How to Buy Antique and Vintage Garnet Jewelry

How to Buy Antique and Vintage Garnet Jewelry

Dark red garnets were extremely popular during the Victorian era, particularly the mid and late eras. The most popular were pyrope garnets with their deep, blood-like color.

The Victorians loved all things dark-colored. Garnets were considered appropriate for mourning attire and were thought to cure blood disorders and to prevent bad tempers.

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Garnets were:

  • Often rose-cut
  • Could be set in gold or silver
  • Most commonly, they were set in a low carat gold alloy (ie tombak).

Most people associate the name ‘garnet’ with the dark red varieties, (pyrope, almandine or, possibly, rhodolite.) Garnets, however, actually come in many colors and have a wide variety of names, which I have listed at the bottom of this post.

Often garnets will be a combination of these colors and not always fall clearly into one variety. The classification of garnets is actually quite complicated and the term covers over ten different gemstones!

A group of 19th century Bohemian garnet jewellery

A group of 19th-century garnet jewelry, circa 1890
Christie’s sale 4824 27 March 2012, London South Kensington

Necklace

London, England c. 1870
Necklace with gold, almandine garnet carbuncles
V&A Museum

The word ‘garnet’ comes from the Latin word ‘granatas’ meaning pomegranate.  It is easy to see when you look at pomegranate seeds, how the association could have been made.

The word ‘pyrope’ comes from the Greek word for ‘fire like’.

Misnomers

Pyrope garnets are also often referred to as ‘Bohemian Garnets’ because they were so often mined in Bohemia. The name ‘Bohemian Garnets’, although extremely widespread, is considered a misnomer according to the Gemological Institute of America.

Other misnomers include:

Colorado ruby, Arizona ruby, California ruby, Rocky Mountain ruby, Elie Ruby, Bohemian carbuncle, and Cape ruby.

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Victorian Garnet Earrings. Elder and Bloom.

The difference between pyrope and almandine garnets

Pyrope garnets and almandine garnets are very difficult to tell apart by eye and are frequently mistaken for each other.

Pyrope garnets under a microscope will display fewer inclusions so are generally considered to be slightly more valuable but not greatly so.  Often, red garnets are a mixture of both pyrope and almandine and this is another one of the reasons for the confusion.

Even the major auction houses and museums don’t always try and name the exact variety of the garnet if it is red and will simply just refer to it as ‘garnet’.

Ring

Europe c. 1850
Ring with a cluster of almandine garnets in a gold mount
V&A Museum

AN ANTIQUE DUTCH GARNET NECKLACE

Dutch garnet necklace c. 1850
Christie’s Sale 3002,
Amsterdam Jewels and Watches, 18 April 2012

Victorian garnet bracelet with rose gold and seed pearls.

Other kinds of garnets, such as this hessonite garnet (more of a brown-orange color) were used less frequently.

Ring

Europe c.1800-1869
Faceted hessonite garnet ring, set in gold
V&A Museum

Green Garnets

Demantoid garnets, with their amazing bright green color, are considered to be the most desirable and valuable kind of garnets used.

Tsavorite and Uvarovite are also bright green and valuable but are extremely rare and generally not found in antique jewelry.

It is easy to mistake demantoid for the less valuable stone peridot so please check carefully.  Misnomers for demantoid garnets are olivine and Uralian emerald.

Demantoid garnets were not discovered until 1868 in the Ural mountains of Russia so you will not find a piece older than that. They were discovered by the same person who discovered Alexandrite.

The name ‘demantoid’ comes from the French ‘diamant’ meaning ‘diamond’.  Demantoid garnets have an astonishing luminosity that rival diamonds.  It is very rare to find a demantoid garnet in a large carat so be very wary if you come across one. They have not yet been synthesized.

Famed Russian jeweler Carl Fabergé was an enormous fan of demantoid garnets and brought them to the fashion forefront. They are also associated with Tiffanys of the late 19th century.

