What is Spessartite Garnet?
Once upon a very real time, nearly 20 years ago, some miners in East Africa went looking for a purplish-pink garnet called rhodolite which was very popular in Japan. One day, while digging for rhodolite, the miners found a strange orange and sometimes reddish-orange garnet mixed in with the pink garnet.
“What is this stuff?” one asked. “I don’t know. But whatever it is no one will want it,” another answered.
And sure enough, the Japanese kept rejecting this new garnet when offered it by dealers in Nairobi, Kenya. In time, the African dealers came to treat the gem with contempt.
Gradually, as miners kept finding more of this nuisance gem, they nicknamed it “malaya,” a Swahili word that means, first, “outcast,” and, second, “prostitute” – but connoting above all, trash. They called it malaya because dealers soon told them to stop bringing this new gem to them.
Then one day in the late 1970’s, some Americans (and Germans, too) happened to notice the orange garnet and began questioning the African dealers about it. “Oh, you mean the malaya,” the dealers would say, a bit surprised. “What’s malaya?” the Americans would ask.
It’s a misfit garnet that no one has any use for,” the dealers invariably replied. “But it’s beautiful,” the Americans would insist, and buy some to sell to collectors back home. In no time at all, the new garnet went from outcast to “In” thing. And prices for top grades quickly flew.
It may even be fair to say that malaya is the most coveted non-green garnet – outside of exceedingly rare true rhodendron-color rhodolite and some of the more remarkable of the color change garnets coming out of East Africa.