Birthstones for January and February
Birthstones are associated with every month of the calendar year and have origins in history as well as mythology. As recorded in the Bible, the breastplate of the High Priest of the Hebrews contained twelve gemstones representing the twelve tribes of Israel that was linked to zodiac signs and later with the months in a year.
Astrologers attribute gemstones with supernatural, healing powers. For instance, in Poland people would own all twelve gemstones and sport the gemstone of the month believing that its power would peak during that specific period. This practice proved expensive and eventually everyone just wore the gemstone assigned to his or her birth month.
Birthstone lists varied from one culture to another before being standardised by Jewelers of America (JA) in 1912. Since then, there have been minor changes in the list, with the most recent change included in October 2002, where tanzanite was added as the December birthstone.
In the first of this six-part series, ADORN features birthstones for the first two months of the year. Garnet, the birthstone for January, comes in a variety of hues and is believed to make the wearer calm. Because of its curative powers, garnet was also a favourite stone of travellers to keep them safe from harm’s way. Soldiers wore the stone for protection on the battlefield. Garnet is also considered as the anniversary gemstone to celebrate the second year of marriage.
Amethyst, the birthstone for February, is associated with power and royalty. It is believed that amethyst helps one control addictions. In ancient times, the Greeks would serve wine in amethyst goblets to prevent excessive drinking. Read about these brightly hued gemstones and their associated traits.
Garnets Offer Striking Options For Coloured Gem Lovers
Did You Know?
Garnets come in a rich palette of colours: greens, oranges, yellow, purple and purplish reds. Red garnet is one of the most common and widespread gems available, while other colour garnets are not so abundant. There are more than 20 garnet categories, called species. Garnets include affordable dark red varieties, rare and valuable greens, and many colours in between. The degree of rarity of each of these garnets has a direct impact on their relative values.
Thousands of years ago, red garnet necklaces adorned the necks of Egyptian pharaohs, and were entombed with their mummified corpses as prized possessions for the afterlife. In ancient Rome, signet rings with carved garnets were used to stamp the wax that secured important documents.
The garnet species rhodolite was first discovered in the US state of North Carolina. East Africa, and Tanzania in particular, has been the most important source of rhodolite in recent years. Other significant sources include Sri Lanka, Orissa in India and Madagascar. Rhodolite is the most valuable of the red garnets. At its best, it’s a lovely and vibrant purplish red that has done much to bring red garnets back into fashion.
Pyrope and Almandite
Pyrope and almandite appear in a range of orange-red to slightly purplish red to strongly reddish purple hues. Dark red garnets abound in mass-produced jewellery. These mixtures of pyrope and almandite are usually a dark-toned, brownish orange to brownish red to purplish red hue, with low saturation.
Most tsavorite garnets come from the East African countries of Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar, with some minor sources in Pakistan. Tsavorite’s vibrant green comes in a range of hues. Gem dealers place the highest value on vivid, strongly saturated bluish green to green gems of medium to medium-dark tones. Tsavorite can be used as a less-expensive alternative to emerald because it’s more consistent in colour, more brilliant and easier to match. Large tsavorites – from 2-3 carats and more – are sold as beautiful gems in their own right, not just as emerald alternatives.
Demantoid is a rare and beautiful gem. Like tsavorites, high-quality, vivid green demantoids can rival emeralds in price. Demantoid is found in Russia, Central Namibia, Iran, Italy, Greece and Mexico. Demantoid hues range from a yellowish or brownish green hue to a very rare, intense green that’s similar to that of fine emerald. Gem dealers consider the best colour to be a moderately strong to strongly saturated green of medium to medium-dark tone. Greenish yellow, yellowish green and brownish stones are still attractive due to the gem’s high lustre and dispersion. Prices for demantoid are high because supplies are inconsistent.
Spessartite was once a rare garnet known mostly to collectors. Until recently, most spessartite sources were inconsistent, but new deposits in Madagascar, Namibia, Zambia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Brazil and especially Nigeria, have helped increase the supply of this attractive garnet.
Spessartite can range in colour from a pale yellowish orange to bright orange to a dark orangey red. The most favoured colour is a vivid “aurora red,” which is a highly saturated, slightly reddish orange hue with medium to medium-dark tones. Although new finds have made spessartite much more available, large, fine-quality stones above five carats remain rare. As a result, prices for large, good-quality stones are high.
