Garnet - The Rainbow Family of Gem Minerals

The Many-Colored Garnet

Many people imagine a dark red colored stone when they think of garnet, but beyond the well-known deep reds, garnet can be purchased in cinnamon to tangerine shades orange, light yellows, deep purple, grass greens and soft bluish-pink. Garnet is all these colors and many more. Garnets are actually a closely related group of different gemstones that are available in nearly every color. There are garnets that change color in different light, translucent green garnets that look like jade and garnets with stars. Some kinds of garnets have been mined for thousands of years and some garnets were just discovered in the last decade. Garnets are fairly hard and durable gemstones that are ideal for jewelry use, except for demantoid, which is softer and requires more protection. Because some garnets are inexpensive and have been used in the past for cheap jewelry, garnet is the gemstone which just doesn’t seem to get the “respect” it is due. This is rapidly changing in light of the many new varieties of stunning colors now available in Garnet gems.
Garnets have been used as ornamentation for more than 5,000 years. Garnet beads have been found in Egyptian excavations dating back to 3200 B.C. The breastplate of Aaron, which was worn around 2,000 B.C., is said to have contained a Garnet. The Asians in the 4th century B.C. used Garnets in creating their seals. Frequently Garnets were carved into cameos and intaglios and worn in rings. Carbuncle is an old term which typically referred to a Cabochon Garnet. The back of the Cab was hollowed out to create a brighter Garnet and make it more transparent. The ancient world is full of praise for the carbuncle, the glowing red coal of a gemstone we now know as garnet. The name garnet probably comes from pomegranate. Many ancient pieces of garnet jewelry are studded with tiny red stones that do look a lot like a cluster of pomegranate seeds!
The Garnet group of minerals has 20 different species. The most commonly recognized are Pyrope, Almandite, Spessartite, Grossular and Andradite. The chemical formula for Garnet is complex with all species having a slightly different combination of elements. During crystallization some elements interchange to form a mixed Garnet consisting of two or more different species. Pyrope-Almandite, Almandite-Spessartite and Pyrope-Spessartite are examples of these types of intergrowth. Garnets have a hardness of 6.5-7.5 and are excellent choices for jewelry. Garnet crystals form in the cubic system, typically as a 12-sided crystal or dodecahedron. They are available in all colors except pure Blue. One problem with some types of garnets comes from their deeply saturated color. In many types of garnet, especially Pyrope and some Almandines, gems cut into large sizes will be too dark to reflect light and and the stones will appear black. It is important to consider this fact when buying larger deep colored garnets. In general, garnets are not treated to change their color, in the way that many other gems are.

Popular Varieties of Garnet Include:


Almandine is perhaps the most common of the garnet family, and is the deep red to red-brown stone most often thought of when people think of garnet. It is an inexpensive stone, but new mines in east Africa are producing Almandine in more desirable red to red-orange colors which have no brown undertones. The major sources of Almandine are Madagascar, India and Sri Lanka. Almandines are sometimes available in large sizes, and most garnet sculptures are done in Almandine. Entire cups or vases have been made from single crystals. Because of its depth of color and saturation, some faceted gems cut too large from this deeply colored material will not sparkle because they are too dark to reflect the light.


Rhodolite is the name used to describe the lovely pinkish, purplish or lavender Red Garnets which are a mixture of Almandite and Pyrope. This name was first used in the late 1800's to describe the new rhododendron shade of Garnets discovered in North Carolina. In general,

Rhodolite Garnets are not as dark as the common Pyrope or Almandine Garnets. Most  Rhodolites seen today are African in origin and are bright, transparent Gems. These are probably the most popular garnet seen in fine jewelry today. Common shades of Rhodolite include Red stones, purplish Red and the popular Raspberry Rhodolite,  a rich red-Purple with bright Lavender highlights. Rhodolite garnet is mined in Africa, India, and Sri Lanka. Brazil is producing a dark purplish Rhodolite, sometimes called grape garnet, because of its similarity of color to concord grape jam.

