About Those Pretty Grape-Purple Garnets

There's been much buzz about these grape-purple Rhodolite garnets lately.  Well, actually they are closer to Malaia garnet than Rhodolite - my friend Josh Lents from GAL (Gemological Appraisal Laboratory of America: http://www.gemlab.com/) did a microscopic analysis.

Grape Garnet Ovals and Emerald Cut
But let me back up.  Purple-grape colored garnets have been around for a bit, but the material was generally from Tanzania and that stuff isn't quite as bright as these newer finds.  From what I can piece together, they first showed up at a gem dealer's office in Tanzania who is a big buyer over there (I can't disclose the name) and ended up in the hands of two US gem dealers who get many of their supplies through the Tanzanian dealer.  One of these gem sellers deals in rough, and that's how it most likely made it to some of the US cutters.  The other seller deals mainly in faceted materials, and that's how I got mine (though I buy from the other seller on occasion also).  Talking to both tracked back to the source in Tanzania, and neither of them knew of anyone else who had the material.  The actual origin of the garnet is Mozambique, however, and the market in Mozambique is not very controlled.  So even if you are a big buyer and put word out that you'd like an exclusive, the material will most likely be sold elsewhere.  This means it may turn up with other sellers in the US.  

Larger Grape Garnet Pieces from Mozambique
You should know however, that there are really only a few hundred good gem dealers throughout the US, and many know each other because they buy from each other and they vend at the same shows (i.e. the AGTA, the GJX, the JCK).  So it is ultimately a small world.  

Anyway, given the fact that these gems have not shown up anywhere so far but these two dealers, I surmise that the finds are very small.  

So what is unique about these gems?  Well, both Jaimeen Shah at Prima and Josh Lents from GAL have never seen this stuff before.  Nor had the other seller I talked with.  And that says a lot.  The color is a bright grape purple (purple with "notes" of red).  The material is clean, most pieces are smaller, and those have the best color.  

Why the name Malaia, and not Rhodolite?  Well according to Josh, Rhodolite is Pyrope and Almandine garnet.  But the microscopic association of this material isn't typical, Josh says, which is why he believes there's some spessartine in it as well.  And that would qualify it under Malaia.  He says that "Reviewing both spectral and microscopic analysis, it is interesting to note the association of apatite and rutile inclusions present in these samples, which is highly characteristic of mixed garnet crystals of pyrope, almadine, and spessartine."

Here's a look inside these pretty pieces:

Micro images of Mozambique Grape Garnet

And what about the most important thing, availability?  The honest answer is that nobody knows.  I would surmise that some locals sold these gems, and they got here through the chain I described.  Who else has it, where it is located, nobody traced that back as of yet.

For the time being, all the rough that I know of (from the original purchase) has been cut.  The larger pieces my supplier had are already all sold, so there's just what I have (the two smaller emerald cuts are also sold).  I may be able to get more 6x4 ovals.  Word has been put out for more, and some will presumably show up sooner or later.  Usually however, when "word is put out" and there's not a ton of stuff, prices will be higher next time.  For the miners and brokers that have to live hand to mouth, long term planning or relationships with gem dealers are a luxury.  If you can sell for more today and feed your kids, you will.  Prices are calculated from there on up.