Czech Garnets: From Stonecutting to Jewellery

Czech Garnets: From Stonecutting to Jewellery

Olivine, agate, jasper, crystal quartz, amethyst, chalcedony and, most notably, the Czech garnet: these are all precious stones associated with Český Ráj, also known as the Bohemian Paradise Landscape Area.

These gemstones might not be strewn around the area in mounds, but there are still places where you can actually find some nice specimens. You can also visit one of the local stonecutter workshops, create your own jewellery and see the fascinating art of local jewellers and stonecutters in the local museums and galleries.
The number of glass, jewellery and stonecutter workshops in the north of Bohemia is truly unique on a global scale. Believe it or not, the oldest worked precious stones appeared in the region six thousand years ago, and the craft of precious stonecutters has remained much the same in many places in Český Ráj. However, gemstone cutting not only includes the processing of increasingly rare natural precious stones, but also the cutting and polishing of their imitations from various special types of multicoloured glass.

The history of this acclaimed craft

Had the prospectors of Emperor Charles IV already known of the later famous sites of precious stones? We do not know for sure, but a number of prospectors of Emperor Rudolf II certainly came from Turnov, who, among other things, exercised the pre-emption right for garnets of exceptional size. After 1700, Czech garnets became widespread in jewellery shops, and to ensure the quality of the craft, a stonecutting fraternity called the Confraternity of the Free Art of Steinschneider was established. At that time, stonecutting of so-called glass composite also began in the Turnov region. The Fišer brothers are said to have acquired the top-secret art of making coloured composite glass from Venetian glassmakers, and it was this glass composite that later became the basis of the renowned Jablonec jewellery.

In the 18th century, Czech garnets became so fashionable that in 1762 Maria Theresa issued a ban on the export of Czech garnets from the country in order to protect the domestic monopoly of garnet mining and processing.

Glassmaking gradually moved further north to the Jizera Mountains and, during the 19th century, Turnov stonecutters began to devote themselves increasingly more to cutting and polishing Czech garnets. These, like the glass imitations, were successfully exported all over the world, especially to France, Spain, Russia, Italy and the Orient. In order to maintain the traditions of the old craft and the education of experts in the field of precious stone processing, today's Secondary School of Industrial Arts was founded in 1884. Even today, new generations of excellent stonecutters and jewellers emerge from the local workshops.

In 1886, a museum was established in Turnov, where one of its sections focused exclusively on gems and jewellery.

Czech garnet – a national treasure

Czech garnet plays the role of family silver, of being the national stone and the mineralogical symbol of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Mineralogists call it pyrope. It is a fiery red transparent mineral, colour-stable and resistant to heat and acids. It comes from the youngest geological era, the Quaternary, and in its raw state it is usually up to eight millimetres in size, after being cut on average four millimetres.

However, there are many types of garnets and their colour and hardness depend on their chemical composition. They are usually transparent and translucent, opaque or matte, the colour scale ranges from pink to orange, red, brown or purple to almost black, but there are also garnets that are green and blue. The colours of almandines and rhodolites, mined in Africa, Brazil, India, Norway, Sri Lanka and the USA, most closely resemble Czech garnets. Compared to Czech garnets, they are about ten times cheaper due to their more abundant occurrence and large-scale mining.

Museums, mountains and special trails

Czech garnet is mainly sourced in the České Středohoří mountain range, more rarely in the foothills of the Giant Mountains and in the Kolín region. However, there are hundreds of smaller pyrope deposits in Bohemia. Kozákov, a mountain entwined with many legends about precious stones, is a fabled location: one legend tells of a herdsman who threw a random stone he picked up from the ground after a stray cow, the stone later proving to be altogether more valuable than the animal itself.

At the top of Kozákov stands Rieger's tourist cottage with a lookout tower, which, in good weather, offers a panoramic view of the Giant Mountains, the Jizera Mountains, the Ještěd Ridge, the Lusatian Mountains, České Středohoří, Bohemian Paradise and the Eagle Mountains. The famous Votrubec quarry on the southern slope, which once served as the centre of gravity of precious stones, is famous. Nearby is the Museum of Precious Stones, the ticket also serves as a voucher for your chance of mining your own treasures in the quarry.

The Museum of Bohemian Paradise in Turnov focuses on precious stones and their processing; in addition to the geological-mineralogical exposition, you can see the Jeweller's Exposition with jewellery, vessels made of precious and noble stones and wrought-iron pieces from 1891-1954, as well as purely contemporary works created at international jewellery symposia. There is also a games room in the museum and, for kids, an interactive Journey of the Stone game that leads from one exhibition to the next and acquaints visitors with the stones from their creation through processing to their transformation into jewellery pieces. You can also visit the Stonecutter‘s House – a replica of a log cabin from the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries offering a look at the processing of precious stones, goldsmithing and jewellery down to the smallest detail.
Another attraction is the Stonecutter’s Trail; educational info boards designed in the same colour as garnets are dedicated to the traditions of stonecutting and jewellery in Turnov and introduce you to interesting places in the city. Pick up a brochure that includes a map of the area at the information centre. The cutting and polishing of stones and workshops showcasing the production of garnet jewellery are offered, for example, by Gema Stonecutters’ and the Granát Turnov Cooperative, an art production cooperative in Turnov. It was created by merging smaller goldsmith companies, it owns several Czech garnet mines with the right to mine them.