As a kid, I used to play with (read: mostly break and “improve”) my mom’s costume jewelry. She had several red beaded garnet pieces which gave me the impression that garnet was a cheap, boring gem. In rare sunny moments, the polished stones could look like pomegranate seeds. The rest of the time, they were tiny pits of blackness – pointless, and definitely not pretty. (Back then, I didn’t make allowances for differences in taste; I’d lived a whole decade, after all. Either I was right, or you were just confused).
Nowadays, these gems have my undying love. Consisting of silicate minerals with similar physical properties and crystal forms yet different chemical compositions, the garnet group has a lot to offer (especially for a noob collector, or a gem lover on a budget).
Five mineral species of the garnet group are significant for the gemstone industry: pyrope (red), almandine (red, inclining to purple), spessartine (orange), grossular (ranging from yellow to colorless to green), and andradite (brownish-yellow, green, black). Ranging from 6.5 to 7.5 on Mohs scale, these stones are considered a durable choice for everyday wear. In addition, there are currently no known treatments that enhance a garnet visually – thus garnets are sold unadultered, and you don’t need to worry about synthetics unless you’re seeking one of the rarer varieties (such as color change garnet). As a perk, the non-pyrope garnet species have remained un-popularized to the public, which keeps their prices significantly lower than those of precious gemstones with similar coloring (rubies, emeralds).
I am addicted to the Tsavorite variety of the Grossular garnet species. (I mean this with 70% seriousness; seeing that refractive greenness sparks an itch to spend. I control myself mostly by not looking). Discovered in 1960 by Campbell Bridges, tsavorite is primarily sourced from the border of Tanzania and Kenya. The highest quality stones display a deep green color with a blue modifier. Affordable to newbies like myself in sizes under 1 carat, faceted tsavorite jumps in rarity and price for larger specimens.
I have a rocking tsavorite in my engagement/wedding ring, but that’s not enough! When tsavorite began appearing in the bead market (in the past year or so), I didn’t even try to stay away. My supply is small but I am so excited to make the most of these.
From top to bottom in the photo below, we have: a) mint garnet faceted rondelles; b) smooth tsavorite rondelles; c) faceted tsavorite rondelles; d) rough tsavorite chips.
You will notice that of the four, the rough tsavorite chips have the lowest quality. Non transparent, uneven in color, included with specks of brown – you might ask, why even get them? I think you have to see them in a piece of jewelry (for instance, the “Desert Glory” Earrings) to understand why hammered chips are here to stay in my inventory. Over and over, I find that the rough finish improves the color impact of the darker minerals – the chips are thin and let the light through easily; they are also wide, so command a greater visual area. As a result, as long as the piece works with a calmer color, it takes less rough chips than rondelles to fill in the same space.
Of course, the rondelles tend to use higher quality material (greater color, greater transparency, plus more brilliance if faceted) and thus also tend to pack a greater punch. For example, the “Lemon Bouquet” Earrings feature only a couple tsavorite rondelles amidst the cluster of cooler apatites, but that couple is unmistakable and livens up the overall palette considerably.
Pretty close-ups of my pretties! (In case my self satisfied grin isn’t reaching you across the interwebs – I am soo proud of these shots. Those blurrs, oh those colorrss, purrr)
My second favorite garnet is a mix of Pyrope and Almandine species – Rhodolite. While pyrope has a bloody/burgundy tone, and almandite tends towards wine, rhodolite whispers of raspberries. Unfortunately, in bead form, it also tends to be darker than pyrope (as you can see in the photo below: pyrope garnet in the top right; rhodolite in the bottom left).
This is another great example of why a rough finish is sometimes the best. In the photo below, from left to right, you see: a) smooth rhodolite chips; b) smooth pyrope chips; c) rough rhodolite chips. And undeniably, the color of the rough rhodolite is better than of the smooth rhodolite. Perhaps I’m noting correlation instead of causation, but there you have it: a hammered finish lightens the shade of color, and thus works great for stones that tend to black out.