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Malaya Garnet

More than 20 years ago, some miners in East Africa went looking for a purplish-pink garnet called rhodolite and found a strange orange and sometimes reddish-orange garnet mixed in with the pink garnet.

“What is this stuff?” one asked.

“I don’t know. But whatever it is, no one will want it,” another answered. And, sure enough, the Japanese buyers of rhodolite kept rejecting this new garnet when offered it by dealers in Nairobi, Kenya. In time, the African dealers came to treat the gem with contempt.

Gradually, as miners kept finding more of this nuisance gem, they nicknamed it “malaya,” a Swahili word that means, first, “outcast,” and, second, “prostitute” but connoting, above all, trash. They called it Malaya because dealers soon told them to stop bringing this new gem to them.

Then, in the late 1970s, some Americans and German buyers happened to notice the orange garnet and began questioning the African dealers about it. “Oh, you mean the Malaya,” the dealers would say, a bit surprised.

“What’s Malaya?” the Americans would ask.

“It’s a misfit garnet that no one has any use for,” the dealers invariably replied.

“But it’s beautiful,” the Americans would insist, and buy some to sell to collectors back home.

In no time at all, the new garnet had garnered a small but passionate following among gem collectors, principally in America. And prices for top grades quickly flew to levels that left the Nairobi trade aghast. Then when gemologists declared the gem a completely distinct breed of garnet, prices for top stones were on the wing again.

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Malaya Garnet