Colour-change garnets from Africa and Sri Lanka are strong reddish purple to purple under one light source and green, or even green-blue, under another. A small market of collectors seeks these rare, unusual garnets to sell at a premium. Star garnets are not as rare as colour-change stones. usually almandite or rhodolite, star garnets are filled with rutile silk needles that cause asterism. Star garnets are found in India, Sri Lanka, and the US state of Idaho. Demantoid garnet is one of the few gems where the presence of certain distinctive inclusions can a positive influence on value particularly the presence of “Horsetails,” which resemble fine silky strands that radiate out – often from a small central inclusion – like the tail of a horse, or a comet. They are not found in other green stones and not all demantoid garnets show them.
How to Care for Garnet
Garnet ranges from 6.5 to 7.5 on the mohs scale of mineral hardness. Demantoid garnet is the softest of the varieties and is better suited for round and oval-cut gems which are best worn in pins, pendants or earrings. As with most gemstones, a soft moistened cloth, or a soft bristle toothbrush can be used with mild, non-abrasive soap and water to clean garnet.
Amethyst: The Beauty of the Colour Purple
Did You Know?
Amethyst is the purple variety of the quartz mineral species. It’s the gem that’s most commonly associated with the colour purple, even though there are other purple gems such as sapphire and tanzanite. Russia was the major amethyst source until the 19th century when a huge amethyst deposit in Brazil came to light and the once-scarce purple gem suddenly became plentiful. Although amethyst never lost its following, its newfound abundance robbed it of the aura of rarity it had enjoyed until then. Its availability and affordability make it desirable for mass-market jewellery and custom designer pieces alike.
Today, African mines provide most of the fine-colour amethyst on the market. Zambia, in particular, has a reputation for producing superb rough with richly saturated colour.
Industry sources estimate that more than 75% of all commercial-quality amethysts on the market come from South America. Brazil is the continent’s major source of commercial-quality amethyst. Brazilian amethyst rough is often larger in size but paler in colour than amethyst from other sources.
Other mining sources include Canada, India, Madagascar, Mexico, Myanmar, Namibia, Sri Lanka and Tanzania. Amethyst cutting and marketing centres include Germany, Thailand, China and India. The German city of Idar-Oberstein tends to focus on high-end amethyst, while India and Thailand cut commercial-quality goods. The expansion of India’s coloured stone industry in the late 1990s, plus the wide availability of commercial-quality amethyst rough, fuelled intense competition between cutting centres. This led to a flood of faceted amethysts in calibrated sizes, which triggered a decline in their prices.
Amethyst’s bold purple colour made it the most prized variety of quartz for centuries. The ancient Greeks thought it had magical and medicinal properties and Roman pontiffs wore rings set with huge purple amethysts. And, in those early times, amethyst was quite rare – it was once considered an equal to ruby, emerald and sapphire – which made it a favourite among royals of many countries including the United Kingdom, where it featured prominently in royal regalia.
Amethyst’s purple colour can range from a light lilac to a deep, intense royal purple, and from brownish to vivid. Tone can be very light to very dark. Amethyst also commonly shows what is called colour zoning, which usually consists of angular zones of darker to lighter colour. The finest amethyst colour is a strong reddish purple or purple, with no visible colour zoning. Dealers prefer strongly saturated gems of medium dark to dark reddish purple or purple, as long as the dark tones don’t reduce brilliance. If its tone is too dark, an amethyst might look black under dim lighting conditions.
Almost all faceted amethyst in the market is eye-clean, which means the inclusions are not visible without a microscope or loupe. any visibly included material is usually cut into cabochons. Heat treatment is the most common technique for improving the colour and marketability of natural amethyst. It can’t make pale amethyst darker, but it can lighten the colour of very dark amethyst and make it more attractive. Heating also removes undesirable brownish hues.
synthetic amethyst exists, but is only identifiable by a trained gemmologist or in a gemmological laboratory, such as GIA (Gemological Institute of America). It is unethical for a jeweller to sell synthetic amethyst without disclosing it to the buyer. A bi-coloured variety of amethyst – amethyst (purple) and citrine (yellow) – is known as ametrine and only comes from Bolivia.
How to Care for Amethyst
Amethyst is fairly resilient – a 7 on the mohs scale of hardness – and can be worn quite a lot. Be careful not to knock the gem when wearing as small fissures or cracks may develop, especially along facet junctions. Some amethysts may lighten in tone over time upon prolonged exposure to bright light. Amethyst can be cleaned with warm, sudsy water or a damp cloth.