Garnets are a beautiful gemstone family with a lovely range of colours from blood red, purplish red,pinkish red, dark orange, through to a vibrant green. It is the blood red garnet, the pyrope garnet, which is the focus of this post on Bohemian garnet jewellery.
Craftsmen in 19th century Bohemia (later part of Czechoslovokia) began to produce jewellery using pavé-set clusters of multi-faceted stones. This jewellery was mounted either in gold, often low grade, but also in silver gilt or metal. A typical design used rose cut garnets clustered around a garnet cabochon in star shaped patterns or flowerheads. They produced a range of pieces from drop earrings, brooches, pendants and necklaces. Some of the pieces were very elaborate. The settings were usually closed at the back.
Garnets from the region have been used in jewellery for centuries but the industry grew in the 16th century and the processing of the jewellery moved to the town of Turnov. New rivet technology enabled the binding of small stones into a compact face, which enhanced the utilization of smaller garnet stones. In 1896, M Bauer estimated that there were’3,000 men engaged in garnet-cutting, some hundreds of garnet-drillers, about 500 goldsmiths and silversmiths, and some 3,500 working jewellers. The collecting of garnets employs some 350 or 400 persons, so that, including the many persons whose work is indirectly connected with the industry, there must be between 9,000 and 10,000 persons gaining their livelihood by labour connected with the working of this precious stone ( Schliiter and Weitschat, 1991, 168)’. The introduction of larger scale manufacturing of garnet jewelry created mass-produced machine pressed metal settings and garnets of inferior quality. Production began to slow in the 20th century and an economic depression in the 1920s affected the industry. The two world wars led to instability in the region and the industry never recovered. Small amounts of Bohemian garnet jewellery are still being produced today in the Bohemian Hills district in Czechoslovokia.
J Schliiter and W Weitschat, ‘Bohemian Garnet – Today’, 1991 Gems & Gemology.