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Garnet is a gemstone that has been known for centuries. But new garnet varieties continue to be discovered, largely because garnet has a variable chemical composition. The most recent discoveries were Mali Garnet, a hybrid of grossulartite and andradite, that was identified in 1994; and Malaia Garnet, an almandite-pyrope-spessartite mixture, that was first discovered in the early 1970's.
|Umbalite Garnet, Tanzania|
So when we heard of a new garnet variety, Umbalite Garnet, that had recently appeared in the market, we were excited to add a new type of garnet to our collection. But in this case, we were to be disappointed. While the so-called Umbalite Garnets are very nice gems indeed, they are not a distinct garnet variety at all. There's a lesson in this for everyone who buys gemstones.
What is being sold in the market as Umbalite Garnet is actually a rhodolite garnet from Tanzania. Rhodolite is a mixture of almandite and pyrope garnets. The Tanzanian material is high quality, with a vivid pinkish-red or purplish-red color. The first deposit of this material was found in the Umba River area of Tanzania, with a second find in the Morogoro area.
|Umbalite Garnet Rough Stone|
Opinions differ on the best way to characterize this material. Some dealers have proposed that Umbalite Garnet is lighter in color and brighter in tone than rhodolite from other locations such as Madagascar, or more pink or purple in color. Most everyone agrees that the quality of the Umbalite is generally very high, and it tends to sell for a premium price in the market.
It is also worth noting that there is a different garnet sometimes sold under the confusingly similar name Umba Garnet, which is red-orange in color from a mixture of almandite and spessartite. This gem is closer in chemical composition to Malaia Garnet.
While we understand that the gem trade likes to introduce marketing names for gemstones, these can be confusing for consumers. We list our Umbalite Garnet as rhodolite, with the origin noted as Umba River, Tanzania. Sticking with the gemological name is always safer, so the buyer knows exactly what he is getting. No gemological lab will certify a garnet as "Umbalite Garnet".
The proliferation of marketing names for garnet does appear to be getting out of hand. You will see garnets sold as Ant Hill Garnet, Merelani Mint Garnet, Tanga Garnet, Masasi Bordeaux Garnet and Native Sunset Garnet. None of these names have any gemological basis, they are just an attempt to romance the stone. But if the gem can stand on its own -- like the fine rhodolite garnet from the Umba River in Tanzania -- it doesn't need to be dressed up with a fancy name.