Bright pinkish orange 1.20 carat ‘Ceylon Imperial’ garnet gemstone from Sri Lanka. This is the trade name for a variety of malaia garnet from Sri Lanka that is highly sought after by garnet collectors for its colour and rarity.
Malaia (also sometimes referred to as malaya) is a rare garnet hybrid found mainly in East Africa. Popularity notwithstanding, this relatively rare remains complicated. Currently the name is used two different ways. It is a trade name for pyrope-spessartine garnet with light to slightly dark colours ranging from pink, pinkish orange, yellowish orange, orange, to red. It is also a variety of ‘pyralspite’ (a blend of pyrope, almandine, and spessartine garnet) with a very wide range of possible mixtures. The GIA (Gemological Institute of America) classifies malaia garnet as a pyrope-spessartine species, but this may not be the case for all malaia garnet. For the most part, it has been considered a variety of pyrope, since most tested specimens contained high percentages of pyrope as their primary component. However, over the years many specimens were discovered to contain equal parts of both spessartine or almandine. In some cases, stones also contained minor traces of grossular and andradite. Research has now shown that its composition can be highly variable, ranging anywhere from 2-94% spessartine, 0-83% pyrope, 2-78% almandine, 0-24% grossular, with no more than 0-4% andradite. Light peach and pinkish orange malaia garnet is also sometimes marketed as ‘Imperial’ garnet and material from Sri Lanka is sometimes sold under the name ‘Ceylon Imperial’ garnet. Brownish, pinkish orange specimens from Madagascar with a high anomalous double refraction have been called ‘Imperial malaia’ garnet. Tan, beige specimens are often marketed as ‘Champagne’ garnet. Garnets themselves are a complicated family. The story of malaia garnet illustrates this well. It was first discovered in the Umba River Valley region bordering Tanzania and Kenya in the early 1970's, but this first known source now rarely produces the material. The pink gems that were originally found were called malaia, Swahili for ‘out of the family’ or ‘outcast’. Miners who were being paid to search for violet rhodolite garnet gave the new material this name because when it was first discovered local dealers would not buy it, simply because it did not fit into any known garnet varieties; thus, it was cast aside. The first finds were believed to be a type of spessartine and they were often mined and mixed with parcels of rhodolite garnet. However, when malaia garnet came to the attention of the gem world later in the 1970s the ‘outcast’ quickly became quite popular and valuable. These gems have since been found elsewhere in Africa and also Sri Lanka in a wider range of colours than the pink that initially garnered so much attention.