Bohemian Garnets: Exotic Allure From the Hills of Czechoslovakia

by Dani Chavez

“The garnet is a red gem, but not like the ruby; its red is much more like that of a flame …  It forms far in the east … If correctly cut and polished, it will reveal all its beauty and perfection.” – Aristotle, ca. 322 B.C.

Bohemian garnets are well known to vintage and antique jewelry collectors, but few people are aware of these beautiful pieces of jewelry history. Bohemian garnets are a member of the pyrope species of garnet and are prized for their vibrant red hue and an inner glow that comes from their highly refractive nature with light.

People in the Bronze age were the first to collect and value these garnets for their excellent color. Many ancient Greek philosophers and authors mention garnet in their works, from Pliny the Elder and Aristotle to Theophrastus of Eresos, and in fact, the name Pyrope is Greek for Pyr or “fire” and ops “eye.”

pyrope garnet

Rough pyrope garnet

Significant garnet deposits popped up in 16th century Meronitz, in Bohemia’s hills in the Czech Republic. The garnets are found in gravel from serpentine decomposition and get their unique color from traces of chromium and manganese. Although these garnets have only been mined for the past 600 years, they have been collected and set into jewelry for several millennia.

Bohemian garnet mine

Bohemian garnet jewelry is known for the rose-cut gemstones, which are pavé set and are reminiscent of pomegranate seeds. Pyropes have excellent clarity and purity, making them extremely popular with Frankish King Childeric I (436-482 AD). His love was so great for these garnets that during the 1653 excavation of this tomb in Tournai, they found an impressive amount of garnet jewelry, including buckles, large brooches, and inlaid bug pins.

Each era of history since Childeric has valued these garnets and evolved the gem-setting techniques. During the Renaissance era, Venetian stone cutters traveled to Prague. They taught the local artisans improved gem cutting and setting methods so garnets could adorn jewelry and objects de Arte. King Rudolph II, a member of the illustrious Habsburg family,  was another major garnet enthusiast who adorned his crown with garnets, which is in use today as the Imperial Crown of Austria.

Image from Wikipedia

The Imperial Crown of Austria

Bohemian garnets experienced a wave of popularity in the 1800s after the stones adorned Russian dresses at the Vienna Congress after the fall of Napoleon in 1815. They remained very favorable throughout the Victorian era until the Great Depression. Michelle Obama recently acquired a piece for her collection during her travels as First Lady! This fascinating jewelry is currently experiencing another revival of popularity and is a must to pick up a bauble in the Czech Republic.

All of the pieces below are for sale at The Gemmary!