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African Gems

African Gems

In 2000, Marc and Lily Sarosi generously gifted to the National Gem Collection a suite of 25 gemstones from Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zambia, six of which are pictured here. This suite that included tourmalines, garnets, and aquamarines provided an important upgrade to our holdings of African gems in the National Gem Collection. Mineral: Elbaite (Tourmaline family) Weight: 39.49 carats Origin: Lundazi District, Zambia Mineral: Elbaite (Tourmaline family) Weight: 54.74 carats Origin: Usakos District, Namibia Mineral: Beryl Variety: Aquamarine Weight: 65.35 carats Origin: Chief Mwanjawantu Area, Mozambique Mineral: Spessartine (Garnet family) Weight: 4.40 carats Origin: Lundazi District, Zambia Mineral: Spessartine (Garnet family) Weight: 21.86 carats Origin: Lundazi District, Zambia Mineral: Grossular (Garnet family) Variety: Tsavorite Weight: 6.72 carats Origin: Tsavo National Park, Kenya

Andradite Garnet (variety: Demantoid)

Andradite Garnet (variety: Demantoid)

The rarest and most valuable garnet gem is the green to greenish-yellow variety of the mineral andradite, called demantoid. Demantoid was first discovered in Russia's Ural Mountains in 1851, and from that time through the early 1900s they were popular in Russia. Demantoid gems larger than a few carats are rare. Today, because of limited supplies, demantoid maintains its status as a rare and expensive gem and is most commonly seen in antique jewelry. However, a significant new find occurred in 1996 in Namibia, and these yellowish-green demantoid gems are being seen in the jewelry industry today.

Garnet Gems

Garnet Gems

Although garnets are commonly thought of as deep red stones, the name garnet actually refers to a family of 15 distinct minerals. All members of the garnet family share the same basic atomic structure and are closely related, but they differ in chemical composition. Displayed in this assortment of garnets is spessartine (yellowish to reddish orange), almandine (red to brownish or purplish red), pyrope (red), rhodolite (pink to purplish red), grossular (clear, pink, orange, yellow, brown or green), and andradite (green to greenish yellow). The garnets in this photograph range in weight from 2.59-108.90 carats and are from Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Russia, Brazil, Canada and the United States.

Grossular Garnet (variety: Tsavorite)

Grossular Garnet (variety: Tsavorite)

The most prized grossular garnet is the green variety called tsavorite. It was first discovered in 1967 in Kenya's Tsavo National Park; this region on the Kenya-Tanzania border remains the only source of gem tsavorite. The most desirable tsavorite gemstones are such intense green to yellowish-green that they can be confused with emerald. The 14 pear-shaped tsavorite garnets in this necklace total 30.80 carats. The necklace was a gift of Dr. Bray O. Hawk to the National Gem Collection in 1981.

Grossular Garnet (variety: Tsavorite)

Grossular Garnet (variety: Tsavorite)

Tsavorite is a highly prized gem variety of grossular garnet. It was first discovered by Campbell Bridges in 1967 near Kenya's Tsavo National Park. This region on the Kenya-Tanzania border remains the only source of gem tsavorite. The most valuable tsavorites are an intense green to blue-green and can sometimes be confused with emerald; a yellowish overtone is less desirable. This tsavorite is cut en cabochon. The inclusions in this gem appear to be corrosion tubes that were replaced with iron oxide, hence the rust colored tube-like inclusions. Tsavorite is a totally natural gemstone. It is not heated, oiled, filled, irradiated, or treated in any way. This variety of green garnet was named tsavorite in honor of Kenya's Tsavo National Park, by Henry B. (Harry) Platt, former President of Tiffany & Co., and Campbell Bridges, President of Tsavorite USA.

Grossular Garnets

Grossular Garnets

Grossular is the garnet mineral that shows the widest range of colors. As pure calcium aluminum silicate it is colorless, but impurities can tint it shades of pink, orange, yellow, brown and green. This group of 39 grossular garnets, averaging about 0.50 carat each, range in color from light orange to colorless to medium dark green. Found in Kenya along the border with Tanzania, the garnets were gifted to the Smithsonian by Mr. and Mrs. Hans-Dieter Haag in 1978.

Pyrope Garnet

Pyrope Garnet

Pyrope garnets are commonly seen in antique jewelry, mainly from the Victorian period. Pyrope garnets are typically dark red to slightly brownish-red in color and are seldom larger then a few carats. Until the late nineteenth century, the Czech Republic was the main source for these gems. The pyrope garnets in this antique hairpin are from the Czech Republic.

Spessartine (Garnet Family)

Spessartine (Garnet Family)

Spessartine is the manganese-rich member of the garnet family and is typically colored yellowish to reddish orange. Spessartine gems can be quite beautiful, but they are not commonly seen in jewelry because the supplies are limited. The major sources for gem quality spessartine are Sri Lanka and Brazil. Other localities include Australia, Burma, India, Israel, Madagascar, Zambia, Nigeria and the United States. In the early 1970s pinkish to reddish or yellowish orange garnets were discovered in Tanzania that are intermediate in composition between spessartine and pyrope (red garnet). They are called Malaia garnets and found some popularity in the gem markets. Spessartine that is orange-yellow and found in Madagascar is called Mandarin garnet. This vivid cabochon-cut spessartine garnet is from a new find in Zambia and its intense yellowish-orange color is unlike any other spessartine in the National Gem Collection.

Spessartine (Garnet Family)

Spessartine (Garnet Family)

Spessartine is the manganese-rich member of the garnet family and is typically colored yellowish to reddish orange. Spessartine gems can be quite beautiful, but they are not commonly seen in jewelry because the supplies are limited. The major sources for gem quality spessartine are Sri Lanka and Brazil. Other important localities include Australia, Burma, India, Israel, Madagascar, Zambia, Nigeria, Namibia, and the United States. This is the first spessartine garnet from Madagascar in the National Gem Collection.


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