Malaia or Malaya Garnet

Malai Garnet, East Africa
Malaia Garnet from East Africa

Garnets have been known and admired since antiquity, but new garnet varieties are still discovered from time to time. The most recent finds are Mali garnet and Malaia garnet. The reason for the new discoveries is that garnet has a highly variable chemical composition, and some specimens do not fit existing categories.

Members of the garnet family share a common crystal structure -- singly refractive cubic crystals -- with slight differences in chemical composition. This has led to the identification of 6 main varieties of garnet:

  • Pyrope (magnesium aluminum silicate)
  • Almandine (iron aluminum silicate)
  • Spessartite (manganese aluminum silicate)
  • Uvarovite (calcium chromium silicate)
  • Grossularite (calcium aluminum silicate)
  • Andradite (calcium iron silicate)

The different garnet varieties familiar to the gem trade are mainly assigned to these 6 categories. Tsavorite and hessonite, for example, belong to the grossularite species, and demantoid to the andradite species. But some garnet varieties are hybrid of several species. Rhodolite is a mixture of pyrope and almandine, while mali garnet is a mixture of grossularite and andradite.

One of the recent discoveries of a new hybrid is a pyrope-spessartite mixture that is known in the trade as Malaia or Malaya garnet. It is sometimes also marketed under the name Imperial garnet. It is found in a range of hues, from slightly pinkish orange to reddish orange or yellowish orange. Tone can vary from light to dark. Depending on the color, it can easily be mistaken for rhodolite, hessonite or spessartite.

Malaia garnet was first discovered in the early 1970's in the Umba River valley that borders northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. Deposits of similar material were also found in 1993 in southern Tanzania. There are also reports of some specimens from Madagascar and Sri Lanka, including some very rare pink Malaia garnet from Bekily in Madagascar that exhibit a pink-red color shift.

The preferred spelling for this garnet is "Malaia" rather than "Malaya" since the latter misleadingly suggests the gem is associated in some way with Malaysia. The word malaia actually comes from Swahili, where it means "outcast" or "prostitute". Miners gave it this name because when the gem was first discovered local dealers wouldn't buy it because it didn't fit any of the known garnet varieties. Now it is regarded as a rare and special garnet and it commands a premium price in the market. High quality finished stones over 3 carats are especially valuable.

See our collection of Fine Malaia Garnet

 Malaia Garnet, Tanzania