Exploring Birthstones: Traditions & Meanings of Garnet

Mandarin Garnet and Diamond Coronaria Brooch in Rose Gold, 2017. $79,800 via Alex Soldier.

In Greek mythology, the eternal union between Persephone and Hades was ignited by the gift of a pomegranate. This story encouraged an association between the fruit’s crimson seeds and the concept of eternal love. Similar in color to the pomegranate, garnet possesses an analogous meaning. The gemstone’s name also connects it to the story of Persephone: the word garnet is derived from the Latin word Garanatus, meaning “seed-like.” 

Given its name and rich red color, garnet has understandably been assigned the same romantic connotations as the mythical pomegranate. Couples celebrating their second wedding anniversary often exchange gifts that incorporate garnet. The red gem is also the birthstone of those born in January, making it an ideal material for jewelry design.

Garnet Through the Ages

Left: Victorian Garnet Gold Bug Pin, 1880. $950 via The Spare Room Antiques; Right: Antique Spanish Garnet Gold Heart Ring, 1750. $2,745 via The Spare Room Antiques.

Deeply revered as a symbol of prosperity and vitality, garnet has been found in art, clothing, and funerary objects dating back several millennia. A garnet beaded necklace was found in an Egyptian grave from 3000 B.C. Ancient Egyptian healing practices dictated that placing garnet around wounds would expedite healing. Garnet was also popular in Ancient Rome, where it was incorporated into signet rings throughout the third and fourth centuries.

Garnet has been favored by royalty across many cultures, especially during the Middle Ages. In Europe across the 13th and 14th centuries, garnet was considered a sign of trust and affection and became a popular gift to exchange between friends.

Lot 2051: Victory Garnet Necklace in 20kt yellow gold. DuMouchelles (January 21).

Garnet was commonly used in the characteristically somber Victorian-era jewelry. Though jewelry styles of the time were understated, gemstones like garnet and amethyst were often used to incorporate bits of color into designs laden with jet and onyx. Conversely, in Art Deco and vintage jewelry of the mid-20th century, the bright carmine stones were placed among other gemstones in cocktail jewelry. Due to its popularity during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, garnet is common in estate jewelry.

The Variety of Garnet Stones

This gemstone is extremely durable. It is found in nature in places like Wyoming, the Czech Republic, Greece, Russian, Tanzania, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and India. Though garnet naturally occurs in a wide variety of colors ranging from ochre to emerald, the wine-red stones are the most recognizable and popular for jewelry.

Left: Diamond and Green Garnet ring. Sold via Ross’s Auctioneers & Valuers (September 2017); Right: 14k Yellow Gold & Garnet ring. Sold via Ritchies Auctioneers (June 2014).

Easily cut into standard jewelry shapes, garnet can be incorporated into rings, bracelets, necklaces, and brooches. The sanguine stone is a popular choice for gemstone enthusiasts looking to add bright, saturated pieces into their collection.

Buying Garnet

When buying garnet, there are important factors to keep in mind. The first and most obvious is color. Keep in mind that when opting for unique colors like pink, blue, or green, the price will be higher than for the more traditional deep red.

Left: Austrian Art Nouveau Jeweled Butterfly Brooch, circa 1900s. $12,500 via Macklowe Antique & Estate Jewelry; Right: Antique Demantoid Garnet, Diamond, Gold and Platinum Cricket Brooch, 1910. $19,500 via Macklowe Antique & Estate Jewelry.

Garnet stones are often judged along the same quality standards as diamonds, so clarity and cut affect the beauty and value of the stone. Look for a cut stone that spreads light evenly over the surface of the gem.

Source: The American Gem Society

Explore more birthstones and other jewelry coming up on Invaluable.