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Demantoid Garnet

Twenty-eight years after it was discovered in 1868, gemology pioneer Max Bauer wrote that demantoid garnet would probably never earn full-fledged gem status. Much as he admired the stone, Bauer thought it was too small, soft, and scarce to merit anything more than curiosity.

Just about the same time, the late nineteenth century’s other great gemology pioneer, George Kunz, was in the Ural Mountains of Russia, demantoid’s prime source, buying every piece of demantoid rough he could find. Kunz, on leave from Tiffany’s where he served as the store’s chief gem buyer, was financed by banker/tycoon J. Pierpont Morgan, an avid gem collector.

For more than a decade, Kunz had been a devotee of the Russian green garnet, so much so that Tiffany’s made more extensive use of the gem than any other jewelry store of the age. Indeed, demantoid was as closely associated with Tiffany’s in the late nineteenth century as tsavorite, a distant-relative green grossular garnet discovered 100 years after demantoid in East Africa, is with Tiffany’s in the late twentieth century. True, demantoid was a darling of upper crust English and French jewelers, as well as Faberge. But the gem owes much of its popularity with connoisseurs today to the Tiffany mystique: despite the fact that it has been at least 65 years since the last significant production of Ural Mountain demantoid.

Thanks to Kunz, demantoid achieved, and still retains, an importance far disproportionate to its availability. “Maybe one in every 10,000 pieces of Victorian jewelry used demantoid,” says jewelry historian Joseph Gill. ”Yet you’d never think how little of it there actually was with all the fuss they make about it today.”
Why the big fuss? The gem’s name gives a clue to the cognoscenti’s lingering love.

Dispersion Greater Than Diamond

Almost all garnets are plagued by very low dispersion, the separation of light into spectral colors as each wavelength bends different degrees. But demantoid, a member of the andradite family, is an exception, blessed with more of this attribute than even diamond, a stone prized for its dispersion. No wonder, then, that the garnet’s first sellers named it demantoid (meaning diamond-like), after the Dutch word “demant” for diamond. (In case you’re wondering why marketers used a Dutch word, keep in mind that Amsterdam was still the world’s principal diamond-cutting center at the time the garnet first came on the market.)

The new garnet’s fiery brilliance gave the stone, usually found in small sizes, a decided edge over emerald and peridot, the period’s leading green gems. Indeed, Gill says, demantoid was often sold as “olivene” or “Uralian emerald.” That is why many pieces of Victorian gemstone jewelry made between 1885 and 1915 feature demantoid. In fact, the stone is almost wholly identified with the Victorian era.

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Demantoid Garnet