The deep almost blood-red of the garnet has been used in jewellery since prehistoric times, although garnets are actually a group of stones and naturally occur in all colours except blue! The word garnet derives from the Latin for ‘seed-like’, referring to the stones similar appearance to the seeds of pomegranates. As well as being the birthstone for January, it is one of the modern themes for 2nd wedding anniversary gifts. Garnet is commonly found in many countries and so has been used in jewellery by many cultures throughout history including the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.
The Anglo-Saxons used garnet a great deal, especially in detailed cloisonné work, where stones or glass is inlaid between gold wires. The hoard found at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, UK, held some of the finest examples, many of which can now be found in the British Museum.
Garnet was long believed to be protection from nightmares, poison and even vampires! Cultural references to a ‘carbuncle stone’ although meaning any red cabochon stone (not the medical variety of carbuncle which is a large red boil or abscess!) was generally referring to a garnet. Such references occur in The Bible (Ezekiel 28:13 refers to the carbuncle’s presence in the Garden of Eden), Shakespeare’s Hamlet (in act 2 scene 2 line 401: “With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus…”), in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis the phrase “precious as carbuncles” is used several times and even today, Carbuncle is a creature in the Final Fantasy computer game.