Demantoid very much appealed to the naturalistic aesthetic of the era and are found in higher-end late Victorian and Art Nouveau pieces, often, in the case of Art Nouveau pieces, to represent foliage.

Namibian demantoids, discovered more recently, are not considered as desirable as Russian demantoids and lack a signature ‘horsetail’ inclusion.  It is interesting that in the case of demantoids, the inclusion is considered as something desirable. Namibian demantoids will not be found in antique pieces.

Brooch

Demantoid, pearl, and gold brooch.
USA. c.1900
V&A Museum  (American buyers were known to prefer a more toned-down version of Art Nouveau style).

Antique Demantoid and Diamond Spray, opal bug

Detail of Faberge Antique Demantoid Garnet and Diamond Spray Brooch, opal bug
English, 1870

Things to look for

  • There are a lot of imitation glass garnets on the market, in all colors. So check the piece is not glass.
  • Garnet jewelry is still produced and is very popular to this day, often with antique styled settings, so it is important not to be misled if you believe you are buying an antique piece.
  • If you are purchasing a piece of antique garnet jewelry, check carefully to see if any of the stones are missing.
  • Also, check to see if they are set properly (with a prong or claw set) or glued in as this will affect the value.
  • Check the metal. Low-karat alloys are the most common and least valuable.

Synthetic garnets are not commonly used in jewelry.

Garnet names and colors

  • Almandine   Red with Violet Tint
  • Andradite    Yellow, Green, Brown & Black
  • Demantoid   Bright Green
  • Melanite       Opaque Black
  • Topazolite     Lemon-Yellow
  • Grossular   Green, Yellow, Copper-Brown
  • Hessonite   Brown-Orange
  • Tsavorite    Intense Green
  • Leuco Garnet  Colorless
  • Mali  Yellow-Green to Yellow-Brown
  • Hydrogrossular  Translucent to Opaque Green, Pink, White
  • Malaya  Pinkish, Reddish, Yellowish Orange
  • Pyrope  Dark Red to Reddish Orange (blood red)
  • Rhodolite  Purplish Red to Reddish Purple
  • Spessartine  Yellowish Orange to Red-Brown
  • Mandarin  Orange-Yellow
  • Uvarovite  Emerald Green

Jewelry Motifs of the Georgian Era

There were many popular jewelry motifs during the Georgian era (1714-1837). Many were traditional prior to the Georgian era and continued to be popular through subsequent eras and are still worn today.

However, there were certain motifs during the Georgian era which were particularly recurrent.

CRESCENTS AND STAR-BURSTS

With the new interest in astronomy, these cosmic themed motifs became popular.

An early 19th century diamond locket brooch

An early 19th-century diamond locket brooch
Of old brilliant-cut diamond starburst design, the central locket compartment enclosing a later fishing fly, circa 1820  Christie’s Sale 5642

NATURALISTIC

(included flowers, acorns, wheat, birds, fruit, leaves, and feathers)

Naturalistic jewelry, decorated with realistic flowers, fruit, leaves, plants, or feathers, appeared in the early 19th century along with the ‘Romantic’ movement. Particular meaning was often attached to specific plants.

A Georgian topaz brooch

A Georgian topaz flower brooch (note the ribbon)
 circa 1820,
Christie’s Sale 5383
Jewels at South Kensington
7 October 2008

Brooch

Paris, France c. 1820-1840
V&A Museum
The brooch has rose, forget-me-not, oakleaf, and acorn motifs. The rose motif presumably symbolizes love while the oak would represent strength and longevity. These and the forget-me-nots may relate to the strand of hair in a locket in the back and it is possible that the brooch was intended as a wedding gift. The brooch is in the tradition of European romantic jewelry of the first half of the nineteenth century.

