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Garnet - January's birthstone

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

Think of January’s birthstone Garnet and you will most likely visualise a gemstone that is deep red in colour. But, think again, because there is more to Garnets than you might first assume.

What is Garnet?

The name Garnet refers more accurately not to a single gemstone but to a large group of rock-forming minerals that share a particular crystal structure and chemical composition. These include Almandine (sometimes referred to as Oriental Garnet), Pyrope (also called Bohemian Garnet) Spessartine and Rhodolite. These minerals are found throughout the world in metamorphic, igneous, and sedimentary rocks. Most garnets are found near the Earth's surface when a sedimentary rock with a high aluminium content, such as shale, is subjected to intense natural heat and pressure and produces schist or gneiss. Garnet often occurs as an accessory mineral in igneous rocks such as granite and is also found in basaltic lava flows.

Not all garnets are red

When we hear the term ‘Garnet’ we usually think of that typical deep rich colour – something between mulled wine and claret – most definitely red. The most common garnets used in jewellery are those that are the claret shade of red - Almandine and Pyrope garnet minerals. But guess what? Not all garnets are red! Spessartine is more of an orange-red. And some garnets – including Demantoid garnet and Tsavorite Garnet – are green! In fact, so green that Tsavorite Garnet is often used as an alternative to emerald. Rarest of all garnets is the Colour-Change Garnet from Madagascar and Tanzania, which can appear blue in the daylight, but change to red or purple under artificial lights.

Scottish Garnets

Although not mined commercially, garnet minerals occur in many parts of Scotland. A distinct variety of Pyrope garnets can be found on the coast of Fife where – rather confusedly- they are referred to as Ellie Rubies. Their distinctive, deep red colouring comes from the mineral chromium.

Like Pomegranate Seeds

The term garnet comes from the Phoenician term for pomegranate: punica geranatum. From this came the Latin term, granatus which translates as "seed-like’.

As well as literally looking like pomegranate seeds, the link between garnets and pomegranates goes much further. Pomegranates have long symbolised fertility, beauty and eternal life. Garnets have similar attributes, being associated with the heart, blood, inner fire, and life force. Like pomegranates, garnets have also long been considered symbols of love. In particular, because of garnet's association with pomegranate seeds and the mythological tales of Persephone and Hades, garnets have come to stand for the safe return of a friend or loved one.

Whilst she was picking flowers one day, Persephone innocently caught the eye of Hades (God of the Underworld) who instantly fell in love with her and carried her off to his kingdom. Persephone’s mother Demeter searched far and wide for her daughter, eventually making a deal with Hades for her daughter to be released. Before she left his Underworld kingdom. Hades gave Persephone a pomegranate. The number of seeds that Persephone ate, signified the number of months she could spend away from Hades. Each year, her return from the Underworld is marked by the arrival of Spring. Some stories say that the pomegranate seeds turned into garnets.

Garnet Earrings by Indigo Berry

Protection and Health

It is perhaps not surprising, given Persephone's journey to and from the Underworld, that garnets are believed to protect travellers. Wearing garnet was thought to help light the way and to protect travellers from accidents. But as well as being considered a protective stone, garnets are also believed to be grounding stones - anchoring you to the earth. Red garnets in particular are associated with the Root Chakra.

Garnets are also often referred to as Stones of Health, and are thought to hold specific healing attributes for the heart.

Not just for Jewellery

The hardness and durability of garnet minerals make them perfect not only for jewellery but also for water-jet cutting , abrasive blasting media, water filtration granules and abrasive powders.

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