Lion of Merelani: Green Garnet Sublime
History’s largest green garnet has taken up residence in the Smithsonian’s National Gem Collection. Worth a pilgrimage for this gem lover, I want to share a condensed version of the story with you.
The gemstone name honors Campbell Bridges, a Scottish-born Kenyan gemologist whose entire life circled around geology and ultimately, gemstones. Bridges was in Kenya during the discovery of zoisite, which, when heated to a brilliant blue color, later became known as Tanzanite. He consulted for Tiffany when they bought the rights to mine tanzanite, and later, tsavorite garnet.
The story goes that Campbell was hiking around near Tsavo National Park on land that he and the family still own. This land straddles the border between Kenya and Tanzania. Being a geologist, he loved to look for changes in the earth’s formation that might signal something important lying beneath. In 1967, he dug around and found bright, glassy green rough stone hidden in the hills of Tanzania. He sent it off to the Smithsonian for tests and, just like that, Tsavorite garnet joined its garnet siblings!
When cut, Tsavorite ranges in color from bright spring-green to rich bluish green. Tougher and much more brilliant than emerald, tsavorite is often used by jewelers (yours truly) when a client wants green but needs something with a good chance of withstanding daily wear.
The Bridges established the Scorpion Mine in Kenya and began what was likely the world’s first responsible mining program to bring tsavorite to the jewelry world. The mining camp is regularly visited by leopards who reside in the Bridges’ house (on stilts) when they are out of camp.
Campbell Bridges was brutally murdered in front of his son, Bruce, when the two were walking with some staff on a secluded dirt road at the mining camp. The murderers were a government gang hired to kill the Bridges so that the government could steal their mining operation. Some members of the gang were convicted but several went free because of high connections.
Bruce carries on the family business today and does so with grace, intelligence, and ethics.
The Lion of Merelani weighed over 283 carats as a rough gem. Generally, “large” tsavorites weigh at most 8-10 carats and those are rare. Bruce Bridges hired a video team to record all the stages of cutting this natural marvel and set up a cutting studio for one of the world’s best cutters to work his magic.
The Lion of Merelani tops out at 116 carats.