Anyone who has ever been into my store and looked at my custom work knows I’m a fan of colored gemstones. I especially like warm tones. Carnelian, rubellite, coral, citrine: I love working with those colors. One of my favorites is spessartite garnet. You’d be hard-pressed to find another orange in the whole gem world that blazes like spessartite. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, you recognize it by its trade name, “mandarin garnet,” which it earned because of its exemplary orange.
Spessartite is great for all kinds of jewelry. It’s usually transparent and fairly clean, and its lively color demands attention. It’s eye-catching as earrings. It’s bright enough to stand up as the center stone in a pendant against diamonds. Spessartite is more brilliant than either sapphire or spinel, which are its primary color alternatives amongst jewelry gemstones. While not as hard as either of those gems, it’s still hard and tough enough to go in a ring you want to wear every day.
Spessartite is one of the six species of garnet. Like most garnets, spessartite is often found chemically mixed with other species of garnet. These often have a reddish or yellowish tint to their orange. While a specimen of 100% pure spessartite formula has yet to be found, high-purity spessartite is orange like an orange is orange.
Spessartite was discovered in Bavaria in 1832 and named after the Spessart Mountains. So it’s been known for a while, but it was only ever a novelty. I’ve found the finest colors are featured in stones from sources in California. A few mines in Virginia used to regularly produce exceptional material, as well, but they have been tapped for a few decades. Luckily, spessartite from Virginia still pops up every once in a while.
It was the discovery of fine spessartite in Namibia in 1991 that put it on the public’s radar and produced enough rough material to meet the sudden explosion of demand. Another find in Nigeria within the following decade produced even more incredibly vibrant material. Spessartite from Namibia and Nigeria looks like smoldering embers to me, which embodies the old name for garnet: “carbuncle” – which means “a live coal.” The richness and purity of that orange is just phenomenal.
I’ve used spessartite in a few different forms in my custom work. It is suited for cabochon, which I’ve used in my Roma Collection. It is also suitable for faceting, which makes the most of its great optical properties. That is how I usually incorporate it. But over the years, I’ve come across several examples of fantasy-cut spessartite. These have been carved into custom shapes and fanciful designs. I’ve used such stones as center pieces in some of my most contemporary styles, or as the perfect accent in a bold statement piece.
If you’re a January birthday, and you’ve always thought garnets were just boring rusty red, I have a bunch of beautiful things that will change your mind. I’ll start with showing you some spessartite.