January's Birthstone

     Birthstones are special stones associated with each month of the year.  They have long been 
popular as jewelry, but they also have a place in history,  mythology, and science. What exactly is a gemstone? It might help to explain the differences between rock, mineral and gemstones.

     Minerals are naturally occurring, inorganic (not alive) substance whose atoms are arranged in 
a regular, crystalline pattern. A rock is made up of one or more minerals. Gems are a subgroup of minerals, usually clearer, more rare and attractive. Precious gems are the most rare and desirable gems such as diamonds, emeralds, rubies and pearls.

    The first association of specific gems with each month was recorded in the Bible.  Moses was 
supposedly instructed to create a breastplate for the High Priest of the Hebrews in 1250 BC. Embedded in it were twelve gems, each associated with a sign of the zodiac. These stones were later associated with months of the year.

    Today we associate one or more gemstones with each month. Over time, much lore has come to surround these stones. For the next year we will take a close look at the gems associated with that month

    January's birthstone is the garnet. It is often mistakenly thought that all garnet stones are red. 

Red garnets are the most common, but in fact, garnet comes in a wide variety of colours ranging from black, green, clear  and numerous shades of red.  The variety of colours is due to metal impurities such as iron, aluminum and manganese. A few garnets look as if they have a star in their center. This look is produced when tiny fibers of the metal impurities form within the piece of garnet.

    Green garnets are the most rare and therefore highly prized. Emerald green and colorless garnet are next rarest, followed by pure red garnets.

The name "garnet" is derived from the Latin "granatum" meaning pomegranate" because the 

crystals resemble the red color and seed-like form of this fruit.

    Use of garnet goes back very far. Garnet necklaces were found in the graves of wealthy Bronze age Czechoslovakians. Even older is garnet jewelry from Egypt and Sumeria dating as far back as 3100 BC. Garnet jewelry was intensely popular during third and fourth century Rome.

Medieval warriors also believed that garnet protected them against wounds, but they also believed that garnet brought victory!

    Chinese and Japanese warriors made bullets out of garnet because they believed that these would inflict more damage on their intended victims. As recent as 1892, during skirmishes in Kashmir, Hanza warriors fired garnet bullets at British soldiers!

     Garnet was not only favored for its beauty, but also for the powers it was believed to have. Many Native American tribes used garnet in jewelry and to decorate shields, dreamcatchers and many other things. But their uses went much deeper than decoration. It was believed that garnet 
had strong medicinal powers. Garnet was thought to protect its wearer against poisons and wounds. It was also believed by some to help cure depression and to prevent nightmares. Red garnets in particular was believed to break a fever, stop bleeding and to reduce inflammation.

    Today, garnet is prized for its beauty rather than its magical powers. Some attributes are still associated with this gemstone however. Garnet is said to symbolize happiness as well as deep and enduring love and friendships.
  Garnets are not all that difficult to  find if you know what you are looking for, though gem quality garnets are more rare. They can be found in many places around the world including the US, South America, Australia, India, Asia and Spain. Most often garnet can be found in small rocks in streams where the surrounding rock has been eroded away.


Copyright © 2001 Kathy A. Miles and Charles F. Peters II