Garnet, the January birthstone, is found in several colors, but is best known as a brilliant, deep red stone, typically the almandine garnet. It’s a stone that invokes worldly pleasures and prosperity, passion and courage.
The term “garnet” comes from the latin word granatus (meaning grain or seed), applied to the gem perhaps because the natural crystal is often small and rounded in form. Some speculate that granatus is a reference to pomegranate seeds. An archaic name for garnet is “carbuncle,” although this term also meant any dark red gemstone. It’s a term from the Latin term carbo, referring to the fiery red within a chunk of burning coal.
Garnets have been used in jewelry since the Bronze Age. In ancient times, red garnets and other red gemstones were often grouped with rubies, and therefore shared in ruby lore and symbolism, which were based on the meanings attached to the color of red, with its ancient and universal association with blood, the heart, the life force, and was even said to assist in blood-related illnesses. This is still a significant part of garnet symbolism.
Red garnets are crystals of the 1st chakra, symbols of earthy passion, and they are said to increase one’s sex drive. Metaphysically, they are linked to love, passion, desires — not just sexual but all forms of desire.
The red garnets are the gorgeous rhodolite garnet (left) with its reddish pink to purple shades, and the almandine and tiny pyrope garnets, both of which may have brownish undertones that range from subtle to pronounced.
Garnets appear in a variety of different colors, the rarest being blue, which (like other varieties of garnet) changes color depending upon whether it’s viewed in natural or artificial light.
There’s an orange-red garnet known as spessartine (right); various brown-hued garnets; garnets ranging in color from yellow to orange; and transparent “white” garnets. There’s the very rare star garnet, an opaque gem revealing (when angled to the light), a star formation with 4 and even 6 rays.
There are the spectacular green garnets, especially tsavorite and demantoid, but also the tiny uvavorites (left), which are highly esteemed by fine jewelers.
Then there are the garnets that seem to be a combination of varieties or having an intermediate composition. There are also opaque garnets, used in industry for cutting and as abrasives, including sandpaper.
Garnet comes in so many different colors because it has a lot of variation in its chemical or mineral composition (basically silica, with aluminum, or magnesium, or perhaps iron, calcium and so on), while having similar crystal forms. If a stone’s crystal structure isn’t enough to identify what it is, a garnet may be scientifically identified by a kind of magnetic response in conjunction with its refractive index (a value that measures brilliance by how light goes through the crystal).