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Garnet has been the traditional birthstone for the month of January for centuries…. However, while most months have “alternatives” to the “traditional” birthstone, January’s alternatives are also Garnet.
Not to delve too deeply into the science of the garnet family, garnets are an aluminum-silicate and thus are extremely complex. (I had to map the formula by hand in college… most time-consuming test question ever!) And… because they are so complex there are actually a number of different species and varieties of Garnets. Some aren’t suitable for jewelry use –some simply aren’t large enough to do much with other than admire them under a microscope– but in general if you are willing to do a little searching you can find about four different garnets that are suitable for jewelry. And… they aren’t all red… or even reddish.
Almandine –a.k.a. Almandite– is the “classic” red garnet most people probably think of when they think of Garnet. When it is the reddest and bloodiest possible color Almandine actually looks a lot like good quality Burmese Ruby. (There are a couple of stories of people accidentally giving away grandma’s “old fashioned” “Garnet” brooches and later finding out they were actually extremely valuable rubies.)
Pyrope is another bloody red garnet. (Some people label the deep red of Pyrope “fiery” –I’ve always been a little ambivalent about Pyrope. Quite often it is such a saturated dark red that it appears almost black.)
Rhodolite is a mid-range reddish garnet. (Sometimes a tad on the purplish side of the red spectrum.) Often incredibly pretty it is in general considered the workhorse of the jewelry world. For jewelers Rhodolite is a basic the way butter is a basic for a French chef.
Spessartite and Hessonite are where things start to get a little more interesting. And a lot less red. Spessartite and Hessonite are the members of the Garnet family that slide into the realm of “cinnamon” colors. Some are a brilliant orangey yellow. Often heavily included these stones are highly sought after even when included because of the dazzling combination of color and refraction. (When faceted they have a tendency to be quite brilliant.) Personally I love both Spessartite and Hessonite when faceted as well. Color-wise they have a tendency to look a lot like Baltic Amber.
Tsavorite is the oddest member of the Garnet family that can generally be found in (high-end) jewelry. It is a flashy bright green garnet native of Africa (some Tsavorite can be found is Russia as well). Good quality Tsavorite has a tendency to be pricey… And, like all garnets it tends NOT to be the sturdiest stone for use in rings. (And people love to put Tsavorite in rings…) We think Tsavorite is beautiful in earrings, but its rarity –and the broad range of greens it comes in– makes it difficult to match pairs of any size. (We occasionally have a nice Tsavorite for use as a pendant or accent stone on an artist piece… but we probably haven’t had more than one good matched pair in the last decade.)