Ideas regarding birthstones were further developed in Biblical times. The Book of Exodus chronicles God's instructions for making the High Priest's vestments, which included a plaque called the Breastplate of Judgement set with twelve gems. Each gem was engraved with the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. For example, garnet was attributed to the tribe of Levi. In the first century AD, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus traced the connection between stones of the Breastplate, months of the year and the twelve signs of the zodiac.
There have been many lists for birthstones through time, but their roots and sources have become obscure. The tradition of attaching personal meaning to specific stones, however, is still very strong. As such, the modern list of birthstones was adopted in the early 1950's by US jewelry organizations. In addition to birthstones for months, there are also traditional lists for the hours, four seasons and days of the week, as well as astral and zodiacal signs.
Garnet is January's birthstone. In ancient times garnets were thought to stop bleeding, cure inflammatory diseases, promote sincerity and cure anger. Some Asiatic and North American tribes used red garnets as bullets, believing that it would seek blood and inflict deadlier wounds. In Christian tradition, garnet symbolizes Christ's sacrifice. Other traditions believed that a garnet-bearing traveler was guarded from danger, but a loss of the gemstone's luster signaled impending doom!
Garnet is actually a family of minerals, distinguished by differences in chemical composition. Nearly all garnets contain aluminum, silicon and oxygen. They are discerned from each other, however, by the presence of various elements such as magnesium, iron, manganese, calcium and chromium. Most folk think that garnet only occurs as a red gemstone, but it has a multitude of colors including red, green, black, brown, yellow, pink, orange, violet, white and colorless. About the only color not represented is blue.
Due to the wide variability in colors, garnets have been mistaken for other gemstones such as rubies, emeralds, jade and topaz. One variety of green garnet, called tsavorite, has often been mistaken for fine emeralds. At a fraction of the cost, however, it is clearer, more brilliant and more durable than an emerald.
Many also believe that garnets are inexpensive. While some of the more common garnets cost less than $20 per carat, other varieties can cost over several thousand dollars per carat. Tsavorite, mentioned above, commonly commands prices near $500 per carat.
Geologically, garnets are associated with a type of rock called metamorphic rocks. These are rocks that have been altered without melting through exposure to elevated temperatures and/or pressures. In Grant County garnets can be found near Hanover and Fierro. Most of these are relatively small (about the size of a BB), and none are gem quality. However, they are neat to look at and admire.
In two weeks we are off to the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show. Look back for updates on our finds this year!