The garnet, typically recognized as the dark red gemstone, has been prominent for many thousands of years, dating back to the Bronze Age. Despite this general recognition as being a dark red gemstone, garnets actually come in a huge range of colors, shades and hues.
This is in part due to the fact that there are actually no less than six chemically different groups of garnets: almandine, andradite, grossular, pyrope, spessartine and uvarovite. Some of these have several sub-classifications or subgroups as well. All garnets are nesosilicates, a specific type of silicate mineral. This means that they contain silicon and oxygen. The abundance of silicate minerals on the Earth, which comprise about 90% of the Earth's crust, helps to explain the breadth and abundance of garnets.
Garnets can also be used to create and gauge temperature-time histories and measurements for a variety of rocks including igneous and metamorphic. They can be used to define various metamorphic facies of rocks as well. All of this means that in addition to their abundant and beautiful usage in a variety of jewelry pieces, garnets are broadly present on the planet and have a variety of applications.
History of the Garnet
The usage of garnets dates as far back as the Bronze Age, which began some 5,000 years ago. Nearly all of the ancient civilizations, cultures and societies had uses for garnets. This includes the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Mesopotamians, and on the other side of the globe, the Aztecs, Mayans and Incans as well.
The garnet is mentioned at several different times in the Bible. When Noah was in the Ark, he used a glowing garnet to provide light. They are also one of the twelve stones to represent the tribes of Israel, found on the breastplate of Aaron. King Solomon was also said to wear garnets during battle. Many European knights and other military members would also wear or bring garnets into battle for protection. Even Native American shields were often adorned with the gemstones.
All of this is consistent with the Egyptian theme of protection and light from garnets, as many prominent Egyptians would be buried with garnets for these purposes in the after life. Many pieces of Egyptian jewelry have been found to include garnets, and other forms of home decoration also made use of garnets as well. Some cultures believed that the bright glow of the garnet could not be hidden, even under clothing or in other dark areas.
Garnets were used for healing and protection both by the Greeks and by the people of the Middle Ages as well. Specifically, garnets were believed to protect against and heal poisonings, and the Greeks also thought they prevented children from drowning and other dangers.
Conversely, in some cultures garnets were not only used for protection, but were also used to inflict more damage in a conflict or battle. Therefore weapons in Japan and China and many other places were made in part with or adorned with garnets.
There is a nearly unending string of meanings and associations with garnet gemstones across the globe. The Persians believed that garnets were a royal stone and therefore all of their kings and rulers had their likeness engraved in garnet. The ancient philosopher Plato also had his image engraved in garnet. The Koran says that the Fourth Heaven of Muslims is illuminated by the garnet. The global references and usages can continue on and on.
There are several possible etymologies for the word garnet. The most common of these is the Latin word garantus for grain, referencing the seeds of the Punica granatum, or the pomegranate. The seeds of this fruit are small and dark red, and therefore hold a striking resemblance to classic, deep red garnets. The Middle English word garnet was also used to mean dark red.
Garnets can take on a wide range of meanings, and of course meaning in part depends on the color and specific species of garnet in question. Common themes include purity, friendship and faith, along with commitment, optimism and awareness. Other themes include creativity, strengthening willpower and self esteem and overall happiness. The garnet is the birthstone for the month of January and is also the stone for the second wedding anniversary.
The Garnet Today
Prominently found all throughout the world, garnets are mined in many different locations. This of course should be no surprise given the wide range of ancient civilizations in every region of the globe in which garnets were utilized. Today they are mined in Australia, India, Brazil, Myanmar, the United States, Tanzaia, Switzerland, Scotland and South Africa to name a few prominent locales. Different locations produce garnets of different qualities and classifications.
Garnets are also used today for a variety of industrial purposes and applications. This comes from the relatively hard aspect of the majority of garnets, falling between 7 and 7.5 on the Mohs scale. Garnet sand is commonly used as an abrasive and can also be used for water filtration as well as sandpaper. It is most commonly produced from the beaches of Australia and India. Garnet can also be used to cut steel in water jets.
Despite all of these industrial usages, garnets are still of course commonly used as gemstones as well. Due to their abundance, they are typically much cheaper and more readily available than many of the other gemstones.
Synthetic garnet is also widely produced and can be made from various elements, taking on all colors and consistencies. Some of these synthesized garnets offer unique magnetic or structural properties, while some are simply used as synthetic gemstones. Other uses for synthetic garnet include applications for various electronics and computer technologies.
Garnets have played an important role on the planet and in the culture of all of the world's people for over 5,000 years. Few other materials can be found so consistently across time and space, from different cultures and civilizations across the globe as the garnet. Today, as the birthstone of January, garnets retain their importance and symbolism, and are a beautiful component to all kinds of jewelry.