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Garnet Has Been Coveted by Kings and Commoners for Thousands of Years

January 4, 2023

Entombed with the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt and often mistaken for ruby, garnet has been coveted by kings and commoners alike for thousands of years.


The fabulous and versatile garnet comes in a wide array of natural colors, including pink, purple, orange, yellow, violet, green, black, brown — but is best known for its deep-red variety.

In fact, the official birthstone for January, gets its name from the Latin word “granatum,” meaning pomegranate seed. Fans of the tropical Asian fruit know the juicy seeds very closely resemble red garnets.

Pyrope garnets are the most common form of garnet and sport the popular deep-red color. According to the Smithsonian, pyrope garnets were often confused with ruby, due to their fiery appearance. In fact, the Greek word “pyropos” — the origin of pyrope — means “firelike.”

Impressively representing pyrope garnets in the National Gem Collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, is the Victorian-era hairpin (above) that was donated in 1937 by Ales and Maria Herdlicka. The piece is set with Bohemian pyrope garnets sourced from an area that is now the Czech Republic.

The hairpin is typical of Bohemian garnet jewelry, which is distinguished by its close-set, rose-cut stones. Rose-cut gems are faceted on the top and flat on the bottom.

Until the late 19th century, Bohemia was the main source of the pyrope garnets, which were often incorporated into the popular jewelry of the Victorian Era (1837-1901), according to the Smithsonian.

Although the original Bohemian mines have been depleted, garnets are still found in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Australia.

In addition to the popular pyrope garnets, other varieties commonly seen in jewelry include almandine, andradite, demantoid, grossularite, hessonite, rhodolite, tsavorite, spessartine and uvarovite. Garnets achieve their range of color from trace amounts of iron, manganese, calcium or aluminum in their chemical makeup.

Credit: Photo by Chip Clark/Smithsonian.

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