Thinking of buying a garnet but worried you might get a fake one? Don't worry, you're not alone.
In this Guide, I'll teach you the skills and tools you need to make sure you only up with a real garnet.
I'll also answer other questions you might have, including:
- How to tell real garnets from synthetic garnets
- What are composite garnets?
- Are garnets good for engagement rings?
What is a Garnet?
Garnet is a popular silicate gemstone with more than twenty varieties. It is most often recognized as a red stone and the January birthstone. There are real garnets, synthetic garnets, and fake garnet on the market today and it can be tough to tell if a garnet is real.
Garnets occur in many places in the world and are popular in jewelry. They are also used for as industrial abrasives in sandpaper. Carved garnets and ornamental garnet pieces are also very popular.
But if you don't know a whole lot about garnets or gemstones in general, it can be hard to purchase real ones from the fakes. We always advise buying garnets from known retailers rather than a random seller on Etsy or Facebook.
So, without further ado, I'm going to teach you how to tell if garnet is real, or if you have a fake one on your hands.
Types and Colors of Garnet Stones
Most people identify garnet stones as a deep red gemstone, often with secondary hues of orange or purple. Garnet actually comes in a variety of colors, including colorless. However, red garnets are the most popular and most common garnet jewelry. There are six main varieties in the garnet family:
- Almandine: deep red to brownish-red
- Pyrope: dark red to purplish-red
- Spessartine: orange to reddish-brown
- Grossular: green to yellow to brown
- Andradite: green to brown to black
- Uvarovite: bright green
Different types of natural garnets may be partially almandine and partially pyrope. Garnet blends are common and produce some the most popular types of garnet. Rhodolite garnet, demantoid garnet, and Malaia garnet are just a few of the garnet varieties in the trade with blended garnet species.
Real Garnet vs Fake
The value of garnet ranges from a few dollars per carat to over $500 per carat, depending on quality, size, and type. Some estimated ranges for garnet types are:
- Almandine garnets: $10 to $50 per carat
- Pyrope garnets: $20 to $200 per carat
- Spessartine garnets: $50 to $300 per carat
- Grossular garnet: $10 to $100 per carat
- Andradite garnet: $100 to $500 per carat
- Uvarovite garnet: $50 to $200 per carat
Unfortunately, a stone doesn't have to be super valuable or costly in order to have fakes in the trade. Garnet fakes are no exception.
Read also: Emerald vs Green Garnet
Genuine Garnet vs Garnet Simulants
Garnets have a variety of materials and other natural stones that can be considered "fake garnets". The most common garnet simulant is red glass. Glass can be faceted to look like many natural stones, including rubies, emeralds, and sapphires.
Read also: How to Tell if Ruby is Real
Though most garnets aren't in the value range as the precious gemstones, a semi precious stone like garnet can still be imitated. You should be wary before buying more expensive garnet jewelry, like demantoid or rhodolite garnets.
Popular garnet imitations, fakes, and simulants are:
- Yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG is a less common colorless diamond simulant too)
- Composite stones (made of partial real garnets and glass)
- Red tourmaline
- Red spinel
Red garnets have also been able to imitate other gems, like rubies, spinel, and tourmaline. However, garnets are most often used to imitate ruby, a more valuable gemstone.
Read also: Garnet vs Ruby
Natural Garnet Gemstones vs Synthetic Garnets
Despite their name, synthetic garnets have the same natural and chemical qualities as garnets that have been mined from the ground. Furthermore, they're virtually undetectable from natural garnet. The average buyer will not know the difference.
However, there are some details that can indicate your garnet is probably synthetic garnet rather than a natural garnet. Natural garnets can have inclusions, color zoning, and other imperfections. Synthetic garnets look more clear and pristine. They also come larger for less money.
But if you're trying to buy a high quality garnet, it's likely you won't see any inclusions to indicate its difference from a synthetic stone. In that case, you'll have to do your due diligence and make sure your garnet is certified to be authentic by a respected gemological grading lab.
How to Tell if a Garnet is Real: The Tests
Wondering if you have real garnets or fake garnets on your hand? There's a few a different tests that can a real garnet stone from a fake garnet. Some tests may require special tools while others can be done at home or by observation.
Scratch Test for Hardness
The scratch test is a common test for a variety of gemstone fakes. Every gemstone and mineral has a rating on the mineral scale of hardness, also known as the Mohs scale. The Mohs scale determines a mineral's resistance to scratching.
It is agreed upon that minerals with a hardness level of 7 and above are suitable for daily wear. A real garnet stone will have the hardness rating of 6.5-7.5, depending on the garnet species and blend.
Read also: How Durable is a Diamond?
In order to perform the scratch test, you'll need a tool (or tools) to test the scratch resistance of your potential garnet stone. A steel nail or other steel object is a good one to use. Steel has a hardness rating of 5.5. You can even do glass, which has a hardness of 6.
