It is the start of a new year but we are still facing many of the same challenges that we did in 2022 – Covid, the effects of Russia’s murderous invasion of Ukraine, and extreme weather events, with here in Australia at least, resulting in severe flooding and its aftermath in large parts of the country.  

Victorian bracelet with snake/fish? set with garnet cabochons

But let’s focus on the good things in our lives, good things like beautiful gemstones. January’s birthstone, the garnet, is one of the prettiest gemstone families. They come in a wide range of varieties and colours but the most well known colours are the reds to the pinks, the hue depending on the amount of iron or manganese in their composition. These are almandine garnets, pyropes, and rhodalites. The word garnet comes from the 14th‑century Middle English word gernet, meaning ‘dark red’ which in turn is derived from the Latin word granatus, from granum (‘grain, seed’), believed to be associated with the pomegranate which has red seeds.

Victorian gold and garnet foliate earrings

When used in antique jewellery, garnets, particularly the almandine garnet, were usually cut ‘en cabochon’, that is, in a domed shape with a flat or slightly concave bottom and polished but not faceted.  As well as being cut as a cabochon, the stones were usually foiled, with a small sliver of tinted copper (in the Georgian period), foil made from a leaf of tin (19th century) or aluminium foil (from 1910 onwards) set behind the stone or lining the setting. Foiling enhanced the colour and brilliance of the stone. Even when open settings became common for other gemstones in the 19th century, foiling of garnet cabochons continued throughout the century.

Victorian Bohemian garnet cluster ring

Bohemian garnet jewellery , from Bohemia (later part of Czechoslovokia), was another antique use of garnets, featuring the dark red pyrope garnet in pavé-set clusters of multi-faceted stones placed in clusters. The high point was the 19th century. The jewellery was mounted either in gold, often low grade, but also in silver gilt or metal. Typical designs used rose cut garnets clustered around a garnet cabochon in star shaped patterns or flowerheads, with the settings were usually closed at the back.

However the garnet is presented – cabochon, faceted cluster or as beads (like the bracelet at the top of the post), it is a beautiful stone.