Isadoras antique jewelry

Monthly Archives: January 2011

  • Garnets: January's Birthstone

    As we enter the New Year, I am excited to discuss January's birthstone, the fantastic garnet.

    I think I first fell in love with Garnets upon a viewing of Scorsese’s film version of “The Age of Innocence”. One of the characters, the Countess Olenska sits inscrutable and lovely and European and exotic in an opera box dressed all in red. Beautiful garnets sparkle from her neck, ears and wrists. It is such a beautiful image and the garnets are so stunning, this image has lingered with me, long past the moment of first viewing.

    I’ve since learned more about garnets although I always think of that screen picture when I think of this lovely stone.

    Garnets come in all different colors of the rainbow although the red is most typical. However it can also be found in pink, purple, orange, yellow, violet, green, colorless and occasionally black. Isadora’s is very fortunate to have a stunning collection of red garnets as well as one early 18th century ring with black garnets currently.

    The name garnet has been attributed to the Middle English word “gernet” meaning “dark red” as well as the Latin word “granatus” meaning grain. It is also said that the word garnet is possibly a reference to the word “punica granatum” meaning pomegranate. I have to admit I love this last interpretation best. The pomegranate has always seemed a very lush and picturesque fruit to me. And in the image of the ripe bursting seeds of a pomegranate I can see the beauty of the cluster garnet necklaces of the late Victorian era.


    I have also learned a little more about both the lore and fact of early garnet usage. It was said that Noah steered the ark through the night during the flood using a garnet lantern. And garnet was considered a talisman for travelers. Part of this probably comes from the fact that, like diamonds, garnets have a very high refraction, which causes the stone, when faceted to have an exquisite sparkle.

    Garnets were used in the Bronze Age as gemstones. There is evidence that ancient Egyptians used garnets as beads and bracelets as early as 3100 BC. And in Greece between the reign of Alexander the Great and the conquest of Rome, garnets were used to make cameos.

    I am still most familiar with the Victorian era of garnets when, like the Countess Olenska in The Age of Innocence, the aristocracy wore necklaces, bracelets, earrings and necklaces composed of large number of small faceted garnet stones set close together to create exquisite, sparkling red jewelry. It is still easier to see one of these pieces in person although with each passing year they become rarer.

    And one of the fun facts I learned, is that a garnet is quite hard, a 7 – 7.5 on the Moh’s scale. Rumor has it that Asiatic tribes many years ago used garnets instead of bullets

    That is all I have to say about garnets for now, but I am excited about all the new facts I will learn about garnets in the future and the old pieces I will see although I will always carry the image from “The Age of Innocence” with me.



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