Seeing red: fiery garnets for January

January’s birthstone is never more appealing than in antique jewellery in Georgian and Victorian designs.

Betteridge Bohemian garnet snake bangle

Friendship, devotion, compassion - these are just some of the meanings associated with garnets - evoking the sentimentality and significance of January’s birthstone. Women born during this month might also engage in the belief of the Hindu culture that garnets are associated with the first chakra, or the root chakra, at the base of the spine, meaning healthy sexual activity and feelings of security and stability. 

The sometime fiery red pyrope garnet or more purplish deep majestic red almandine garnet is one that is imbued with many legends and has a long historical and storied past. It is also a stone that is available in almost every colour - from deep orange to vibrant green - in addition to the red variations. Could you really ask for more from a birthstone? Well if you want more, here are some historical tidbits for you.

In ancient Egypt, red garnet necklaces were worn by pharaohs and were entombed with their mummified bodies as prized possessions for the afterlife. In Rome, garnets were widely traded gemstones, and carved garnet signet rings were used to stamp the wax that sealed the contracts on important documents. In the Middle Ages, from about 475 to 1450 AD, red garnets were favoured by nobility and the clergy. And garnets have long been thought of as a traveller’s stone - Noah's Ark is said to have had a garnet lantern to help navigate during the night. 

Betteridge Bohemian garnet snake bangle, pavé set with graduated rose-cut garnets with a delicate seed pearl ornamentation on the head, mounted in silver vermeil, circa 1875-80.

Speaking of garnets as an historical gem, large deposits of red garnet were discovered in Bohemia in Central Europe around the 16th century, which would became the main focus of jewellery in the 18th and 19th centuries. Bohemian garnet from the Czech Republic continues to be mined today.

In the Georgian period, garnets were one of the most desirable gemstones - what could easily be referred to as the jewels du jour as they were affordable and complemented almost every complexion. These garnets were flat cut and enhanced by backing them with tinted metal foil in a closed-back setting. The favoured styles were parures of foliate and naturalistic motifs with necklaces that split into two bracelets, removable pendants, hair ornaments, and day to night earrings, which offered almost an entire jewellery wardrobe. Motifs such as Maltese Crosses, pansies, witches’ hearts, and portrait and memorial lockets with flat-cut round garnet surrounds were the most popular of the day, first set into silver in the early 1700s and then later into gold. 

Sandra Cronan Georgian garnet pendant in silver-topped gold. 

Although garnets fell out of favour around 1820, they witnessed a revival in 1880 during Victorian times. Many garnets of the era were rose cut, which were set into low carat gold. There was also a trend towards the traditional handcrafted Bohemian design, which was designed in gilt metal and showed great beauty in a cluster-type arrangement such as the Sun and the Moon, horseshoes, and floral motifs. These tended to show more stone than metal. The brilliant sparkle of Bohemian garnets is due to their transparency and high refraction of light. 

So, if you January girls want devotion and friendship all year round, then why not try a piece of Georgian or Victorian antique jewellery to light up the room and add some fire to your life.

Read more about garnet jewellery here

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