Garnets are red, sapphires are blue, Actually no, that’s not really true!

Jo Lally

Sapphires and garnets by Gill Mallett, Georgina Ettridge, Candied Silver and Pumblechooks.

Anyone who meets me finds out sooner or later how enthusiastic I am about gemstones – usually sooner.  I’m writing a few blog posts for ACJ Wessex, and I’ll be talking about gemstones quite a bit, but also about jewellery, contemporary jewellery, jewellery materials…  This time I’m talking about the wonderful colours of sapphires and garnets.  Mostly, with a few digressions…

We tend to think of garnets as dull, blood red stones, and sapphires as blue gems, whether that’s the cornflower blues found in Kashmir or Sri Lanka, or the darker blues often associated with Australian mines.  However, both stones come in a rainbow of different colours. 


Let’s start with sapphires. Look at this gorgeous ring by Georgina Ettridge, for example, which features a lovely green sapphire.  I think it works really well with her leafy, woodland vibe.

Green sapphire

Or check out this beautiful ‘Fire and Ice’ pendant by Gill Mallet, which includes fiery yellow sapphires.

‘Pure’ sapphire is actually colourless and is sometimes used as a rather unsatisfactory substitute for diamonds – it just doesn’t sparkle enough to do that job.  For those who are interested – sapphire is a compound of aluminium and oxygen, Al2O3, called corundum. 

The colour in sapphires comes from impurities – but these impurities give us rich blues, vibrant pinks, forest greens and more subtle mauves, peaches and browns, so thank goodness for them!   One of the most desirable colours for sapphire is padparadscha, which is pinky-orange.  Or orangey-pink.  Either way, most of us can’t afford one. The only colour that sapphire can’t be, is red, and that’s because if it was red, it would be a ruby.  (Did you know that rubies actually do glow a little bit?  But that’s a digression for another blog post … watch this space).

As sapphire crystals grow, there can be different impurities available, so sometimes they come out with different colour zones.  Traditionally, fine jewellers prefer pure, deep, single-coloured sapphires, but contemporary jewellers love to play with the design possibilities offered by colour variations.  Just look at this amazing sapphire slice. 

Blue and yellow sapphire slice

It comes from Zylana Pearls and Gemstones , who has a great IG feed of special stones.  I have been having lots of fun playing with ideas for a special gift to myself with this stone at the centre.  I also offer commissions with unusual stones. 


Garnets come in bright, vibrant colours as well as more subtle shades.  Whereas sapphire green is deep and foresty, garnet green is often bright and can rival or even exceed emerald in its greenness.  It can be minty or grassy or like spring leaves as they unfurl in the sunshine.  Check out Gill Mallet’s earrings here.  Garnets also come in reds and oranges and yellows like fire, and an intense purple, as well as the more well-known blood reds, pinks and pinkish browns – for example, Lynne Eales’ earrings here

It is possible to find colourless and black garnets and an iridescent rainbow garnet.  Blue garnets are much rarer, but they do exist.  I have a garnet which is blue in daylight, but in candlelight goes deep red.  Gorgeous!  Here are just a few of my garnets – on the left are two mauvish – brownish colour change garnets, a deep red-orange spessartine, an orange spessartine, a greenish yellow mali garnet, two orangy brown malaya garnets and a wonderful deep purple garnet from Kenya. Most of these came from Marcus McCallum, and some from Ward Gemstones.

Various garnets

Garnets are actually a complex series of minerals which have similar structures.  It is not necessary to know about the chemistry of garnets to enjoy the stones or the jewellery – but I find it fascinating!   For those who are interested, they all have this structure: X3Y2(SiO4)3  – so you might get Fe3Al2(SiO4)3  (almandine) or Ca3Al2(SiO4)3  (grossular, including tsavorite), or Ca3Fe2(SiO4)3  (andradite, including demantoid).

Unlike sapphires, garnets are not naturally colourless.  It is the elements which make up their basic structure which are responsible for the colour rather than impurities.  So, in almandine garnets, it is iron which creates the pink-red-brown colours, and these colours can look a bit like blood, because it is iron that gives our blood its colour.  By contrast, pyrope garnets contain magnesium and, although they can be quite dark, they can also be a wonderful, bright red.  Spessartine garnets contain manganese, which can lead to bright oranges, pinkish orange almost like padparadscha sapphires, and a range of pink-orange-browns.  Check out the spessartine garnet in Candied Silver’s opal and garnet ring, pictured above.

The presence of calcium contributes to the vibrant greens of tsavorite and demantoid garnets, and then there is my absolute favourite, uvarovite, which contains calcium and chromium.  It only grows into very small crystals, so it is usually found in drusy, like these little trees, which one day I am going to decorate and make into magnificent seasonal earrings.

Uvarovite garnet trees

If you are looking for ethically sourced sapphires or garnets, you can try Nineteen48 or Anza gems. Both offer Moyo Gems, which are responsbily sourced from female miners in Tanzania.

Finally – with all this variety, why do we think of garnets as dull red and sapphires as blue? Well, it’s mostly a matter of history. For a long time, the most common known garnets were small reddish crystals that looked like pomegranate stones – hence the name. The more exciting colours have mostly been mined only since the 1960s. Even more than this, before modern analytical techniques were available, stones were classified by their colour. Red stones were rubies (and interestingly, some of the most famous rubies are not, in fact rubies, but spinels – I digress again!) and blue stones were sapphires, even if they were in fact lapis lazuli. We may now have electron scanning microscopes and Raman spectroscopy to analyse the structure of different stones which look the same, but our cultural understanding has deep roots in the past, so it is changing more slowly than our scientific understanding of stones.

Winter Jewels Online 2020

Many of you will be familiar with our Winter Jewels exhibitions which are normally an annual event at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Romsey, running from the end of November into the New Year. This year we have, like everyone, been facing the challenge of the Covid19 pandemic.
We always like to plan ahead as far as possible, and towards the end of the summer we asked our members their views on the possibility of participating in some sort of physical exhibition (if possible) or an online event which would might run in parallel with a physical exhibition at Hilliers.
We discussed the option of a scaled down Winter Jewels event with Hilliers, but by September it was clear that the logistical difficulties faced in running such an exhibition would insurmountable, and we made the difficult decision that Winter Jewels 2020 would not go ahead in its usual form.
We decided instead to set up an “online gallery” linking to the web based shops of the virtual exhibitors. This was launched on 15th October 2020, and it can be found at
The gallery links to the pages of 25 exhibiting jewellers. Although it is not possible to chat to them in person this year, it is possible to contact individual exhibitors via their websites. Regular updates on Facebook @acjwessex and Instagram @acjwessex will feature the work of our jewellers.
We realise that your shopping experience won’t be the same this year, but we hope that you will enjoy browsing our online event and selecting these unique hand crafted items safely from the comfort of your own homes.

Preparations for Spring Jewels

Petersfield Museum and Community Art Gallery
Petersfield Museum and Community Art Gallery

Our exhibitions always need a great deal of preparation, and Spring Jewels is no exception. Today we met with Ryan at Petersfield Museum to discuss the finer details of the event organisation. We also finalised the layout plan, working out the exact positioning of the 12 cabinets which will house the work of 14 designer makers.  Spring Jewels will start on 22nd May, and will open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm until 9th June.

Inspired by the Seashore

The ACJ Wessex region covers an area bounded by 90 odd miles of coastland from the Jurassic coast of Dorset in the west to Chichester Harbour, Sussex, in the East; and  encompassing a wide variety of coastal landscapes and characteristics.  So while some of our members are geographically quite distant from one another many of us share the experience of being close to the South Coast that links us.  A project based on a beachcombing theme was a great way of getting members out and about together to seek inspiration by that linking thread.

