to choose your favourite garnet, and each colour tells a slightly different story.

Garnet history

The history of birthstones can be traced back (according to scholars) to the Breastplate of Aaron, described in the Book of Exodus. It is believed that the Breastplate contained 12 gems to represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel. It took another few centuries, until the 5thCentury AD, for St Jerome to connect the 12 gems in the breastplate to the 12 signs of the Zodiac and finally, the 12 months of the year.

However, the concept of a gemstone corresponding to each month is a relatively modern idea that can be traced back to 18thcentury Poland, when Jewish gem traders arrived in the region. It wasn’t until 1912 when the National Association of Jewelers (now “Jewelers of America”) finally suggested the modern list of gemstones to which we now subscribe, which details garnet as the birthstone for January.

January birthstone Almandine garnet

Rough almandine garnet crystals, looking like pomegranate seeds.

The term “garnet” derives from the Latin word “granatum”, meaning seed, for the reason that garnets bear a remarkable similarity to the deep red seeds of the pomegranate fruit.

As a result of being a fairly durable gemstone (measuring between 6.5 and 7.5 on Moh’s hardness scale), garnets have always been popular in jewellery and remnants of garnets have been found in jewellery dating back to the Bronze Age (up to 3000 BC). Popular with Roman soldiers in the 3rdand 4thCentury, garnet was believed to protect warriors heading into battle.

Folklore and legend has us believe that garnet brings health, peace and prosperity to a home. If you’re familiar with Indian astrology, you’ll know that garnet can help eliminate feelings of guilt and depression whilst promoting peace-of-mind and creative thinking.

Grossular rough garnet

Natural crystals of brown grossular garnet.

Garnet as a gemstone

Mineralogically, garnet is a group of several minerals, of which 5 have gemological significance. The well-known red colours of garnet are known as pyrope and almandine, whilst spessartine occurs in spectacular orange and yellow colours. Grossular occurs in a wide range of colours, the most noteworthy being magnificent green tsavorite (see the stunning ring in our header picture). Finally, andradite garnet shows mostly yellow and green colours (green is known as demantoid).

Each colour is determined by the chemical composition of the garnet. Almandine is red-purple as a result of iron and aluminium. In contrast, vanadium gives tsavorite it’s rich emerald green colour.

Tsavorite garnet

The spectacular green colour of tsavorite garnet is clear to see.

Garnets have been mined in many countries around the world, including the Czech Republic, Russia, Brazil, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. Now, Africa is responsible for producing much of the world’s gem-quality garnet, with tsavorite garnet being mined exclusively in Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar.

Spessartite garnet

The bright orange of spessartite garnet is quite distinctive.

So, if you’re a January baby, there is no need to despair over your birthstone; we guarantee there is a garnet colour to excite you!

At Katannuta Diamonds we have extensive supplies of all gem-quality types of garnet, including the rare and uniquely African tsavorite. Give us a call or drop us an email and let us know how we can help with your January birthstone.