Pink Rhodolite Garnets


Malaya garnet, another popular mixed variety, ranges from orange to gold and is mined in Tanzania and Kenya. Gem diggers working the stream gravels nearly a decade ago found lovely orange and beige colored garnets in much larger pieces. The color led these miners to believe that they had found a deposit of Spessartite garnet. It turned out that it was a mixture of different garnet species. When the true identity was determined, they gave this new and unique material the name "Malaya", which, in Swahili, means "deceiver". This name has been used by the gemstone trade ever since.

The color of Malaya ranges from dark orange to beige-orange, and (rarely) a peachy-cinnamon color that is one of the loveliest and most unusual in the gem kingdom. Stones over 5 carats are rare, and the largest Malays on record are under 100 carats. Lighter tones are considered more desirable, and true pinks are among the rarest of all garnets, regardless of hue.


Grossular - is found in a wide range of hues ranging from colorless to shades of pink, orange, yellow and green. These rare and beautiful gemstones are found at only a few localities on earth, and seldom in large sizes. One of the principal occurrences is in the Umba River Valley, in northern Tanzania. Colorless, pink and yellow grossulars are, if free of internal imperfections, virtually nonexistent in sizes over 5 carats. Tanzania also produces a fine orange colored Grossular. Orange-brown Grossular is known as hessionite.

A beautiful orange pink Grossular garnet has been obtained from an asbestos mine in Canada. Unfortunately many of these gems are flawed, and larger clean garnets from this deposit are both rare and beautiful.

Orange Grossular Garnet


Spessartite Garnets are commonly seen in bright shades of intense Orange or reddish Orange. One type of Spessartite garnet growing in popularity is a newly discovered garnet from Namibia, which is a bright orange shade of Spessartite. It is called mandarin garnet because of its true orange color. A beautiful orange colored Spessartite garnet is found near Ramona in San Diego County, California, but this rare garnet has also been mined in Brazil and a few locations in Africa. Truly clean bright orange Spessartite garnets are unusual, especially in sizes over 5 carats. Most have at least minor inclusions. The darker reddish orange stones are generally cleaner and commonly larger in size. Lighter oranges colors and larger clean gemstones can be moderately expensive for a garnet.

Orange Spessartite Garnet


Pyrope garnet is a very saturated red: beautiful small Pyrope garnets found in Arizona are called anthill garnet because they are mined by ants, who carry them up when they are excavating their anthills. The red of Pyrope is the truest red and in smaller sizes it is the closest to ruby in color. This is true because both the ruby and the Pyrope garnet are colored by the element Chromium. However, some gems cut too large from this deeply colored material will not sparkle because they are too dark to reflect the light. Most Pyrope is best cut in sizes of no more than about a carat. Pyrope garnets sometimes form in the same deposits as diamonds.

Deep Red Pyrope Garnets


Tsavorite is the most desirable of all garnets, with a wonderful purity and intensity of its beautiful green color. Until Tsavorite was discovered in the late 1960's there was no other gemstone but emerald that could offer the gem buyer such a rich, dark green color. This magnificent green garnet has been in great demand for jewelry since its discovery, and for good reasons: it is harder than emerald, more durable in jewelry, less included than emerald, more brilliant when faceted, and is much rarer than emerald. In short, it is (by all counts) a better gemstone, but it lacks the magic and the antiquity of the name "emerald". For this reason it is known to far fewer people, is in much lower demand, and is therefore much less expensive than emerald of comparable color. Even so, because of its beauty, Tsavorite is the most expensive of the garnet family. It is actually a form of Grossular, colored green by the presence of trace amounts of the metal vanadium.

