January Birthstone: Garnet. January Birthstone Color is Deep Red.
By Devorah Isenberg
Q: What is the birthstone for January?
In the deepest, darkest days of the winter, it’s always good to look at something bright and colorful as a reminder that spring will be here eventually, even as the snow piles up and the temperature plunges. The birthstone for January, the coldest month of the year, is just that reminder. The garnet, a blood-red stone that practically seems to pulse with warmth, has the perfect January birthstone color—wearing one will add light and warmth to even the darkest January day.
The term garnet actually refers to an entire mineral group, not just the variety of that mineral that is used as a gemstone. Other varieties of garnet actually have an industrial use as abrasives. Not all gemstone-quality garnets are red; the stone can be green, yellow or orange as well. Any of these colors are acceptable as the birthstone for January, but traditionally, red is the January birthstone color. The garnet has a unique crystal structure known as the rhombic dodecahedron, a twelve-sided shape with diamond-shaped faces. No other gemstone has as individual a crystal structure as the garnet.
Besides for being the birthstone of January, the garnet is the state mineral of Connecticut, the state gemstone of New York, and one variety is also the state gemstone of Idaho. Garnets are used in many jewelry
applications, as they are hard enough and have enough color and clarity to be used in high-quality jewelry pieces. However, since the garnet is widely available, it is relatively inexpensive and therefore used for many fashion jewelry pieces, such as cocktail rings and statement necklaces.
As anyone who has seen a small, perfectly-shaped garnet will attest, the name garnet may be derived from the Latin “granatus,” or grain, probably a reference to a single seed of a pomegranate that the garnet so closely resembles. Other historians trace the name for the January birthstone to the Middle English word “gernet” meaning dark red. Both of these sources focus on the unique hue of this luscious stone.
Jewelry set with garnets has been dated back to the Bronze Age, five thousand years ago. It is thought that ancient civilizations believed that garnets would bring protection in the afterlife. In the Roman world, garnets were the most popular gemstone around, especially when they were inlaid into gold settings in a style called “cloisonné” which can now be found all over Europe. In the Middle Ages, the blood-red color made people believ that garnets could be used to treat blood disorders and infections. However, the industrial use of lower-grade garnets was not discovered until 1878, when Henry Hudson Barton began coating sandpaper with finely ground garnets for use as a high-grade abrasive. Today, more than 110,000 tons of industrial-grade garnet is produced every year, dwarfing the gemstone garnet market.
There are eight main types of garnet, each of which comes from a different part of the globe, with its own unique properties. The main differences between these varieties comes from variations in color, density and refraction capacities.
- Almandine—A deep, rich red, with undertones of purple or orange. The most valuable almandine garnets have a wine color. Almandine garnets are found all over the world, from Brazil to Kentucky.
- Demantoid—One of the most rare and valuable garnet varieties, these gems have medium green tones and are found in Italy, Korean, Russia and Zaire.
- Hessonite—Found primarily in Sri Lanka, this variety can be a dark yellow-brown or even a bright yellow.
- Pyrope—The classic garnet type most people think of when they think of the birthstone of January, the pyrope garnets found in the United States have the most deep, saturated red tones.
- Rhodolite—This African variety is also highly popular—with pink or even lavender tones, the rhodolite is especially popular for use in children’s jewelry.
- Spessartite—With a medium orange to reddish orange hue, spessartite garnets are primarily found in Bavaria, Germany and are especially popular in that region.
- Tsavorite—With their intense green hue, most people don’t realize that the tsavorite is in fact a variety of garnet as well.
- Uvarovite—This bright green garnet type is found in Russia and often occurs in small crystals.
What is the January birthstone and where does it come from?
One legend has it that Noah hung a giant garnet in the Ark to light the way through the Flood. The Greek myth about garnets is that Persophene, the goddess of sunshine, was given pomegranate seeds by Hades, the god of the underworld, which turned into garnets. The gem was probably first mined in Sri Lanka about 2,500 years ago, and archeologists have found primitive garnet jewelry in Bronze Age graves. Garnet was said to protect travelers, and is also said to symbolize love and safe homecoming.
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