Friday, January 06, 2012

Garnet, A Gem of Endless Variety

The birthstone of January is Garnet. Garnet has been one of the world's favorite gemstones for centuries. And although gem quality garnets can be among the most beautiful of all gems, they are relatively affordable. There are some varieties, like tsavorite and spessartite that can be very expensive, but most are modestly priced. Though most of us think of garnets as a red gemstone they come in many colors, including orange, green, purple, clear and pink. Some even appear to change color, depending on the type of lighting! Garnets are not actually a single species of gemstone but are a family of gems that share certain physical properties including crystal shape and chemical composition. They are generally grouped into six garnet species, almandine, pyrope, spessartine, grossular, andradite and uvarovite. To complicate matters more, garnets are never just one species, but are a blend of two or more of these.

They are usually named for the species that is most prevalent. A garnet that is described as "pyrope" may actually be 80% pyrope, 15% almandine and 5% spessartine. Some specific blends have also been given names of their own. For example, a garnet that is about 2/3 pyrope and 1/3 almandine is called a Rhodolite. Other names you may encounter for varieties of garnets include demantoid (usually green), malaya ( may be pink or reddish orange) , mandarin (yellow-orange spessartine), hessonite (usually cinnamon brown or yellowish) or tsavorite(green).

Learning, identifying and describing the seemingly endless varieties of garnets is challenging, but they also provide a wide range of prices and colors for every taste. And garnets provide a source of great beauty and endless fascination for gem lovers and mineral collectors as well.