“According to the Talmud, the only light which Noah had in the Ark was afforded by a carbuncle (Garnet).”
Marcell Nelson Smith, Diamonds, Pearls and Precious Stones (1913)
Named after its original source in Spessart in the German state of Bavaria, Spessartite was discovered in the mid-19th century.
Chemical composition of Spessartite
Spessartite is one of the main varieties of Garnet, and together with Almandine (Mozambique Garnet) and Pyrope (Mozambique Garnet and Rhodolite) is part of the Aluminous Garnets, or Pyralspites.
In addition to the place it was discovered, Spessart, Spessartite was subsequently found in the mines of Rutherford, Virginia. Today, this marvelous gemstone is mined in Australia, Brazil, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Zambia, but it is Namibia and Nigeria where the most important production sites are located
The history of Spessartite
A mosaic of Noah in the Basilica di San Marco, Venice. In the Talmud, a Garnet is said to have illuminated Noah’s Ark.
The many myths surrounding Garnet often depict this gemstone as a symbol of light, faith, truth, chivalry, loyalty and honesty. For example, Garnet (carbuncle) was one of the gems in the ‘breastplate of judgment’ (Exodus 28:15-30), the impetus for birthstones in Western culture, and Crusaders considered Garnet so symbolic of Christ’s sacrifice that they set them into their armor for protection in battle. In Islam, Garnets illuminate the fourth heaven, while for Norsemen, they guide the way to Valhalla.
Properties of Spessartite
Spessartite is an idiochromatic gem, meaning it owes its color to a coloring element present within its crystalline structure. The manganese always present in Spessartite’s crystal structure means that it is always going to be a shade of orange, while when iron confers Almandine Garnet some of its colors, deeper reds and reddish browns come into play. As a result, the colors typically seen in Spessartite are orange, deep reddish-orange, rich golden orange with red flashes, yellowish-orange and deep red. Sometimes, brownish ‘dark chocolate’ tints are also present, which causes Spessartite’s burnt orange colors. As with all colored gemstones, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While the more intense, vibrant reddish-oranges and ‘classic’ rich oranges typically command the highest prices, your preference should dictate your choice. In addition to color, remember that Spessartite possesses the fifth highest refractive index, after Diamond, Sphene, Zircon and Demantoid. Spessartite is regarded as a Type II gemstone (occurring with some minor inclusions that may be eye-visible, see page 10 ), but eye-clean gems do exist, lighter colored and larger examples may have more inclusions.
A dark red Nigerian Spessartite
Varieties of Spessartite
The most valuable of all Spessartite, Mandarin Garnet was discovered in Kunene in northwest Namibia. Also known as ‘Kunene Spessartine’, Namibian Mandarin Garnet was first mined in 1991 and is typically differentiated from Spessartite from other origins by its inclusions and graining, giving it a ‘sleepy’ appearance.
Another variety valued highly by the Greeks, Romans and ancient Indians is Hessonite, an orange-cinnamon variety of Grossularite Garnet.
Care for Spessartite
Spessartite, like the other Garnets, may be damaged if exposed to large temperature shifts, and thus should not be treated using steam or ultrasound.