If you’re contemplating green gemstones, one rare but beautiful alternative to an emerald is a Tsavorite garnet. Showing a brighter, more luminous green than a typical emerald, Tsavorite garnets are often paired with diamonds and set in white gold, displaying the clarity and purity of these green gemstones to their best advantage.

Tsavorite garnet is one of the most important varieties of grossularite garnet, a gemstone which is composed of calcium aluminum silicate. These types of garnets are named after the botanical name for gooseberries, Ribes Grossularia, as the typical pale green color of many specimens of this broad category of garnets resembles the color of gooseberries. The intense green coloration of Tsavorite garnets is a result of traces of vanadium and chromium.

pile natural tsavorite garnet crystals

The Discovery of Tsavorite Garnets

Tsavorite garnets were first discovered in 1967 by a Scottish geologist named Campbell R. Bridges, who was prospecting for gems on behalf of Tiffany & Co. The story of the discovery is straight out of a movie script. Bridges had been searching without success for useful gem deposits in Tanzania and was about to move onto another area, when a buffalo charged him. He dived into a dry gully to save himself and noticed some greenish rocks gleaming in the strong African sunshine.

The rocks turned out to be a high-quality deposit of green grossularite garnets. These were later named Tsavorite garnets after Tsavo National Park on the border between Kenya and Tanzania, where the stones were discovered.

The Tanzanian government initially refused to issue permits for the export of the stones, so Bridges started prospecting across the border in Kenya. He succeeded in finding a deposit within Kenya in 1971, and he was granted permits to mine and export the gems by the Kenyan government.

Tiffany & Co started to market the gems in 1974, and they have continued to grow in popularity ever since. Sadly, Bridges was murdered by a Kenyan mob in 2009 because of a dispute about mining rights.

Characteristics of Tsavorite Garnets

Deposits of Tsavorite garnets are very rare. Apart from the original deposit on the Tanzanian- Kenyan border, small deposits have been found only in Madagascar, Pakistan and Queen Maud Land, Antarctica. Overall, Tsavorite garnets are around 200 times rarer than emeralds, and they are among the most expensive types of garnets because of their rarity.

These types of garnets also tend to be small in terms of carat size. The majority of stones are under one carat. Pieces over two carats are rare and therefore significantly more expensive than the smaller stones.

green gems chart infographic

Tsavorite garnets vary in color from a bright yellowish green to a deep bluish forest green. The most preferred color is a pure, highly saturated green. The stones range from transparent to opaque and have a vitreous luster.

Unlike emeralds, inclusions are rare, so Tsavorite garnets don’t typically need to be treated or filled. The stones have a high refractive index (1.734 to 1.759), which makes them especially brilliant. They are moderately hard, measuring 6.5 – 7.5 on the Mohs scale.

How Tsavorite Garnets Are Used in Jewelry

tsavorite garnet earrings

Transparent Tsavorite garnets are usually faceted to show off their brilliance, while opaque examples are commonly “cabbed” — smoothed and polished in the cabochon style. Smaller examples may also be offered as beads. As Tsavorite garnets usually appear in smaller carat weights, gem cutters typically select whichever faceted cut will save as much of the weight of the gem as possible.

They are often set pave style within intricate and delicate settings, which maximizes the impact of the smaller stones. When not used as a statement gemstone on their own, Tsavorite garnets pair well with white and colorless stones, such as diamonds, white topaz and white sapphire.

Tsavorite Garnet Associations and Gem Lore

Garnet symbolizes constancy, and historically garnets were frequently exchanged by friends as a sign of their enduring affection for each other. It is also considered appropriate as a gift on the second and sixth wedding anniversaries. It is the traditional birthstone for January within the conventions adopted by the American National Association of Jewelers in 1912, and it is also the stone for the Zodiac sign Aquarius.

Tsavorite garnet specifically, is also sometimes suggested as an alternative birthstone for May as a result of its green color. According to the Talmud, a lantern filled with garnets was hung on the bow of Noah’s Ark to aid in navigation.

In crystal healing, Tsavorite garnets are associated with the heart chakra. Consistent with this, the gemstone is believed to regulate the blood flow and assist in curing depression by surfacing past hurts and allowing them to be discussed and resolved. Garnets overall are traditionally associated with healing, strength and protection, especially for travelers. The gemstones are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and are often worn next to the skin for treating arthritis and rheumatism.