BOWS, GARLANDS, RIBBONS, SCROLLS AND ‘GIRANDOLE’

  • Bows, garlands, ribbons, and scrolls were a regularly repeated motif.
  • This example below with the three drop gems is called a ‘girandole’ which was very popular in the Georgian era.
Bodice ornament and pair of earrings

Girandole bow bodice ornament and pair of earrings set with topazes, backed with foil, and sapphires. All the stones are set in gold.
Circa 1760, France
V&A Museum

MOURNING / MEMENTO MORI

  • There is a great deal of surviving mourning jewelry from the era.
  • Many of the motifs were urns, Neo-classical plinths, and obelisks, weeping willows, angels, cherubs, names, and dates of the dead and portraits of the dead.
  • Often these motifs were incorporated into locks and medallions.
  • Hair work was often incorporated in a variety of forms.
  • ‘Memento Mori’ means ‘remember you will die’ in Latin and people of the era would wear skulls and coffins to remind themselves.
Bracelet

c. 1775-1800
V&A England
Gold set with seed pearls, watercolor on ivory and hair

LOVE TOKENS

  • Motifs used in love tokens included cupids, doves, the ‘altar of love’, butterflies, romantic messages, initials, and names.
  • Also, the ‘crowned heart’ was popular, signifying a lover’s rule over the heart.
Necklace

V& A Italy
Date:
ca. 1810-20 (made)
Shell and gold bracelet with cupids, doves and the altar of love

Necklace

France, ca. 1810
Butterfly bracelet, gold set with hardstone mosaic panels
V&A museum

Pendant

Brooch with bow and dove motif
Portugal ca. 1750
Pastes (glass) set in silver openwork
V&A Museum

CROSSES / RELIGIOUS

Necklace

Gold, Turquoise and diamond cross ca. 1830 England, Britain
V&A Museum

ACROSTIC – THE LANGUAGE OF STONES

  • Sentimental messages were also conveyed using the initial letter of each stone in the design. This is referred to as ‘acrostic’.
  • This particular pendant below has the stones of Lapis Lazuli, glass in imitation of Opal, Vermeil ( the old name for garnet ), and Emerald which spell LOVE.
Pendant

V&A Museum  England, Britain
Date: ca. 1830
Materials and Techniques:
Gold with lapis lazuli, glass in imitation of opal, garnet, emerald, and gold

GIARDINETTI (‘Little Garden’)

  • ‘Giardinetti’ (from the Italian, meaning ‘little garden’) was another popular theme. A giardinetti piece had tiny flowers arranged in a vase, pot, or basket, usually made from precious stones.
  • Also, stylized flowers without vases or pots or baskets were often seen.
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England, c. 1730-60 Materials and Techniques: Gold and silver set with rubies and diamonds V&A Museum

NEO-CLASSICAL

  • Popular neo-classical motifs included arrows, quivers, lyres, Greek keys, laurel leaves, eagles, Greek arches, the phoenix and scenes and characters from Roman and Greek mythology

HANDS

  • Hands, singular or clasped, were another recurring motif.
  • The hand motif has long symbolized a multitude of things, including affection, loyalty, solidarity, family, and love.
Ring

Europe
c. 1800-50
Gold gimmel fede ring with three pivoted hoops, joined by a small pin. V&A Museum

SNAKES

  • Symbolizing eternal love
Ring


England
c. 1800-30
Gold ring set with rubies
This ring may once have been owned by George IV (1762-1830). He may be wearing it in a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence in the Wallace Collection (559).
V&A Museum

LOVERS’ EYE AND MINIATURES

  • Popular from the late 1700s, Lovers’ eyes were miniatures, normally watercolor on ivory.
  • They depicted the eye or eyes of a loved one or family member.
  • They were worn as bracelets, brooches, pendants or rings.
  • Miniature portraits were also popular. Miniature portraits were often worn as brooches or inside lockets.

