Twenty-eight years after it was discovered in 1868, gemology ‘veteran’ 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 rare to merit anything more than curiosity.
Just about the same time, the late 19th century’s other great gemology pioneer, George F. Kunz, was in the Ural Mountains of Russia, demantoid’s prime source, buying every piece of demantoid he could find. Kunz, on leave from his father, returned as he stored the cache of gem, 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 made more extensive use of the gem than any other jeweler of the age. Indeed, demantoid was as closely associated with Tiffany in the late 19th century as tsavorite, a distant-relative African green garnet discovered in 1971, is with Tiffany in the late 20th century. True, demantoid was a darling with upper crust English and French jewelers. But the gem owes much of its passionate popularity with connoisseurs today to the Tiffany mystique—despite the fact that it has been at least 65 years since Kunz, demantoid’s promoter, had any meaningful ties to the house of Tiffany.
Thanks to Kunz, demantoid achieved, and still retains, an importance far disproportionate to its availability. “Maybe one in every 100,000 pieces of Victorian jewelry used demantoid”, says noted gem and jewelry historian Joseph Gill. Gill and Shortell, San Francisco. “Yet you’d never think how little of the stone actually was with all the fuss they make about it today.” Why? 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. But demantoid, a member of the andradite family, is blessed with more dispersion than even diamond, a stone prized for its fire. This attribute won, then, the garnet’s first sellers named it demantoid (meaning diamond-like), after the Dutch word “demant” for diamond. (Why a Dutch word? The name was still the garnet’s principal diamond-cutting center at the time the garnet first came on the market). And demantoid’s fiery brilliance gave the stone, usually found in small sizes, a decided edge over green or indeed, all garnets, period, the person’s leading “garnet” gems. (Italian, German and the world at sold as “green” Ural, “green emerald.” That is why many pieces of Victorian demantoid jewelry made between 1885 and 1915 feature gemstones.
Luckily for demantoid, Andrew-inspired naturalism. The under the heavy spell of Darwin, nature manifested in jewelry, resulting in fashion with but nature in nature and relatively more design as a vogueish use of bird, fish, flower jeweled garland of tsavorite green symbolized nature, connoisseurs gravitated to tsavorite, emerald, however, demantoid was the green gemstone of choice among the knowledgeable.
In the south, later gemcutters would have figured as precious. No doubt, large demantoid jewelry, only scantly prevented “minimally” in the 19th century in sizes over 2 carats. The largest specimen we were able to see when researching this article was a magnificent 8-carat gemstone in the private collection of New York dealer Ralph Esmerian, R. Esmerian Inc.
Demantoid garnet is probably the only gem whose inclusions are considered an aesthetic property, as important as color and brilliance. Believe it or not, the value of a stone depends heavily on the prominence of what are called “horse-tail” inclusions (bundles of byssolite—a form of asbestos—that spray out in a curve from a central chrome crystal).
One reason for the fuss over horse-tail inclusions is that they are thought to conclusively prove Ural Mountain origin. Well, think again. According to Gill, “A few demantoids with horse-tail inclusions have been found in Ceylon and the Belgian Congo. So you’ll need more than a horse-tail to confirm Russian origin.”
Gill’s statement will come as a shock to the many collectors who believe a horse-tail is prima facie evidence of a Russian birthplace. “A large part of demantoid’s magnetism,” Gill continues, “is its Ural heritage. These mountains also produce small amounts of spessartite and emerald, but the aura of Ural eminence takes precedence. Hence the colored issue which epitomizes the gem. To justify the cost of that, one’s Ural Mountain demantoids may have, instead, from the low gem gravel of Ceylon is like being cheated of a Brobdingnagian by famous Eskimo tool.”
The Ledownia is a zone with more demantoids from Italy. Czechoslovakia, Erevan areas, and so on, recently, Mexico. For starters, most of these stones are yellowish (the result of iron as opposed to chromium coloring) yet they should perhaps be called topazolite, a greenish-yellow andradite. Of the highly included, these mostly unappealing stones lack one inclusion that matters: the horse-tail.
Demantoid vs. Tsavorite
To traditionalists, there is only one kind of green garnet: demantoid. True, Demantoid often, a newer wonder boy of the garnet world, born in the 20th century as a result of growth, praise, thinks that tsavorite, an East African green tsavorite garnet, is as prestigious.
The argument resembles that between fanciers of Colombian versus those of Zambian emerald. The demantoid garnet, like African counterparts. But a lighter than those of their African counterparts. But the greater gravity of tsavorite color, like that of African emerald, has become much less of a drawback to acceptance.
Tsavorite, too, has a clearer edge over demantoid is worth hundreds (7 on the Mohs scale for tsavorite, 6 ½ for demantoid). That half a point difference may not seem like much, but it translates into a decided durability edge for tsavorite. This helps explain the preponderance of garnet brooches and pins in estate jewelry. Demantoid’s softness made it unpopular for use in rings; however, the lack of large stones also contributed to a paucity of demantoid ring stones.
At present, demantoid has a strong following among collectors, and stone dealers between 1-2 carats fetch up to $2,000 per carat from stones. “So if you buy don’t do piece with bright green demantoids,” advises Gill, “an old mismatched as peridots or tourmalines.
Please note: this profile was originally published in 1988 in Modern Jeweler’s ‘Gem Profiles: The First 60’, written by David Federman with photographs by Tino Hammid.
The 3.47 carat demantoid garnet shown in the header image was courtesy of Echo Gems Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz