When looking for a brilliant, beautiful red gemstone for your jewelry you’ve likely stumbled across ruby and garnet. These two often get compared because they were often confused, or rather garnet has been passed around as ruby in some circles.
The truth is ruby and garnet are two very, very different stones despite their similar colors. Even their colors are different, since you’ll soon notice they have subtle differences that set them apart. Today we’ll discuss the main differences between rubies and garnet, so you can always make an informed purchase.
Ruby vs garnet
Rubies are much stronger and harder than garnets, and they have an unmistakable purplish-pink tint to their red that garnets don’t have. As rubies are more expensive than garnets they will make jewelry worth more, and they will also resist scratches and abrasions much better. Garnets on the market are usually natural, while many rubies are treated to enhance color and clarity.
Rubies are a type of corundum, an aluminum oxide. They owe their red color to trace amounts of chromium, which turns a deep shade of red in rubies. These stones are very tough and fairly rare, and don’t always come in very large chunks.
Garnets are a type of silicate minerals and they come in a variety of colors, from brownish red to orange to red to green and finally blue. Garnets are softer and more common than rubies, being silica-based.
Now let’s take a closer look at each of the differences we’ve discovered between rubies and garnet.
1. Rubies are harder, tougher than garnet
Rubies are a type of gemstone that is much harder than garnet. The hardest gemstone is diamond, scoring a perfect 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. The scale measure’s a mineral’s resistance to scratches, abrasions, fractures and so on, on a scale from 1 to 10. Rubies score a 9 on the Mohs scale, while garnets are much softer as a 6.5-7.5.
This means a cut garnet is likely to scratch and chip if ever dropped or scratched against something hard by mistake. This matters because it dictates the type of setting you can use for your gemstone.
Because rubies are so tough and can withstand a lot of shocks, they’re good in any setting, including something as showy as a prong setting on their own. Garnets may need a bezel setting, a flush setting, or a bead setting. The aim is to keep the garnet safe. Or you may get a garnet in a cabochon cut.
Read also: What Are Rhinestones ?
2. Garnets come in more colors than rubies
Garnets have a chemical structure that varies slightly, according to what other trace elements it has within it, and how tightly the silica is fused. This leads to different colors in garnets and the red ones are called pyrope (bright red with brown hue) and almandine (deeper, darker red that may shift into purple).
Rubies owe their red color to trace amounts of chromium, and they only come in shades of red, with a pinkish-purplish hue. Some rubies may be completely clear and free of imperfections, like a red diamond. Those are the most expensive. And some rubies have various inclusions that may be tiny fractures, and they appear cloudy within.
One thing both rubies and garnets have going for them is the possibility of asterism. Sometimes, as a gemstone forms within the earth, tiny needle-like inclusions (like cat-eye) form in a specific pattern. When the light hits just right, those inclusions form a 5 or 6 arm star.
This is more common in rubies than it is in garnets, and it looks best when cut as a cabochon with the star near the top.
3. Rubies are generally more expensive than garnets
Because rubies are rarer and definitely harder than garnets, they also fetch a higher price. Rubies go for $15k – 25k for a stone between 1 and 2 carats, in the perfect red color with perfect clarity and no inclusions, untreated, and with a perfect cut.
There are various ruby mines, but the ones coming from Burma (Myanmar) are the best, as they contain the most chromium, so can produce a beautiful color without heat treatment.
Garnets go for much, much less. A clear pyrope between 1 and 2 carats can range between $25 – $44, though this is the most common garnet type (dark red, slight brown hue).
There are also garnets that mimic ruby much better, such as the almandine-pyrope hybrid. These can get up to $300 per carat.
Keep in mind that a gemstone’s price is determined by color, clarity, cut, and carat. No two stones are the same, so they may have significant price differences. But overall, rubies are going to be vastly more expensive than garnets.
4. Garnets can’t be heat treated, while rubies can
A key point when determining a gemstone’s price is color. And if you’re looking at rubies and garnet, you’re looking for a red gemstone. Well, rubies and sapphires are sometimes heat-treated. This means they are heated up top 1400 C for at least half an hour, to bring out their deep color and to dissolve any inclusions.
However these treated rubies, no matter their final look, will always be cheaper than rubies that were near-perfect from the get-go. A treated ruby is considered less desirable than an untreated one, because the deep color and perfect clarity are natural, and not induced. The asterisms we mentioned before often disappear when rubies are treated.
Meanwhile garnets are simply too fragile to withstand as much heat as a ruby, and their color cannot be changed this way. So any color you find your garnet is the color it originally had when mined, only it’s been cut and polished.
5. Rubies may have a purplish-pink tint, garnets a yellowish tint
Generally you can tell a ruby apart from a garnet because garnets, even the red ones, tend to have a yellowish hue to their red. Rubies have a purplish tint to their red which can sometimes turn them pink.
If you were to set a red ruby and a red garnet next to each other you could tell them apart, but looking at one and then the other separately may prove confusing. To make matters worse, there are garnet types that do manage to have a slight pink tint instead of yellow, though these are very rare.
Your best bet is to take the stones to a jeweler so he can take a look at them.
Can you use garnets instead of rubies ?
Yes, you can use red garnets instead of rubies if you’re simply looking for a red color in your jewelry or gemstone. The overall price would be much lower as the gemstone itself would be cheaper.
You need to take care when deciding the gem setting. Garnets are soft, brittle stones so they need bezel setting, or one where they are completely surrounded by metal, including a halo setting.
Keeping a single garnet (like a solitaire ring) set just in prongs has a high change of scratching and possibly cracking the stone in case of accidents. Never use a tension setting on a garnet, it may break.
I’m the main author for jewelrymaterialguide.com. I started this site after we did tons of research before our wedding and noticed that there is information about rings, jewelry, and so on that is really hard to find on the internet.