Scratch the nail onto the potential garnet. If the stone is able to be scratched, it's not a real garnet. If it doesn't scratch, it means the stone has a higher hardness and it may be a real garnet.
Note that you can't identify fake garnets from real garnets from the scratch test alone. There are many red minerals that have a higher hardness than steel. It also can't tell you what material your garnet stone is either.
The scratch test is meant to be performed among other tests in ordered to determine genuine garnets from a fake one.
The refractive index of a stone is one of the tools that gemologists and jewelry professionals use to identify gemstones. In order for you to perform this test, you will need a refractometer.
The refractive index of a gemstone identifies the stone's ability to bend light that passes through the stone. Every stone has a refractive index range. Garnet's refractive index values may change slightly based on cut, color, and composition of the garnet.
Here are some of the refractive index values for popular types of genuine garnet:
- Almandine Garnet: 1.79-1.83
- Andradite Garnet: 1.87-1.94
- Grossular Garnet: 1.73-1.80
- Pyrope Garnet: 1.73-1.76
- Spessartine Garnet : 1.79-1.81
- Rhodolite Garnet: 1.76-1.81
- Tsavorite Garnet: 1.74-1.76
- Demantoid Garnet: 1.88-1.94
- Hessonite Garnet: 1.74-1.75
To test your potential garnet with a refractometer, it's important to make sure your garnet is clean. Wash away any dirt and dry thoroughly before testing.
- Set your refractometer to the type of garnet you think your stone is.
- Place a drop of refractive testing liquid on the refractometer.
- Hold your potential garnet against it firmly so light passes through the stone.
- Look through the eyepiece and see the refractive index measurement. A natural garnet will have a refractive index ranging between 1.72 to 1.94.
If the rating lies outside this range, it is not a real garnet. This test can only tell if your garnet is real, but not if its a synthetic one. It is not made to be performed by itself as a true indicator of real garnet, but among other tests included here too.
This is another test used to identify minerals and gemstones. It requires another piece of equipment, a spectroscope. This tool has the ability to separate light into individual colors. You'll need to hold the garnet stone next to a light source, like your phone or a desk lamp.
Place the spectroscope near the garnet and look through the eyepiece. There will be a bunch of lines that make the absorption spectrum of the stone. Compare the spectrum with a chart of garnet absorption spectrum values to identify the garnet.
Other Indicators of Fake Garnet
The problem with a lot of the tests able to tell if a garnet is real is that they require special equipment. If you're a casual rockhounded or you inherited a red stone, you're not likely to want to spend the money to get the equipment to determine if its a real gem.
Read also: Top Red Gemstones
In that case, you'd be better off bringing it to a local jeweler for identification. Chain fine jewelry retailers do not have this kind of equipment, nor do most of its employees have the knowledge of these tests. Seek out a bench jeweler that is known for sourcing stones and creating custom pieces.
In addition to performing the scratch test and magnetism test, it's possible to tell if a garnet is real simply by observing its features. You can do a lot of it with the naked eye, but it helps to have a magnifying glass or jewelry loupe to see better.
Observe your potential garnet carefully. Look for any cracks or inclusions within the stone. Though certain varieties of garnet can be eye-clean, there should be some minor blemishes under magnification.
If the stone looks too perfect, it may be a synthetic garnet or made of other materials.
The other test you can do only requires a lighter, a relatively easy object to obtain. Garnets are resistant to heat, whereas many of its simulants are not.
By holding the lighter flame to the stone (be careful) for a few seconds, you'll need to drop the stone immediately into a cold cup of water. If the stone has cracked, it's not a real garnet. It could be glass or other minerals.
Read also: How to Test if Your Diamond is Real
Similarly, by dropping your stone into a pot of boiling water, you'll be able to tell if a garnet is real if the color fades.
You can also hold a magnet to the stone to see if its magnetic. Real garnet gems are not magnetic. If magnet is attracted, it may be magnetic iron garnet, which is a synthetic gem.
It's difficult for the average person to tell if garnet is real. There are some tests to perform, but some of them require gemological equipment most of us don't have hanging around the house.
You shouldn't worry too much about running into fake garnet or simulants in the fine jewelry market, so long as you're sticking with known retailers. My favorite place to buy real garnet is Brilliant Earth.
Most jewelers only offers loose stones as the precious 4: sapphire, ruby, emerald, and diamonds. Brilliant Earth offers a number of loose semi-precious stones, including garnet.
You can observe the garnets through 360˚ view, super impose it on your own hand, and create your own garnet engagement ring though a trusted and ethical retailers. Not to mention, every garnet is certified, so there's no worries about having a fake one.
Wherever you choose to buy your garnet from, please heed the warning and indications of fake garnets. Read listings thoroughly and make sure to ask questions before making your final purchase.