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File:George Engleheart - Portrait of Unknown Woman - circa 1780 - Victoria & Albert Museum.jpg

George Engleheart – Portrait of Unknown Woman – circa 1780 – Victoria & Albert Museum

ARCHAEOLOGICAL REVIVAL

An archaeological revival gold head ornament, by Castellani

Archaeological revival gold head ornament, by Castellani
Christie’s Sale 6968

  • Between the years 1800 to 1889, there were a number of important archaeological findings which greatly influenced jewelry design. These included Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek (Hellenistic), and Roman.

What to Look for When Buying Turquoise Antique Jewelry

An Art Deco turquoise and diamond brooch

Art Deco Turquoise and Diamond Brooch Christie’s

Are you drawn to beautiful antique or vintage turquoise jewelry? There are some lovely pieces to choose from. Before you consider purchasing, it pays to educate yourself.

  • Turquoise was particularly prized during the Victorian era. It was considered a perfect stone for women of all ages, but especially younger women.
  • Turquoise was valued more highly than we value it today and therefore it was usually set with gold and often other precious materials, including diamonds.  The Georgians also loved it and tended to mix it with other gems, such as pearls.
  • However, the use of turquoise was really at its height from the mid-1800s through to the early part of the 1900s, particularly in connection with Egyptian revival. It was nearly always cabochon cut. Occasionally it was carved, faceted, or worn as nuggets.
  • Turquoise means ‘Turkey’. It was mistakenly named because the Europeans of the 16th century thought that was where this lovely blue-green stone came from.  However, it only passed through Turkey on its way from Iran.
Brooch

Enamelled gold brooch, set with a ruby, cabochon garnets, turquoises and pearls, England,1848
V&A Museum

Floriography

  • The bright blue color reminded Victorians of forget-me-nots, which signified true love in the language of flowers.
  • Turquoise was a particularly popular gift for bridesmaids, often in the form of doves. In 1840, Queen Victoria gave her twelve bridesmaids turquoise brooches in the shape of eagles. This is according to the V&A Museum, although there are reports that she, in fact, gave them portraits of herself framed in turquoise.
  • Turquoise was traditionally believed to ward off danger.
A LATE VICTORIAN TURQUOISE AND DIAMOND TIARA  NECKLACE

A LATE VICTORIAN TURQUOISE AND DIAMOND TIARA NECKLACE
Christie’s Sale 5388
Important Jewels
13 June 2012
London, King Street

Buying Antique Turquoise Jewelry

  • Nowadays, turquoise is nearly always set in silver rather than gold.
  • The webbed turquoise with matrix that we associate with the American South-West was never used in previous eras in Europe.
  • There are also nowadays a number of synthetic and imitation turquoises around which further give turquoise the reputation for being less than the beautiful and precious material it truly is. Avoid these pieces.
  • The sky blue variety was especially valued by the Victorians and Georgians.
  • All quality antique pieces have a flawless, smooth color without webbing.
  • Turquoise is highly porous and today is treated to avoid the absorption of oils and other materials.  However, in the Victorian and Georgian eras, it was never treated and therefore it is not unusual to see pieces that have changed color throughout the same piece, some stones remaining a sky blue, whilst others have turned a deeper green.  This natural variation that comes with time adds character and depth to a piece and is superior to today’s more sterile and bland interpretation of the stone.
  • It is important to note that many antique pieces appear to contain turquoise, but on closer inspection turn out to actually have turquoise-colored glass.
  • Amazonite can also be a stone mistaken for turquoise. On close inspection, Amazonite shows a mottling of the surface not seen in turquoise. 
  • A gemologist can tell if it is synthetic turquoise or not using magnification. This is not generally a concern in antique pieces, however, as the first truly synthetic turquoise was not created until the 1970s, although there have always been turquoise imitations.

Turquoise and gold earrings, circa 1900

Gold and turquoise ring, circa 1900

Earrings

Gold and turquoise earrings, England circa 1830. V&A Museum

Necklace

Necklace, England, circa 1835-1840 Silver and gold, pavé-set with turquoises, with rubies, pearls, and brilliant-cut diamonds Serpent motifs were often set with turquoise

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