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Brilliance and Rarity from East Africa: Tsavorite Garnet

Posted by Catherine Claus on


After 300 AD, Germanic and other “barbarian” tribes migrating into the Roman Empire brought with them distinctive blood red gemstones. These garnets — a word we can trace back to the Latin word for pomegranate — held rich color and brilliance. It’s no wonder Plato himself had his portrait engraved on a garnet.

Ever since that great period of migration, the garnet has been embraced and revered by many cultures. Roman soldiers set garnets in their swords and shields for protection. Medieval Europeans wore the stones to cure depression and increase strength, vigor, and sexual drive. And during the Spanish Enlightenment, garnets were a symbol of the sun.

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6th century Visigothic garnet cloisonné used as military decoration

Yet it wasn’t until 1967 that one of the most spectacular varieties of garnet was discovered. Tsavorite, found along the untamed border of Kenya and Tanzania by Scottish geologist Campbell Bridges, rivals the natural beauty and purity of diamond, ruby, and sapphire.

A Garnet Beyond Compare

Garnets are a group of minerals that includes multiple species, such as red pyrope, purple almandine, and multicolored andradite and grossular. While garnets are a diverse group of gemstones, they are identified by their high brilliance and cubic crystal structure.

Their luster, or the way light interacts with the surface of these minerals, can be translucent like glass or resinous like amber.

Tsavorite is a variety of grossular garnet that ranges in color from light to deep greens and blue-greens. It gets its unique coloring from trace amounts of the elemental metal vanadium and chromium.

Tsavorite is 1000 times more rare than emerald, and some say it surpasses emerald in transparency and brilliance, or how much light is reflected from its interior. Tsavorite is so rare, in fact, that gems over 5 carats are almost unheard of, and gemologists believe it may become near-extinct before long.

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“Everything That a Fine Gemstone Should be, and Then Some.”

Given its brilliance and rarity, tsavorite offers incredible value -- an appraisal that’s hard for collectors to pass up.

The bright, saturated greens of tsavorite require no treatment and pair marvelously with nearly all precious metals and colored gemstones. Perhaps this is why tsavorite immediately captured the attention of the gem trade and was quickly championed by Tiffany & Co. in the 1970s (and up to this day).

Harry Platt, then President of Tiffany & Co., declared, “Tsavorite is everything that a fine gemstone should be, and then some.”

The Ancient History of Tsavorite

Though their beauty was enough to captivate me, tsavorite has become one of my favorite gemstones due to its fascinating history.

When environmentalist and wildlife conservationist Campbell Bridges discovered the first green grossular deposit in the remote mountains of Tanzania, he employed many Masai villagers to engineer and operate the mines. They followed that first deposit into Kenya and continued mining near Tsavo East National Park — tsavorite’s namesake.

A few small deposits of tsavorite have been found in Madagascar, Pakistan, and Antarctica, but never on the scale of the East African mines. There, tsavorite began to form millions of years ago within an ancient rock belt under the sea. As the earth’s plates shifted and the continent formed, tsavorite was forged from extreme temperatures and pressure.

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Tsavo East National Park, where tsavorite is mined

Mined by Conservationists

tsavorite-garnet-ethicalAt Thesis Gems & Jewelry, we source our tsavorite from the original mines, which are still operated by the Bridges family and their African community. They are the only tsavorite miners in the world to be completely vertically integrated from mine to market, and they are committed to sustainability, environmental conservation, and fair labor practices.

Every piece of tsavorite found in our jewelry has been ethically extracted to minimize environmental impact and cause as little disturbance to habitats as possible. For example, the Bridges use rainwater rather than boring into the earth to extract water or trucking it in.

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A Perfect Collector’s Gemstone

I feel fortunate to live in a time when tsavorite has been discovered and so lovingly shared with the world. If you would like to add tsavorite to your gemstone collection, or make it your first investment, don’t hesitate to contact me. I would love to help you find or design an ethically mined piece to treasure and pass on to your loved ones.