 Tsavorite was first unearthed in Tanzania and Kenya; the name "Tsavorite" is actually a trade name created by Tiffany and Co., in reference to the Tsavo National Park in Kenya (located near the Tsavorite locality). The geology of Tsavorite is such that the supply is extremely sporadic.  The heat and folding of the rock hundreds of millions of years ago which formed Tsavorite also shattered most of the crystals. It is very rare to find Tsavorite in sizes larger than five carats, and most faceted stones are below two carats. Many deposits of Tsavorite are small and unpredictable: seams suddenly narrow and disappear, giving no indication where to look next. Most of the rough is highly shattered in place (due to earth movements over the centuries), which accounts for the great rarity of large, clean stones.

 There have been perhaps 40 different areas where Tsavorite has been mined but only four mining ventures are still producing in commercial quantities. The Scorpion Mine in southeast Kenya is now producing from tunnels sunk on an incline for more than 200 feet. The other major producer in this area has a large open-cast operation to a depth of 40 feet which has yielded a considerable quantity of Tsavorite. Unfortunately, the owners are unable to continue mining by this method and are beginning to introduce underground mining. Recently, a new Tsavorite-producing area was discovered in Lokirima, about a thousand kilometers northwest of the previously known localities. Although this locality is only producing a small quantity, it is promising that the possibility of finding Tsavorite exists over a wider area than previously thought.

 Tsavorite garnet has more than tripled in price since its introduction to the marketplace, but at current price levels it still sells at a tenth or less of the price of emerald of comparable quality. Stones much over 2 carats are extremely rare, and clean 5+ carat gems of fine color are virtual museum pieces.


Hessonite garnets, a variety of Grossular, come mostly in shades of orange-brown colors and are sometimes called cinnamon garnets. Although fairly inexpensive, they are not often seen in modern jewelry. They were very popular however, in Victorian times, so they are sometimes seen in antique jewelry.

  Andradite and Demantiod

With its beautiful green color, for many years the queen of the garnet family was the Demantoid garnet, which was discovered in Russia's Ural Mountains in 1868. Though bright and attractive, Demantoid was available mostly only in small sizes. Mining of this beautiful, brilliant green garnet lasted only about 30 years and was completed by the turn of the last century. Today the only source for top quality stones is antique jewelry. The Demantoid garnet is a variety of   Andradite. Adradite has a high level of optical dispersion, causing rainbow colored reflections which are seen in diamond.

In 1994, in the country of Mali, Africa, a unique yellow-green to yellow brown garnet was discovered. It is principally adradite, mixed with some Grossular. Occasionally specimens from this site are colored a deep green dematiod color. An iridescent Andradite garnet, showing a rainbow play of colors was mined from Mexico in the 1990s, and a similar iridescent Andradite material occurs in Nevada.

Color Change Garnet

Another mixed garnet species material mined at Tunduru gravels in east Africa shows a significant color change, some of the material going from Red to blue or from pink to green colors when going from outdoor to indoor lighting.  Some color change garnet comes from Madagascar as well. This material is quite rare, and usually fairly expensive for a garnet.

Return to Gemstone Encyclopedia Return to Nevada Outback Gems Homepage Return to Chris' Prospecting Page Return to The Nevada Outback Bookstore

Nevada Outback Gems

Find out more by checking out all of our links below:
Our Free Colored Gemstone Information Encyclopedia Amethyst and Citrine info Aquamarine information
What Really Is A Gemstone? Apatite information Chrysoberyl information
How are Gemstones Mined? Diamond information Emerald information
What About a Gemstone Makes it so Valuable? Garnet information Morganite information
What About Investing in Gemstones? Opal information Peridot information
Nevada Outback Library and Bookstore - Learn more! Ruby information Sapphire information
The Rockhound's Corner for Gem Hunting Spinel information Oregon Sunstone info
Take a virtual tour of our Nevada Turquoise mines Tanzanite information Topaz information
Rare Crystals and Gemstone Rough, including Turquoise Tourmaline information Tsavorite information
Natural Gold Nugget Photos: Big Nuggets, Crystal Gold Turquoise information Zircon information
Chris' Gold Prospecting Encyclopedia Nevada Outback Gems Homepage Nevada Outback Gems Site Map