The mineral pyrope is a member of the garnet group. It is the only member of the garnet family to always display red colouration in natural samples, and it is from this characteristic that it gets its name from the Greek for fire and eye. Despite being less common than most garnets, it is a widely used gemstone with numerous alternative names, some of which are misnomers. Chrome pyrope, and Bohemian garnet are two alternative names.
Pure pyrope is Mg3Al2(SiO4)3, although typically other elements are present in at least minor proportions—these other elements include Ca, Cr, Fe and Mn. The stone forms a solid solution series with almandine and spessartine, which are collectively known as the pyralspite garnets: pyrope, almandine and spessartine. Iron and manganese substitute for the magnesium in the stione structure. The resultant, mixed composition garnets are defined according to their pyrope-almandine ratio. The semi-precious stone rhodolite is a garnet of 70% pyrope composition.
The origin of most pyrope is in ultramafic rocks, typically peridotite from the Earth’s mantle: these mantle-derived peridotites can be attributed both to igneous and metamorphic processes. It also occurs in ultrahigh-pressure metamorphic rocks, as in the Dora-Maira massif in the western Alps. In that massif, nearly pure pyrope occurs in crystals to almost 12 cm in diameter; some of that pyrope has inclusions of coesite, and some has inclusions of enstatite and sapphirine.
Pyrope is common in peridotite xenoliths from kimberlite pipes, some of which are diamond-bearing. It found in association with diamond commonly has a Cr2O3 content of 3 to 8 %, which imparts a distinctive violet to deep purple colouration, often with a greenish tinge, and because of this is often used as a kimberlite indicator mineral in areas where erosive activity makes pin pointing the origin of the pipe difficult. These varieties are known as chrome-pyrope, or G9/G10 garnets.
Pyrope garnet identification
In hand specimen, pyrope is very tricky to distinguish from almandine, however, it is likely to display fewer flaws and inclusions. Other distinguishing criteria are listed in the adjacent table. Care should be taken when using these properties as many of those listed have been determined from synthetically grown, pure-composition pyrope. Others, such as high specific gravity, may be of little use when studying a small crystal embedded in a matrix of other silicate minerals. In these cases, mineral association with other mafic and ultramafic minerals may be the best indication that the garnet you are studying is pyrope.
In petrographic thin section, the most distinguishing features of pyrope are those shared with the other common garnets: high relief and isotropy. It tend to be less strongly coloured than other silicate minerals in thin section, although pyrope may show a pale pinkish-purple hue in plane-polarized light. The lack of cleavage, commonly euhedral crystal morphology, and mineral associations should also be used in identification of pyrope under the microscope.
Pyrope garnet from Pailin, Cambodia