At 21, jeweler Sean Criss probably sells as many garnets as any jeweler in America. Lately, he thinks he may be selling the most. While that may not be a distinction many of his peers are vying for, it fills him with pride anyway.
Criss is second-in-command at Federal Way Custom Jewelers in Federal Way, Washington, 30 miles south of Seattle and seven miles north of Tacoma. The store, which opened in 1955, was bought by his father Rene in 1981. Criss says he grew up in the business and inherited his father’s pronounced passion for colored stones, pursuing a private predilection for garnet as soon as he decided to work at jewelry retailing full time three years ago. “I’m known as the garnet guy around here,” he says.
No doubt about it, Federal Way Custom Jewelers is not your ordinary jewelry store. Only 30 percent of its gross sales come from diamonds; the remaining 70 percent comes from colored stones. Since garnet is Criss’ favorite gem, it is no accident that this complex, sprawling, dynastic group accounts for seven percent of all the store’s colored stone sales and may soon reach 10 percent. “There are eleven types of garnet, by my count, that are readily available for sale to jewelers,” Criss explains, “and you’ll find ten of them in this store right now.” And not just in ones and twos, but the half dozens and even dozens. In addition, Criss thinks he may be selling a breed or two before anyone else.
At present, the most popular garnet is a relative newcomer from Tanzania which the Crisses have named cherry garnet. “It was sold to us as something else, but we took one look at its juicy-red pie-filling color and rechristened it.”
Like any other most-wanted, cherry garnet has its share of aliases. When first discovered around 2005, miners sure there was some spessartite (academics prefer spessartine) DNA in the stone took to calling it Rose Malaya. Soon afterward, an American lab identified it as pyrope-almandine-spessartine and the new market name began to stick.
However, to make absolutely sure which of garnet’s many strains ran through the gem, cutter John Dyer, based in Edina, Minnesota, who had bought as much of the rough as he could, submitted it to GIA’s mobile lab at the Tucson show in 2006. GIA, which has published extensive studies on garnet groupings and interminglings, challenged earlier identifications and called the stone a pyrope-almandine-grossular garnet. Stunned by this classification, Dyer renamed the stone gypsy rose garnet—after the flower and not, as I first suspected, the entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee. “The word ‘malaya’ is only appropriate with garnets that are in whole or part spessartite,” he explains. But he quickly acknowledges the poetic logic of calling it cherry garnet.
RHAPSODY IN RED
Whether called “gypsy rose” or “cherry,” Tanzania’s red garnet sets new standards for the presence of this color in garnet. Do the following mental exercise. Imagine pyrope, the most common red garnet. What comes to mind? Most likely, you’ll picture a gem with a muddy, over-dark ruby color. Next, conjure rhodolite. What do you see in your mind’s eye? If it’s a red rhodolite, chances are, it’s purplish-red. Now, turn the page and feast your eyes on Tino Hammid’s gorgeous color-accurate shot that shows a boisterously bold pop-tart hue.