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Carnelian Meaning and Properties


Carnelian History

Carnelian is believed to be named after the red-orange Kornel cherry. Artifacts using carnelian date back to the Bronze Age circa 1800 BC on the island of Crete. Carnelian was believed by the Romans to be a stone of courage--able to shore up confidence and strength. In ancient Egypt, the stone was placed on mummies to assist the dead in their journey to the afterlife while architects to the pharaohs wore carnelian to denote rank and status. In the Middle Ages, carnelian was used by alchemists when boiling stone to release the energy of other gemstones.

Carnelian is the birthstone for the zodiac sign of Virgo (August 23 - September 22). For most cultures, from the 15th to the 20th century, carnelian was one of four birthstones for August. In 1912, the United States adopted peridot as the August birthstone, however in 2013, Britain recognized carnelian as a secondary birthstone after ruby.

Carnelian Metaphysical Properties

From antiquity, carnelian has been worn in cameos in the belief that it would ward off insanity and depression. In contemporary times, carnelian is thought by some to enhance self-esteem and creativity, to combat feelings of inadequacy, to increase physical energy and overcome insomnia. In the home, carnelian is believed to increase motivation towards action. It is sometimes used as a talisman to protect against fire and misfortune. Carnelian is associated with the solar plexus chakra (the yellow chakra), in which imbalances are thought to cause digestive problems, as well as lack of confidence.

Carnelian Geological Properties

Carnelian is a variety of chalcedony and is a microcrystalline quartz. As a chalcedony, carnelian is formed from the intergrowth of two silica minerals with differing crystal structures: quartz and moganite. Carnelian appears in a vibrant range of fire-orange reds to brown-reds and has a dull, waxy luster (as opposed to the vitreous quality of crystal quartzes such as amethyst). The reddish tints in the translucent stone are due to one of its ingredients: iron oxide. Carnelian can be confused with jasper, which is usually considered a chalcedony.

Carnelian is most commonly found in India, Brazil, Siberia and Germany.

Most carnelian gemstones are dyed and heat-treated to achieve additional color variations.

The method of dyeing will vary by source, vendor and the technology. Typically, carnelian gemstones, which are porous, are placed in vats of dye containing organic or vegetable dyes. Chemical salts and natural pigments may also be used. The stones may soak for several weeks to allow the dye to fully penetrate the stone and produce uniform surface color. Dyed carnelian has excellent stability and some special care may be required.

Carnelian gemstones can also be heated to about 2900 degrees Fahrenheit, changing chemicals such as iron oxide, inclusions and impurities to produce different intensities or colors. Heated carnelian has excellent stability and can be cared for normally.

Certain carnelian gemstones may fade in light or heat. In fact, in India, these stones are treated with exposure to the sun, which turns the stone's brownish tints to purer reds.

Mineral Information Chalcedony, microcrystalline quartz group
Chemical Composition SiO2
Color Flesh-red to brown-red
Hardness 6 1/2 to 7 (Mohs)
Specific Gravity 2.58 - 2.64
Refractive Index 1.530 - 1.539

Proper Care of Carnelian

Clean carnelian stones with warm soapy water and a soft brush. Rinse the stone well after washing it. Do not steam clean and do not boil carnelian. It is usually safe to use an ultrasonic cleaner.

Protect carnelian from sharp blows, extreme temperature changes and harsh chemicals.

To learn more about carnelian and other gemstones, order your copy of Walter Schumann's revised and expanded edition of Gemstones of the World.

Designing with Carnelian

Rich tones of gold play off the warm color of carnelian, but it is more often seen in designs with silver, antique silver or with pewter. Combined with deeply contrasting black onyx, the fire-reds of carnelian become even more vibrant for a sophisticated casual look. For a more adventurous impression, combine it with green aventurine and a hint of something blue like lapis lazuli or sodalite. Or, to create an exciting treat for the eyes, combine the fire-orange stone with vivid blue-green turquoise.

View design inspirations featuring carnelian in the Gallery of Designs

Shop for Carnelian Items

**Please note that all metaphysical or healing properties listed are collected from various sources. This information is offered as a service and not meant to treat medical conditions. Fire Mountain Gems and Beads® does not guarantee the validity of any of these statements.

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