Each month has a specific jewel or gemstone distinguishing it from the others. For centuries, people have used birthstones to celebrate their birth month — believing they bring luck, good health, and prosperity.
January’s birthstone is garnet. It is often associated with love, friendship, and vitality. Cultures across the globe prize them as one of the earth’s most valued gemstones. They have also inspired numerous myths and legends, from uniting star-crossed Greek lovers to guiding Noah’s Ark. It’s one of the only gemstones that can be found in a rainbow of colors, including greens, oranges, deeply saturated reds, pinkish oranges, and even some blues.
Along with its storied history, garnet’s rich, enduring colors and deep symbolism make them beautiful decorations for yourself and thoughtful gifts for your January-born loved ones. Read on to learn more about this amazing birthstone.
The January Birthstone’s History, Myths, and Legends
Derived from the Latin word “garantus,” the term garnet refers to a pomegranate seed. Indeed, the garnet shares the pomegranate pit’s red luminescence. The garnet is so durable (6.5-7.5 on the Mohs scale), pieces of garnet jewelry can be found from as far back as the Bronze Age, which began around 2300 BC. Some even date back to 3100 BC when the Egyptians used the stones for inlays in their jewelry and carvings.
In ancient Egyptian tombs, archeologists recovered garnet necklaces — talismans buried to protect mummified pharaohs in the afterlife. During the European Middle Ages, clergy viewed garnets as symbols of Christ’s blood and sacrifice. As told in the Jewish tradition, Noah brought a garnet onto the Ark to shine light as the flood drowned out the sun and moon.
Garnets also have roots in Greek mythology. Hades — the God of the Underworld — gave pomegranate seeds to Persephone — the goddess of sunshine — signifying an eternal connection between the two. Today, these gemstones continue to represent love and infinity.
Garnet is often called the “Gem of Faith” and for those who wear it and do good, more good will come. On the contrary, it’s said to also bring bad fortune to those who do wrong while wearing it.
A Garnet Stands Alone
At its core, the garnet is a rock-forming mineral. Although red garnets are the most common, garnets come in a range of colors. Some rare garnets are even colorless, or—most rare of all—change colors in different lighting.
Not only do garnets come in so many gorgeous colors, but they have unique properties that make them especially eye-catching. Some of them exhibit asterism, a star shaped pattern of reflections, and chatoyancy, a “cat’s-eye” pattern in reflected light. Due to garnet’s high level of dispersion, well-cut fashioned gems display an amazing amount of “fire”. “Fire” in gems refers to the rapidity changing flashes of colors when light passes through them, creating brilliance and luster. A garnet’s luster also varies, with some pieces shining like glass and others displaying an amber sheen.
It is a little-known fact that some garnets are magnetic, containing more paramagnetic iron concentrations than any other transparent gem. Their intense reflectivity and “magnetic” attraction make garnets unique among similar stones.
Where Are Garnets Found?
The first known garnet discovery was the necklace of an Egyptian mummy dating back to 3500 BC. Centuries later, miners began harvesting garnets from a Czechoslovakian area called “Bohemia.” The “Bohemian Garnet” is among the highest quality gemstones.
Today, garnets are mined worldwide. The red garnet is most abundant in India, while the rare Uvarovite is found in Africa and Russia. Madagascar is home to the unique Alexandrite — a garnet known to change colors.
Currently, India, China, Australia, and the US are the leading garnet producers. Unlike gemstones mined underground, garnets are typically found above ground near lakes and oceans.
Valuing the Garnet
Color, clarity, size, and shape primarily determine a garnet’s value. The green garnets Tsavorite and Demantoid are the rarest and the most expensive. As the hue commonly associated with the garnet, red is often the preferred color. Because the stone’s crystals are so irregular, each garnet’s value varies widely based on the quality of the piece and the gemstone itself.
A loose, unpolished garnet can cost as little as a few cents. However, the price increases substantially once the stone has been treated and cut. The most inexpensive Rhodolite garnet starts at around $40 per carat, while the classic Malaia garnet can reach $500.
Rare stones, like the Star Garnet, can command $1,500 per carat or more.
What Does the January Birthstone Symbolize?
Throughout time, garnets have represented love, luck, and prosperity. Their renowned healing powers are said to promote radiant skin and heart health as well as increase blood circulation.
The popular red garnet is also thought to inspire passion. The famed romantic conqueror Don Juan wore a garnet ring, as the stone is linked to heightened sexuality. On a deeper level, garnets are believed to enhance loyalty and commitment between couples.
Fashion Fit for a Queen
Relying on the garnet’s reputation for protection, royalty often wore them to ward off harm. Both Queen Victoria and Mary, Queen of Scots were well-known for their lavish, garnet-adorned clothing.
Modern wearers prize these gems for their versatility, proudly displaying them in dainty studded earrings and large dangling bracelets. Other popular styles include signet rings, cuff links, and hanging charm pendants dangling close to the heart. Whether it be a simple brooch honoring a child’s birth month or a scene-stealing necklace at a wedding, garnets make a fashion statement wherever they appear.
Caring for Your Garnet
Aristotle once said, “The garnet is a red gem, but not like the ruby … more like that of a flame. If correctly cut and polished, it will reveal all its beauty and perfection.”
As the philosopher suggests, garnets do require some care to protect their characteristic sparkle.
To remove minor imperfections, a professional can clean your piece or maintain your garnet’s luster yourself with warm water — because garnets are heat sensitive — a soft cloth or brush, and a trusted detergent. However, avoid harsh chemicals that can strip the gemstone’s layers and leave a pitted appearance.
So Much More Than Red
Garnets have long been a cornerstone of the jewelry industry. Their versatility and timeless beauty ensure their continued popularity for years to come. Far from being relegated to winter months, the January birthstone’s rich color spectrum, dazzling sheen, and timeless beauty make it truly one for any season.
If you are a January baby or someone you love celebrates their birthday in January, garnet is a one-of-a-kind gift. This gemstone is also an expression of lasting friendship and makes for a touching gift for someone who’s friendship is deeply valued. If you have a second wedding anniversary coming up – a garnet is also the gemstone for this occasion. Whatever the reason, make sure you contact the trusted team at Brinker’s Jewelers to help you through the process of selecting the perfect gemstone for your loved one.