January Birthstone Story
Traditionally, a birthstone is associated with each month of the year. The origin of birthstones is believed to date back to the breastplate of Aaron which contained twelve gemstones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The idea of birthstones has a place in many traditions, customs, and belief systems. Birthstone of the first month of the year is Garnet.
The name “garnet” comes from the Latin word “Garanatus,” meaning “seedlike,” in reference to a pomegranate. This reference makes sense as small garnets look like the bright red seeds you find inside in a pomegranate.
Garnets are actually a group of silicate minerals that have been used since the Bronze Age as gemstones and abrasives. All species of garnets possess similar physical properties and crystal forms, but differ in chemical composition. The different species are pyrope, almandine, spessartine, grossular (varieties of which are hessonite or cinnamon-stone and tsavorite), uvarovite and andradite. The garnets make up two solid solution series: pyrope-almandine-spessartine and uvarovite-grossular-andradite. Garnet species' light transmission properties can range from the gemstone-quality transparent specimens to the opaque varieties used for industrial purposes as abrasives. The mineral's luster is categorized as vitreous (glass-like) or resinous (amber-like). Garnets are commonly red but also come in an extraordinary range of beautiful colors, including orange, yellow, purple and vibrant green. The mineral Garnet is found all over the world and is quite common in its base form and is used industrially as an abrasive material for sandpaper or as a filter. However as a gemstone it is less easily mined. The different species and types of garnet are mined and different locations around the world, precious Demantoid in Russia and Namibia, Tsavorite in Kenya and Tanzania, pinkish red rhodolite in India and Sri Lanka, Mandarin garnets in Namibia but the top producers of garnet as a whole are Australia, the US, India and China.
Because the chemical composition of garnet varies, the atomic bonds in some species are stronger than in others. As a result, this mineral group shows a range of hardness on the Mohs scale of about 6.5 to 7.5. The harder species like almandine are often used for abrasive purposes.
Red garnets were the most commonly used gemstones in the Late Antique Roman world, and the Migration Period art of the "barbarian" peoples who took over the territory of the Western Roman Empire. They were especially used inlaid in gold cells in the cloisonné technique, a style often just called garnet cloisonné, found from Anglo-Saxon England, as at Sutton Hoo, to the Black Sea. Thousands of Tamraparniyan gold, silver and red garnet shipments were made in the old world, including to Rome, Greece, the Middle East, Serica and Anglo Saxons; recent findings such as the Staffordshire Hoard and the pendant of the Winfarthing Woman skeleton of Norfolk confirm an established gem trade route with South India and Tamraparni (ancient Sri Lanka), known from antiquity for its production of gemstones.