The garnet group includes a group of minerals that have been used since the Bronze Age as gemstones and abrasives. Garnets are most often seen in red, but are available in a wide variety of colors spanning the entire spectrum. The name "garnet" comes from the Latin granatus ("grain"), possibly a reference to the Punica granatum ("pomegranate"), a plant with red seeds similar in shape, size, and color to some garnet crystals.
Six common species of garnet are recognized based on their chemical composition. They are pyrope, almandine, spessartite, grossular (varieties of which are hessonite or cinnamon-stone and tsavorite), uvarovite and andradite. The garnets make up two solid solution series; 1. pyrope-almandine-spessarite and 2. uvarovite-grossular-andradite.
Garnet species’s light transmission properties can range from the gemstone-quality transparent specimens to the opaque varieties used for industrial purposes as abrasives. The mineral’s luster is categorized as vitreous (glass-like) or resinous (amber-like).
Garnets are nesosilicates having the general formula X3Y2(SiO4)3. The X site is usually occupied by divalent cations (Ca2+, Mg2+, Fe2+) and the Y site by trivalent cations (Al3+, Fe3+, Cr3+) in an octahedral/tetrahedral framework with [SiO4]4− providing the tetrahedra. Garnets are most often found in the dodecahedral crystal habit, but are also commonly found in the trapezohedron habit. (Note: the word "trapezohedron" as used here and in most mineral texts refers to the shape called a Deltoidal icositetrahedron in solid geometry.) They crystallize in the cubic system, having three axes that are all of equal length and perpendicular to each other. Garnets do not show cleavage, so when they fracture under stress, sharp irregular pieces are formed.
Almandine, sometimes incorrectly called almandite, is the modern gem known as carbuncle (though originally almost any red gemstone was known by this name). The term "carbuncle" is derived from the Latin meaning "live coal" or burning charcoal. The name Almandine is a corruption of Alabanda, a region in Asia Minor where these stones were cut in ancient times. Chemically, almandine is an iron-aluminium garnet with the formula Fe3Al2(SiO4)3; the deep red transparent stones are often called precious garnet and are used as gemstones (being the most common of the gem garnets). Almandine occurs in metamorphic rocks like mica schists, associated with minerals such as staurolite, kyanite, andalusite, and others. Almandine has nicknames of Oriental garnet, almandine ruby, and carbuncle.
A variety of pyrope from Macon County, North Carolina is a violet-red shade and has been called rhodolite, from the Greek meaning "a rose." In chemical composition it may be considered as essentially an isomorphous mixture of pyrope and almandite, in the proportion of two parts pyrope to one part almandite. Pyrope has tradenames some of which are misnomers; Cape ruby, Arizona ruby, California ruby, Rocky Mountain ruby, and Bohemian garnet from the Czech Republic. Another intriguing find is the blue color-changing garnets from Madagascar, a pyrope spessartine mix. The color of these blue garnets is not like sapphire blue in subdued daylight but more reminiscent of the grayish blues and greenish blues sometimes seen in spinel. However, in white LED light the color is equal to the best cornflower blue sapphire, or D block tanzanite; this is due to the blue garnet's ability to absorb the yellow component of the emitted light.
Spessartine or incorrectly spessartite is manganese aluminium garnet, Mn3Al2(SiO4)3. Its name is derived from Spessart in Bavaria. It occurs most often in granite pegmatite and allied rock types and in certain low grade metamorphic phyllites. Spessartine of a beautiful orange-yellow is found in Madagascar (see Mandarin garnet). Violet-red spessartines are found in rhyolites in Colorado and Maine.
Andradite is a calcium-iron garnet, Ca3Fe2(SiO4)3, is of variable composition and may be red, yellow, brown, green or black. The recognized varieties are topazolite (yellow or green), demantoid (green) and melantite (black). Andradite is found both in deep-seated igneous rocks like syenite as well as serpentines, schists, and crystalline limestone. Demantoid has been called the "emerald of the Urals" from its occurrence there, and is one of the most prized of garnet varieties. Topazolite is a golden yellow variety and melanite is a black variety.
Grossular is a calcium-aluminium garnet with the formula Ca3Al2(SiO4)3, though the calcium may in part be replaced by ferrous iron and the aluminium by ferric iron. The name grossular is derived from the botanical name for the gooseberry, grossularia, in reference to the green garnet of this composition that is found in Siberia. Other shades include cinnamon brown (cinnamon stone variety), red, and yellow. Because of its inferior hardness to zircon, which the yellow crystals resemble, they have also been called hessonite from the Greek meaning inferior. Grossular is found in contact metamorphosed limestones with vesuvianite, diopside, wollastonite and wernerite.
One of the most sought after varieties of gem garnet is the fine green grossular garnet from Kenya and Tanzania called tsavorite. This garnet was discovered in the 1960s in the Tsavo area of Kenya, from which the gem takes its name.
Uvarovite is a calcium chromium garnet with the formula Ca3Cr2(SiO4)3. This is a rather rare garnet, bright green in color, usually found as small crystals associated with chromite in peridotite, serpentinite, and kimberlites. It is found in crystalline marbles and schists in the Ural mountains of Russia and Outokumpu, Finland.
Garnets are also useful in defining metamorphic facies of rocks. For instance, eclogite can be defined as a rock of basalt composition, but mainly consisting of garnet and omphacite. Pyrope-rich garnet is restricted to relatively high-pressure metamorphic rocks, such as those in the lower crust and in the Earth's mantle. Peridotite may contain plagioclase, or aluminium-rich spinel, or pyrope-rich garnet, and the presence of each of the three minerals defines a pressure-temperature range in which the mineral could equilibrate with olivine plus pyroxene: the three are listed in order of increasing pressure for stability of the peridotite mineral assemblage. Hence, garnet peridotite must have been formed at great depth in the earth. Xenoliths of garnet peridotite have been carried up from depths of 100 km and greater by kimberlite, and garnets from such disaggegated xenoliths are used as a kimberlite indicator minerals in diamond prospecting. At depths of about 300 to 400 km and greater, a pyroxene component is dissolved in garnet, by the substitution of (Mg,Fe) plus Si for 2Al in the octahedral (Y) site in the garnet structure, creating unusually silica-rich garnets that have solid solution towards majorite. Such silica-rich garnets have been identified as inclusions within diamonds.
Pure crystals of garnet are used as gemstones. Garnet sand is a good abrasive, and a common replacement for silica sand in sand blasting. Mixed with very high pressure water, garnet is used to cut steel and other materials in water jets. Garnet sand is also used for water filtration media.