The Garnet Family of Gemstones: Pyrope, Almandine, Spessartine and Grossular
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The Garnet Family of Gemstones: Pyrope, Almandine, Spessartine and Grossular

About the garnet family of gemstones, including pyrope, almandine,spessartine and grossular.

The name garnet doesn't refer to a single gemstone but to a group of gemstones that comprises of ten basic varieties. The ten varieties of garnet are isomorphous, which means they have identical crystal structures, although they have different chemical compositions. An exchange of ions within the crystals causes their various colors, and their colors are interchangeable creating new types of garnet to occur. For example where the garnet pyrope (which is red) crossed with almandine (which is pink) it formed rhodolite, a very attractive pinkish red gem. So with ten types of garnet and their mixtures it means there should be twenty five verities of garnet to choose from. However that isn’t the case because the jewelry trade only uses the six most popular types that are considered as gemstone quality.

Pyrope: the name pyrope is of Greek origin and it means “fire eye”. Unlike other garnets its color is always red. In the past pyrope has often been mistaken for ruby and it was very popular in the 18th century. The Bohemian king, King Wenzel had pyrope gemstones fitted to his ceremonial attire and Queen Victoria made the red gem fashionable. Pyrope is also popular among diamond miners because its presence can signify the location of diamonds. At the Kimberly mining region in South Africa it is often called the Cape ruby. 

Pyrope garnet.

Almandine: Almandine is a close relation to pyrope in its chemical composition. Its color varies from dark red to violet and even black. Almandine (almandite) was first documented by the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder who named it after the ancient city of Alabanda in the Black Sea region of Turkey. However through excavation mankind has known of its existence since the Bronze-Age. Almandine became very popular in the 18th century. It was used in church windows and the German Emperor Otto had a carbuncle almandine gemstone fitted to his crown which was called “the wise one”

Spessartine: one of the rarest and most uncommon types of garnet is the pure orange spessartine. Less valuable stones are dark red or black. It is named after Spessart in Bavaria, Germany. Originally only the best quality spessartine came from Sri Lanka; then in the 1990’s it was discovered in northern Namibia. It is also found in Tanzania, Brazil and Madagascar. The high iron content of spessartine is what makes its orange color. The stones that are an orange-yellow color are sometimes confused with hessonite garnet.

spessartine garnet.

Grossular: different to the other types of garnet this is a colorless stone which often has impurities (chemical elements) that define a specific color range. Tsavorite is a vibrant green variety that rivals emeralds. After a large vein was discovered in Kenya, it was named after the Tsavo National Park by Tiffany & Co. Tiffany & Co were the first jewelers to market tsavorite. There is also a pink grossular found in Mexico sometimes called rosolite. One of the most valuable grossular garnets is hessonite, which gets its orange-brown color from the inclusions of manganese and iron. It comes from Sri Lanka, Brazil and Madagascar.

African grossular garnets at the Smithsonian Institute. 

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Comments (2)

This was a very enjoyable read. Thank you very much. The pictures have made it very much meaningful.

Beautiful deep colours