Those with a birthday in the first month of the year can lay claim to a very special birthstone. Strong, lustrous and richly coloured, garnets have been admired throughout history.
For thousands of years, the garnet has been prized for its deep colour and durability. Prevalent in Victorian jewellery, this glossy gemstone was the symbol of life in ancient Egypt and was treasured by nobility in the Middle Ages.
Garnet is the name for a group of minerals rather than a single gemstone. Although deep red varieties are best known, garnet comes in a spectacular array of colours, from pale pink to opaque black. In 1998, the first blue garnet was discovered in Madagascar. This extraordinary stone appears to change from rich blue to purple-pink.
Some of the rarest coloured garnets are among the most valuable gemstones in Earth. A vivid green demantoid garnet can command a price of US $10,000 per carat.
It is the blood red variety which has made garnet such a popular gemstone, however. Its name derives from the Latin ‘gramatus’, which means seeds. This is thought to be because garnet crystals resemble the jewel-like seeds of a pomegranate.
It is perhaps not surprising that this strong and vibrant stone has captivated the rich and powerful throughout history. According to jewellery historian and valuer, John Benjamin, “the sheer beauty and versatility of garnet meant that right up to the beginning of the 20th century it was consistently one of the most popular of all gemstones used in decorative jewellery.”
Many of the Anglo Saxon treasures found at Sutton Hoo were decorated with Sri Lankan garnets. Archaeologists have also discovered garnet jewellery in the tombs of Ancient Egypt, where it was revered as a symbol of life. The stone signified wealth and status among the Romans and was a popular centrepiece in signet rings in the third and fourth centuries.
It was the Victorians who really put garnet in the spotlight, and this era is often described as the golden age of garnet.
Many stunning 19th century antique pieces, from delicate tiaras to statement pendants, celebrate the January birthstone. One of the most famous is the Pyrope Hair Comb, which features a large rose-cut garnet surrounded by smaller pyrope garnets from Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic).
Garnets were also often used in Victorian ‘hair jewellery’, which was cherished to commemorate a lost loved one, such as this gold pendant, which is now in the V&A collection.
Along with its vivid colour, the secret to the garnet’s success is its durability. The stone measures between 6.5 and 7.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness. So, while it is less strong than a diamond or ruby, it is more durable than a tanzanite, opal or peridot. This means that, although it needs a little care, garnet can be suitable for everyday wear, so is sometimes used in wedding or engagement rings.
Although it is often associated with times gone by, garnet continues to captivate. While today it is often found in cheaper jewellery, there are many fine pieces that show off the stone’s vivid colour and lustre. In this spectacular cocktail ring, Tessa Packard has set square cut garnets with black sapphires and amethysts to create an exotic piece that evokes the courts of 19th century China. This simple, delicate rose gold bangle from designer Pomellato includes two cabochon garnets, framed by diamond pavé.
Whether you choose to invest in an antique from the golden age of garnet or a contemporary piece that celebrates this vivid stone, TH March can help you protect your precious piece. With our bespoke jewellery and watch insurance, your birthstone jewellery will be covered against loss, damage or theft so you can treasure it for years to come.