Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Garnet party

These wide-ranging champions of sparkle are a boon to color-lovers across the world.

By Richa Goyal Sikri

Image: Neha Dani.

One of our many modern misinterpretations of ancient practices is the division of gemstones into precious and semiprecious categories. We know from archaic texts that colored gems were employed to denote rank as well as heal and protect, but the focus was more on color than on the mineral or its pedigree. That’s why terms like “carbuncle” were used to signify any red gem — most often referring to almandine garnets at the time.

Eventually, stones such as rubies, emeralds and sapphires attained a higher position due to a better understanding of durability and rarity, among other factors, while gems like garnets were banished to the semiprecious label. However, the discovery of garnet deposits in Africa in the past few decades has combined with an explosion of demand for color in jewelry to draw designers toward gems from the garnet group.

The breakdown

Garnets belong to the cubic crystal system, which also includes diamonds and spinel. This means they are singly refractive of light, and when top-grade stones are cut well, their brilliance can outshine the best emeralds, rubies and sapphires. There are over 20 garnet species, according to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), but only five are commercially important as gems: pyrope, almandine, spessartine, grossular and andradite.

Even within those classifications, garnets are a complicated bunch. In the grossular garnet category, the highly saturated electric-green variety is called tsavorite, the paler mint-green is known simply as grossular, and the orange to brownish-red is called hessonite. Some garnets can be a blend of two or more species, like rhodolite, which is a mixture of pyrope and almandine.

Chemical composition aside, the trade also has specific terms for certain coveted colors. For example, some call the bright-orange spessartine garnets Mandarin, and others refer to clear, electric-orange spessartines as Fanta garnets.

The price of beauty

The divisions also extend to the value of each variety. All other factors being equal — intensity of color, clarity, etc. — demantoid garnets are the most prized. The green form of andradite garnet, demantoid commands a pricing premium of at least 30% over tsavorite, which in turn tends to be at least 500% more costly than spessartine and some 5,000% more than rhodolite, according to lapidarist David Nassi, president of gem dealer 100% Natural.

“Provenance is not a big factor for prices yet,” comments third-generation gem-cutter Alexander Arnoldi of Arnoldi International in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. “The market is more focused on quality. High-quality garnets rise stronger in prices than commercial goods.”

Like Nassi, Arnoldi ranks demantoid as number one on the value chart, followed by tsavorite, grossular, spessartine, Malaya (the trade name for a pinkish-orange mixture of pyrope, almandine and spessartine), royal purple, color-change, Mali (a mix of andradite and grossular garnet found in that country), rhodolite, almandine, hessonite and pyrope.

As with many other gemstones, the pandemic has impacted pricing and demand for garnets. Unlike diamonds, colored-gem deposits tend to appear in small pockets, and artisanal miners usually extract about 70% to 80% of the stones. Border restrictions and skyrocketing logistical costs have negatively affected supply.

In parallel, demand for top-grade precious stones has increased “across all levels, from consumer to retailer and designer/manufacturer, as more people seek alternative precious stones to work with and acquire,” says Nassi.

Naturally, this has driven up the value of garnets and other colored gems. “Prices seem to be climbing for all species of garnets,” says Dave Bindra, vice president of B&B Fine Gems and a member of the GIA’s board of governors. “Peach (Malaya) and purples seem to be super popular at the moment. That most garnets available on the open market are untreated also adds tremendous value in the eyes of the consumer.”

Location, location, location

Most of the world’s garnets come from Africa — primarily Nigeria, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia and Zambia — but there are varieties in other locales as well. Tsavorites are mainly in Kenya, Tanzania and — sporadically — Pakistan, with limited quantities in Madagascar, while almandine can be found in Sri Lanka, India, Brazil, Alaska and Greenland as well as Mozambique. Rhodolite has been unearthed in the United States, and demantoids come from Russia, Iran, Madagascar, Namibia and Italy.

There are historical reasons behind the high value of demantoid, relates vintage jewelry specialist Ida Faerber of the Faerber Collection. “Discovered in the mid-19th century in the central Ural Mountains in Russia, it’s scarce, and the mined crystals are often small. It was a favorite of the czar’s court, and was popular in the Western world during the Edwardian era and until the turn of the century. Demantoids have low hardness — 6.5 out of 10 on the Moh’s hardness scale — so they were not used for rings. But they are favored for their high index of refraction and dispersion, which makes them a gem of great brilliance and fire.”

Demantoids featured in “whimsical jewelry of the era, such as frog- or lizard-shaped brooches,” but “fell out of fashion after World War I,” she continues. “This was mainly because of their extreme rarity and their relatively low hardness, and only little emerged from Russia after the Bolshevik revolution.”

Russia continues to be closely associated with this garnet variety, which was discovered there in the late 1800s. While it was also found in Namibia in the 1990s, some in the industry consider only the specimens from Russia to be true demantoids because of their horsetail (chrysotile) inclusions. These also appear in demantoids from Iran and Italy, but are missing in the ones from Namibia and Madagascar. Due to US trade sanctions on Iran, most of the Iranian material is exported to Russia before global distribution.

Designer darlings

The appeal of demantoid and color-change garnets continues via the work of contemporary designers such as Neha Dani, who chose these stones for her Kephi (“spirit of joy”) collection due to their distinct hue and brilliance.

Still, with the prolific use of pavé and micro-pavé settings in jewelry, tsavorite has emerged as the green gem of choice because of its saturated color, light dispersion — which is higher than emerald’s — and durability. After geologist Campbell Bridges discovered tsavorite in the 1960s, Tiffany & Co. played a pivotal role in introducing it to the world later that same decade. The company’s 2021 Blue Book collection features tsavorite, spessartine and rhodolite garnets.

Fabergé is another house that freely employs garnets. “Our clients particularly love the vibrancy of the orange (spessartite/spessartine) and green (demantoid, tsavorite) variants of the garnet, as opposed to its more commonly known brownish-red variant,” says global sales director Josina von dem Bussche-Kessell. “Our Houston, [Texas,] clients in particular love bold and confident colors, and they appreciate these rare and increasingly valuable materials.”

Artist Paula Crevoshay can understand the appeal. “Garnet, like tourmaline, is a family, not a species. They come in a fabulous range of colors. For a designer, it’s like getting a big box of crayons,” she says. “Although I love them all, I am particularly fond of andradite; they can be used just as they are with just a little polishing.”

Rhodolite is a favorite of jeweler Susan Wheeler, who is passionate about traceability. “I am committed to making sure each piece of jewelry is linked to a [UN] Sustainable Development Goal (SDG),” she says. “I have recently fallen in love with rhodolite, and I source directly via Moyo Gems from miners in Malawi. I am also a founding partner of [ethical sourcing organization] Virtu Gems, and most of our material is cut in-country. The pink hues are very popular, and the price point of rhodolite is significantly more accessible [than other garnet types].”

Another designer who shares Wheeler’s love of rhodolite is New York-based Ray Griffiths. Named for the flower rhododendron, these stones “look like a glass of red wine you want to dive right into,” he says. “I enjoy pairing them with yellow gold and diamonds.”

Designer Hanut Singh likens garnet hues to the pigments in masterpieces, declaring that “the greens and oranges are like Van Gogh, [with] piercings of color that elevate and transport.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - January 2022. To subscribe click here.

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