What is January’s Birthstone? Garnet Etymology & Meaning

Garnet stone

What is January’s birthstone, and what qualities is it associated with? The January birthstone is garnet, a gemstone found in a variety of hues mined in geographic locations around the world. Here, we explore the garnet stone in all its facets, from its history and etymology to the symbolic meaning the stone carries today.

Garnet Meaning

In Greek mythology, the eternal union between Persephone and Hades was said to be ignited by the gift of a pomegranate, a seed-filled fruit bearing a deep burgundy color. The story of Persephone and Hades has fostered an association between the fruit’s crimson seeds and the concept of eternal love. Though the garnet stone is found in a variety of cool- and warm-toned hues, its most iconic shade is deep red. Similar in color to the pomegranate, the garnet stone possesses an analogous meaning: the gemstone’s name also connects it to the story of Persephone. The word garnet is even derived from the Latin word Garanatus, meaning “seed-like.”

garnet necklace

Garnet necklace with medallion pendant and earrings, c. 1880. Offered for CHF400 – CHF600 via Koller Auctions (November 2016).

Given its name and rich red color, garnet has understandably been assigned the same association with love as the mythical pomegranate. For couples celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary, for example, the garnet stone is often used as an alternative gift idea to the more traditional porcelain gift suggestion. Garnet is also the January birthstone, which makes garnet jewelry the perfect gift for January birthdays.

A Brief History of the Garnet Stone

Regarded as a symbol of prosperity and vitality, garnet has been used in a variety of media through the ages, including art, clothing, and has even been featured in funerary objects dating back millennia. One of the more notable examples was a garnet necklace that was found in an Egyptian grave dating to 3000 B.C. (in ancient Egypt, it was thought 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, the garnet stone was considered a symbol of trust and affection and became a popular gift to exchange between friends in the 13th and 14th centuries.

 

garnet necklace

Victorian Etruscan Revival almandine garnet, seed pearl and 14k yellow gold bracelet. Sold for $1,100 via Clars Auction Gallery (December 2018).

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

Garnet Color

Garnet is derived from a variety of geographic locations worldwide, including regions of the United States, the Czech Republic, Greece, Russia, Tanzania, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and India. Each geographic region offers different climatic qualities, and thus a variety of different minerals. This mineral composition ultimately determines the color of the garnet stone produced by each region. Though garnet naturally occurs in a range of colors spanning ochre to emerald, the burgundy-red stones are the most easily recognizable shade of the gemstone, and are most popular in garnet jewelry.

Demantoid garnet and diamond ring

Antique Demantoid Garnet and Diamond Ring, French. Sold for $3,500 via Fortuna Auction (September 2018).

Types of Garnet

Garnet comes in a range of species, and thus, colors, depending on the stone’s physical properties:

  • Pyrope garnet: deep red (rhodolite is a common variety)
  • Almandine garnet: ranging in color from purple to orange-red
  • Spessartine garnet: generally in shades of orange
  • Andradite garnet: yellow to yellow-green (demantoid garnet is a common variety)
  • Grossular garnet: found in shades of red, orange, yellow, green, and colorless (tsavorite and hessonite are common varieties)

Buying Garnet

The sanguine stone is a popular choice for gemstone enthusiasts looking to add rich, saturated pieces into their collection. When buying garnet, there are important factors to keep in mind. The first and most obvious is the color of the stone. Keep in mind that when opting for more uncommon colors like pink, blue, or green, the price of the piece can be higher than jewelry featuring the more traditional deep red.

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.

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Sources: The American Gem Society | GIA