Garnets have been valued by humankind for over 5000 years. In ancient times garnets were often referred to using the term carbuncle, which derives its origins from old North French and can be roughly translated to mean fiery jewel. Of course, in modern times the term carbuncle has taken on an altogether less majestic meaning, being used as it so often is as a medical term to describe an angry abscess or boil because of the fiery, red quality exhibited by such skin conditions and infections. Before that though, carbuncle was a word used to describe any precious or valued red gem stones, and the word used to describe one of the precious stones gifted to King Solomon by God, himself the garnet.
Garnets and the Ancient Egyptians
Garnets were first worn, that we know of, by man as part of jewellery pieces when the ancient Egyptian Empire existed, from approximately 3100BC. The vivid, red garnet necklaces which would have adorned the necks of Egyptian Pharaohs have been in recent years discovered in tombs alongside their mummified bodies. Garnets are understood to have been placed within tombs as prized possessions to carry into the afterlife.
The Garnets Stamp on the Roman Empire
By the point at which the Roman Empire had formed and stretched as it did over two million square millions from the Rhine River and Egypt all the way to Britain and beyond, reaching Asia Mino, some three thousand years later, garnets too had travelled with them. The Romans did not just use garnets in jewellery making but put the stone to use, setting carved garnets into signet rings which were used to stamp the wax that sealed important documents, ensuring they reached their intended addressees. Hence, garnets played an important role within the Roman Empire and became, during Roman scholar Plinys lifetime (23 to 79 AD) one of the most widely traded stones.
Garnets against the Plague
The popularity of garnets, which endured long into the Middle Ages was most notable in that during this period clergy and nobility adopted the stone. Hence, the garnet came to represent both wealth and simultaneously within the Church between approximately 475 and 1450, a Christian symbol representing the blood of Christ. Because of the red garnets religious symbolism many at the time considered it as a powerful aid, capable of warding off or remedying the plague, which swept Europe and spread throughout the world during the Middle Ages. Garnets, as used by the church, were further said to confer fidelity and constancy to their rightful wearers, while capable of causing discord to those who were understood as having no birth right to the stone.
Garnet, the January Stone
Birth right referred to inheritance and did not relate, at the time, to the right of those born in the month of January the month which the red garnet in modern lore is said to represent. Despite this, the powers attributed to both those rightful owners of garnets during the Middle Ages and those born in January are very much the same; wearers of red garnet, it is supposed, are said to be endowed with the powers to anticipate oncoming danger. Because of the colour changing properties afforded to some type of garnet, certain garnets can vary wildly in the colour they appear, depending on environmental factors such as light. Whilst in 2015 we understand how and why this happens, garnet lore has it that garnets can change colour dramatically from red to, most commonly, blue or green to alert its wearer of approaching trouble.
The Bohemian Garnet
The Discovery of the Bohemian Garnet deposits in Central Europe occurred during the 16th century. The garnets discovered in Central Europe derive their name from having been discovered in the Czechoslovakias Bohemian Hills region. Before the Bohemian garnet began being mined, locals already knew of its existence in the region. Consequently, locals would commonly collect garnets from the surface following heavy rainfall and take them to farmers who world cut the stones in the winter months to supplement their own incomes.
The Garnet Today
Today, Bohemian garnets are among the most prized and valued examples of the stone. Up until the 19th century when the industry peaked in productivity, almost all jewellery created in Europe and featuring garnets was done so using only Bohemian garnets. They are still mined today in the Bohemian Hills, though the mines having been long considered exhausted, mining happens now on a far smaller scale.