Garnet — Birthstone of January

This stone is not just one gem, but an entire family of gems found in almost every part of the world and available in every color except blue. As a birthstone, the Garnet stands for constancy, true friendship, and fidelity, a fact that makes the Garnet an especially appropriate gift for one’s family or friends.

Best known among the members of the Garnet family are the deep red varieties, Pyrope and Almandite. Pyrope, which derives its name from the Greek word meaning “fire-like,” lends itself especially well to massed effects. It is seen most often in the elaborate designs popular during the Victorian era. It was the Pyrope Garnet also that figured in the ancient Talmudic legend that held that the only light in Noah’s Ark was supplied by an enormous red Garnet. The connection with fire remained strong with the Romans, too. It was they who coined the name “Carbuncle,” meaning fiery gem, by which red Garnet was known until very recently. Long before that the sages in India identified red Garnet with the sun, the chief astrological influence on men’s lives.

Many persons rank as their favorite Garnet the green Demantoid, so called because it possesses more dispersion than that of a diamond (Dutch “demant,” meaning diamond-like) — the rarest and most expensive of all Garnets. Many pieces of Victorian jewelry made between 1885 and 1915 featured Demantoid.

The Hessonite, known as “the cinnamon stone of Ceylon” (Sri Lanka), is a handsome stone found in shades of golden orange and cinnamon brown. A cameo of this stone depicting the head of Christ is in the gem collection of the American Museum of Natural History.

A violet shade of Garnet, known now as Rhodolite, came into particular vogue in Greece during the period between the reign of Alexander and the conquest of Rome. It happened to have been newly imported into the country soon after Alexander had popularized the cutting of cameos from various precious stones. Gem cutters immediately took to this gem because a Garnet could be cameo-cut with relative ease and the public admired the attractive purplish color. The term “Rhodolite” dates from 1898 when it was first proposed as a descriptive term for some newly discovered, rhododendron-color garnets found in North Carolina (hence the name “Rhodolite”).

Being quite hard and tough, Garnet is a very practical stone and therefore makes an excellent gemstone for ring wear.

There are other Garnets, called Malaya and Spessartite, but they remain as stones mostly sought by collectors.

Cos Altobelli is a third generation jeweler and president of Altobelli Jewelers in Burbank, previously located in North Hollywood for 60 years. His specialty is appraising for all functions and acting as an expert witness.

He holds a graduate degree from the Gemological Institute of America and the title of Certified Gemologist Appraiser from the American Gem Society, is the author of three appraisal books, and has appeared on “Prime Time Live” several times.

Mr. Altobelli can be reached at (818) 763-5151.

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