Garnet Gemstone History

At the start of the New Year is one of our favorite stones in antique jewelry – garnet. Garnet is the gemstone of January birthdays, the Zodiac sign Aquarius, and the second wedding anniversary.  In modern times, many people view garnet as ruby’s less attractive cousin – you may imagine dark, even muddy stones which are a dime a dozen.  We hope this article dispels this myth, helping you understand garnet’s deep history, and the characteristics which make this gemstone unique, quite special, and in some cases, rare.

Garnet Colors and Characteristics

Raw garnet mined in metamorphic quartz stoneWhile many people think of red when garnet comes to mind, they can be found in a spectrum of colors, including pink, orange, purple red, orange red, and even green and blue.  Garnets can even exhibit a rare color changing phenomenon.  While all garnets have the same crystalline structure, different chemical compositions result in the rainbow of colors.

Dark red garnets are in fact the most common and plentiful color.  Conversely, green demantoid garnets, first sourced in Russia, are rare and often sought after, particularly those demantoids with inclusions.  Garnets can be found in all sizes, small and large, and are mined from metamorphic rocks on every continent.

Garnet Myths and Symbolism

The root of the word garnet is “granatus”, or “seed” in Latin, believed to refer to the red Pomegranate seed. In Greek mythology, Persephone, the Greek goddess of the underworld and harvest, was made to eat pomegranate seeds by Hades, the god of the underworld.  The fruit was sacred to Hades, and Persephone’s eating of it ensured she would come back to him several times a year – Fall and winter – at which time the green of the Earth went dormant.  In spring and summer, when Persephone was above ground again, the Earth was fertile and fecund.  It’s for this reason that pomegranates, and therefore garnets, are often associated with fecundity, fertility and resurrection.

A long-held talisman for protection, garnet was historically worn by warriors going into battle, and was thought to ward of plague.  Some healers even believed the stone brought healing powers, and it would be used in medicinal practices.

Garnet History

Louvre polish eagle with garnet body

Victorian woman painting wearing garnetsThe history of the gemstone is ancient; Garnet was thought to be one of the four precious stones given to King Solomon by God. Garnet jewelry dates as far back as the Bronze Age, was popular with the Romans in the 3rd and 4th centuries, and has been found in Egyptian tombs, some dated at over 5,000 years old.  In the course of history, garnets have adorned the crowns of royalty time and again, and at one point represented the most widely traded gem.  In the middle ages, they were the preferred stone of clergy.

Garnets were not always so plentiful; it wasn’t until the 1500’s, with the discovery of a bohemian garnet deposit in Europe, that they gained popularity.  This mining peaked in the 1800’s, which is why you’ll often find bohemian garnets in Victorian jewelry, particularly jewelry of European descent.

Antique garnet double snake rose gold ring
Victorian double headed snake ring with garnets in the Stacey Fay Designs shop
Antique victorian bohemian garnet star cluster earrings
Victorian garnet earrings available at Stacey Fay Designs

Garnet Care

Garnets are a tough stone – a 6.5 to 7.5 on the Mohs hardness scale – making them great for all kinds of jewelry, and a perfect everyday stone.  However, unlike diamonds, you want to be sure to avoid blows to your garnets which could damage them.  You can clean your garnets easily with warm, soapy water.

Be sure to visit all of the garnet jewelry in the Stacey Fay Designs Etsy shop, to choose a symbolic piece perfect for you or as a gift!

 

References and Picture Credits:

www.gia.edu

www.americangemsociety.org

www.pantheon.org

Garnet gemstones: By Humanfeather / Michelle Jo (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Garnet in raw quartz: Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Antique bird brooch: By Unknown from Kraków / Warsaw (Own work (BurgererSF)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Painting: By Unknown – Olga’s Gallery (original upload), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38979

One thought on “Garnet Gemstone History

  1. Pretty! This was a really wonderful article. Many thanks for supplying these details.

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