January’s Birthstone: The Glittering Garnet

Garnet is January's birthstone. This image of garnets from gia.edu shows the many hues of garnets
Garnet Image Courtesy of GIA.edu.

Garnet, January’s birthstone, enjoyed a boost in popularity last year when the Pantone Color Institute named Marsala the 2015 Color of the Year. The wine-red color that garnet is best known for was a major fashion statement throughout the Fall 2015 and Spring 2016 runway collections, and the trend shows no signs of letting up.

But January’s birthstone comes in many colors, including orange, yellow, green, purple, brown, blue, black, and pink — with reddish shades being most common. Let’s take a look at some glittering garnet jewelry styles and learn a little more about this popular mineral.

Antique Cabochon Garnet Bracelet
Antique Cabochon Garnet Bracelet. Photo Courtesy of 1stDibs.com

Thousands of Years of Garnet Jewelry

People have been making jewelry out of garnet since the time of the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. It derives its name from the Latin word “granatum,” meaning seed, which some say refers to the garnet’s similarity to the seeds of the red pomegranate.

Found on every continent, garnet has been popular in jewelry design throughout the ages, including the Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco eras. Red garnet reached its peak of popularity during the Victorian period, and today many websites specialize in vintage styles from the time of Queen Victoria’s reign.

Modern-day jewelry designers mix garnet with different color metals and precious and semi-precious stones to create striking pieces at every price point. Click here to see a collection of new garnet jewelry curated by our friends at National Jeweler

The Subway Garnet. Large Photo Courtesy of NYTimes.com. (Inset: Subway Garnet Postage Stamp)
The Subway Garnet. Large Photo Courtesy of NYTimes.com.
(Inset: Subway Garnet Postage Stamp)

The Story of the World’s Biggest Garnet

In 1885, during red garnet’s heyday, the New York City press erupted over the discovery of the “Subway Garnet,” found underground at West 35th Street between Broadway and 7th Avenue. Also called the Kunz Garnet, the Subway Garnet is the size of a bowling ball and weighs about 10 pounds with a diameter of roughly 15 inches. The New York Times reported that the Subway Garnet was the “city’s most spectacular mineral specimen,” but at the time it was actually the largest mineral in the world.

When the Department of Public Works acquired the Subway Garnet, they didn’t quite know what to do with it: for many years it served as a doorstop in the department office! Eventually, a savvy dealer recognized the quality of the unique mineral and purchased it on behalf of the New York Mineralogical Club.

The Subway Garnet is in fact a misnomer: it was found during a routine sewer excavation and not during subway construction. Urban legend has it that the New York Mineralogical Club thought “subway” sounded more upscale than “sewer.” While this is debatable, the world’s biggest garnet now resides in the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

To learn more about garnets and garnet jewelry, visit www.gia.edu

Happy Birthday to all you OBJ readers who are celebrating in January!

Sources: UntappedCities.com; The New York Times, Gemological Institute of America

Click here to learn how to clean and care for your garnet jewelry.

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