"... to resist melancholy and poison, stop the spitting of blood and dissolve tartar in the body" -(William Rowland, Physician, on a special medicine prepared from Garnets, 1669)
Many chemical forms of garnet exist, but at the present time only six are recognized as being, these are: pyrope, almandine, spessartine, grossular, andradite and unarovite. Garnet shapes belong to the cubic system and are usually found as rhombic dodecahedra (with 12 lozenge-shaped faces) or icositetrahedra (24 trapezium-shaped faces) or a combination of these, depending on the chemical composition of the stone.
Garnet is the stone associated with birth and the month of January. It is also noted for its toughness. When garnets are cut en cabochon, that is, flat on the bottom, they are called carbuncles. Large crystals of garnet have been uncovered when mining for various other minerals, while they are also found in river-bed potholes containing alluvial deposits, inside potholes in flash flood courses, and buried in dry river beds.
Colour varieties occur in all kinds of different shades, ranging from color-less to red; violent to orange; yellow to green; and brown to black, although the majority of the people think of garnets as being red.
During the early days of digging for diamonds in South Africa, miners sold the red garnets that they found as "Cape Rubies". Color variation in garnet is determined by elements that enter the crystal lattice by a natural process during the time in which the crystal is forming.
Beautiful, fiery red pyrope garnets recovered from the ancient mines of Bohemia are often seen set in antique jewelry, while almandine garnet has an attractive red-purple hue, depending on its iron content.
Spessartite garnets range from yellow to brown and orange to flame red. The massive green variety, which may contain up to five per cent water, is called hydro-grossular garnet and can be as large as a boulder, or even as a hill. This is also called Transvaal Jade, although it resembles jade only in color. Beads and figurines are frequently carved from hydro-grossular garnet, and lately this material has been found in pink to rose-red colorations. Despite being found in such a wide variety of colors there is, strangely, just one color that never graces a garnet: blue.
Since earliest time, gems have been valued as talismans that will keep their wearers safe from harm, which is why children in parts of Greece still carry garnet talismans to guard them against drowning. In particular, warriors and soldiers from all over the world have placed their destinies in the hands of garnet stones, trusting that they will not only guard against injury and death and bring victory, but that they will also guarantee the peace and tranquility needed to enjoy it.
Legendary belief in this talisman of war prompted many Crusaders to carry a red garnet somewhere about their person, and their jewelers were instructed to set the stone into signet rings, belt buckles, sword hilts and shields. In common with many other red stones, garnet was also believed to have a magical power that staunched the flow of blood, and so surgeons would place the stone on or near serious wounds and hemorrhages. Even today, fighting men from the Middle East and Asia are more than likely to carry a talisman of red garnet into battle.
Linked with the ancient belief that garnet is able to staunch blood-flow, is a superstition that it also has the power to inflict mortal wounds. During a rebellion of Indian nationalists, in 1892, British troops were ambushed and fired on by Hanza tribesmen concealed in well-positioned hiding places along the borders of Kashmir. Interspersed with the volleys of lead balls from the Hanza's ancient, muzzle-loading guns were ball-shaped garnets, which caused many serious and often fatal wounds to the British "Red Coats".
According to the eminent William Rowland esq., doctor of Physic during the 1600s, medicine prepared from a "magistery" of red garnet was prescribed by him to stimulate the heart, reduce its palpitations, improve blood flow, remove toxins and throw off melancholy. Rowland recorded that his own particular magistery was prepared by heating garnets to red heat, then quenching and dissolving the heated stones in Spirits of Salts. This saturated solution was eventually precipitated with oil of tartar and the precipitation incorporated into the cream that he used as a base for his medicaments.
Rowland is also reported as saying the garnets were "vulgarly thought to have the same virtues when hung about the neck". In past centuries, many other physicians advised their patients to wear a red garnet as a heart stimulant, but they also gave a strong warning that the patient must remain tranquil "lest the stone aroused anger or a passion which would be of a sufficient intensity as to cause apoplexy". Physicians recommending the wearing of garnet jewelry as a cure for melancholia also gave a warning that the sadness would be exchanged for insomnia.
Skyscrapers built on New York's Manhattan island have deep foundations driven into the island's bedrock, which contains a vast amount of garnet. Great pressure exerted by the mass of the island has caused the garnet to be reconstituted or reformed as small and often misshapen stones. Most of which are not of gem quality.
The ancients always carved any deep red garnet "En cabochon", with its base slightly concave. A stone shaped in this way was - and still is - called a carbuncle. A carbuncle is even mentioned in the bible (exodus XXVIII, 15-20), and is described as being set in the breastplate of judgment worn by a high priest.
According to some records, a large garnet carbuncle was set upon a pedestal in the center of Noah's Ark. Legend describes a bright light that poured from the carbuncle, causing the whole of the ship to be illuminated by day as well as by night.
Early Spanish astrologers showed garnet on their charts as representing the Sun, while the Koran teaches its adherents that a carbuncle illuminates the fourth heaven.
Given as a gift, garnet is said to confer upon its new owner the dual gifts of loyalty and constant affection, but warnings have always been given to those who own and wear garnet. It is said that, when the stones begins to lose its luster, this is the herald of imminent danger and disaster. Folklore also has it that, for the business man, garnet of any color encourages success.