So late last summer four groups set off to find inspiration at different locations, Kimmeridge in Dorset, Milford on Sea at the edge of the New Forest,  Southampton Water and Bosham in Chichester Harbour.  This was a way of spending time together walking, talking, collecting, drawing, photographing and lunching.  A great time was had by all. The social aspect of our meeting together to talk about jewellery and ideas would have been a positive in itself.  But we are of course all makers at heart so the plan was to use our trips as inspiration experiment with new ideas or techniques and maybe even make a resulting piece of work.

Autumn of course is a busy time for all jewellers in the lead up for Christmas and particularly so for the ACJ Wessex group who have an annual selling exhibition in November and December at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Romsey.

It was therefore at our members meeting in Salisbury in January that we came together to show each other how we had been inspired by our visits.  This was not a competition and there were no rules.  Members brought a fantastic range of work they had created; examples of techniques they were developing, designs for pieces, trial pieces and some finished pieces,  as well as pieces on the theme that they had pulled from their archives to inspire further work.  Just a few examples of work created are as follows.

Vanessa Sharp had brought a silver and tourmaline necklace that she’d previously made based on bladder wrack and using hydraulic pressing techniques.  After the trip she went on an enamelling short course at West Dean College and developed the seaweed theme with a copper piece etching through and enamelling using white enamel at different temperatures “over” and “under cooking” to bring out sea toned colours.

Enamel work by Vanessa Sharp
Enamel work by Vanessa Sharp

Dawn Gear had found a beautiful piece of sea worn blackened wood.  She soldered copper in multiple layers to give a similar effect. And she also used seaweed to roll texture onto silver to make a pair of finished silver.

Inspirational pieces and finished items by Dawn Gear
Inspirational pieces and finished items by Dawn Gear

Sheila Joughin did some very accomplished detailed designs in her sketch book, based on seaweed.  One design has been expressed in 3D using paper cut outs to make a collar, and another design would use silver seaweed shapes to be hung on a piece of cord she intends to weave using red ochre colours.  She will include agate stone and hematite beads to complete the theme.

Having found shards of flint on the beach, Gill Mallett was reminded of some pieces of interest in her archive that she brought along to further inspire us; some flint arrowheads, and an amazing large flint dagger with a leather scabbard. She also brought an electro formed shell, and a natural shell set with freshwater pearls.

Furthering the shell theme Jill Clark found some lovey shell pieces covered with worm casts and barnacles and created a number of pieces on that theme taking silver and copper and drilling, rolling and soldering.

Found objects and completed piece by Jill Clark.
Found objects and completed piece by Jill Clark.


Our chairman Syd Meats brought some shells, driftwood and fossils and showed us some work in progress using a succession of domed pieces.  He has taken that further into a pendant that has evident shell like inspiration.

Seashore themed pendant by Syd Meats.
Seashore themed pendant by Syd Meats.

Finally Jo Tallis was hugely productive and brought a number of necklace assemblages using an array of found pieces of drift wood, shells, slate, seaweed, glass and recycled items.  A true artistic inspiration taken from the coast and its offerings.

Found objects assembled by Jo Tallis.
Found objects assembled by Jo Tallis.

Other members have collections, sketches and photos from which they will be developing further ideas and pieces.  All involved found the process very satisfying, getting to know other members better and learning from one another and nature.  In fact so successful was our project that we will be continuing our conversations with one another and with nature in another project this year.  This time we are taking another theme that forms a common thread across our geography; woodland.   We are all very much looking forward to further inspiration and picnics.


Article by Vanessa Sharp of ACJ Wessex.

Petersfield Museum Exhibition

We are holding an exhibition at the Petersfield Museum Community Gallery, 1 St. Peter’s Road, Petersfield, GU32 3HX from 22nd May to 9th June.  Opening times are 10am to 4pm Tuesday to Saturday only. There will be 14 of our members exhibiting their own designs.  Come along and meet the makers, there will be two members available each day to chat to you about the work they do.  Entrance to the exhibition is free.