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Garnet: The Gem for All Seasons

Garnet, the birthstone for January, is one of the most versatile stones on the market. It comes in a rainbow of colors, from deep red to tangerine orange to lime green to pale pink, as well as purple, gold and brown.

The name garnet most likely was derived from the pomegranate, a fruit whose deep red-purple color resembles some varieties of garnet. Many ancient pieces of garnet jewelry are studded with tiny red gems that look like a cluster of pomegranate seeds.

Garnet is found all over the world, including Africa, Australia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North America, South America and Southeast Asia. There are garnets that change color in different light, translucent green garnets that look like jade, and garnets that display a faint four-rayed star. Even though this exciting gem has been mined for thousands of years, new deposits have been found in the last decade.

This stone is actually part of a family of gems with mineral and color differences which include rhodolite, malaya, demantoid, grossular, hessonite, spessartite, almandine, mandarin, and combinations of these varieties.

Almandine, the most common type, is dark red to brownish red. Pyrope is blood red. Rhodolite, one of the most popular varieties, ranges from pink to purplish red and is mined in Africa, India and Sri Lanka. Malaya, a mixed variety found in Tanzania and Kenya, ranges from orange to gold. Tsavorite is bright yellow green to grass green and is also mined in Tanzania and Kenya. Demantoid is primarily found in Russia. Hessonite and spessartite mostly come in golds, oranges and browns. Mandarin is a bright orange type of spessartite recently found in Namibia. Grossular is available in pinks, greens and yellows.

As the most common types of garnet, almandine and pyrope are also the most affordable. But tsavorite and demantoid are quite rare and can cost several thousand dollars per carat depending on size and quality. Bright colors usually command higher prices than gems with light or dark hues. The stone also is available in a variety of sizes, depending on the type of garnet. Larger stones are available in the more common types and exceedingly scarce in more valuable tsavorites and demantoids.

Throughout history, garnets have been prized for their rich hues and supposed mystical properties. The stone was a favorite of ancient Egyptian jewelry artisans. Demantoid garnet was used lavishly by the Tsars of Russia. Travelers carried the gem to protect them against accidents. The gem was thought to protect its wearer from a range of ailments, ward off evil spirits, spark creativity and dispel anger. The stones are also said to light up the night and protect their owners from nightmares. Noah used a garnet lantern to navigate the Ark through 40 days and nights of torrential rain.

Garnet's various types range from 6-7 on the Mohs scale of hardness, which means that the stone is susceptible to nicks and cracks caused by impact.

To clean garnet, use warm soapy water and a soft brush. Ultrasonic cleaning is safe for most types of garnet except demantoid. Avoid steam cleaning.

Garnet is the recommended gift for couples celebrating their second wedding anniversary.

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