Carnelian: Stone of Passion

A red stone, carnelian is an ancient gemstone believed to hold powers so strong it caused the timid and weak of voice to speak boldly. Public officials from Rome to Egypt, not exempting the Prophet Mohammed of Islam, wore carnelian stone for their seal ring. What exactly is the carnelian gemstone? Why is carnelian described as a stone of passion?

Carnelian Properties

Carnelian is the translucent red variety of chalcedony, though this quartz mineral varies in shade from pale orange to reddish brown. While the gemstone can be so cloudy and deep in color as to be nearly opaque, a carnelian stone is always translucent around the edges. A similar gemstone to carnelian is sard, which is a harder mineral that occurs in a darker red color. Both gemstones are chalcedony whose color is caused by iron oxide inclusion, and the difference between the two is often unclear. Hence, the two names have become interchangeable, with sard described as a darker carnelian, and carnelian a softer sard.

Sard and Carnelian Pebbles

Raw sard and carnelian pebbles
Source: Mauro Cateb via Wikimedia Commons

Carnelian History

The name carnelian comes from the Latin cornelian, relating to the “flesh,” presumably by color. As evidenced by Minoan artifacts found on the island of Crete in Greece, the carnelian stone was used in decorative arts from as early as 1800 BCE. Indeed one of the oldest known gemstone, carnelian was later used as gem in Egypt, Assyria, Rome and Arabia, where it was rumored to have been worn as seal ring by the Prophet Mohammed himself. Much of the popularity of the carnelian gemstone stemmed from its supposed magical and metaphysical properties, which made the stone a favorite talisman, especially as signet for public officials. Red stones are believed to enhance courage, and carnelian was deemed so strong a red stone that it makes even the timid in speech speak boldly and eloquently.

Carnelian Meaning

From such a gem a woman gains
Sweet hope and comfort in her pains.

— Goethe Westosterlicher Divan I

Carnelian Seal Ring

Carnelian seal ring of Pharaoh Ramses II
Source: Guillaume Blanchard via Wikimedia Commons

Worn by warriors in battle, carnelian is believed to enhance courage. A carnelian stone is also thought to stimulate optimism, driving away negativity and kindling joyful emotions. What is more, the carnelian gemstone is thought to fuel passion and desire. Hence, carnelian is the gemstone for people who are shy, passive, or simply need the confidence to overcome obstacles and see their endeavors through.

Carnelian As Birthstone

Carnelian is a birthstone for two zodiac signs and several months.

Virgo. Carnelian is the birthstone of Virgo, an earth sign who is usually passive and timid. A carnelian crystal is quite helpful to Virgo people, since the gemstone is believed to invigorate their practical, analytical nature with desire and passion. The carnelian gem also brings courage and confidence to a Virgo person, who, being a mutable sign, is often timid and reticent. A stone of passion, carnelian indeed makes a most fitting gemstone to the earthy reserved Virgo. For other birthstones for Virgo, see also Virgo Birthstones.

Leo. Carnelian is also associated with the zodiac sign Leo. In fact carnelian is rather representative of the zodiac sign. Leo people are bold, courageous, passionate and ambitious: qualities that carnelian is believed to enhance, making these Leo virtues quite consistent and reliable. For other birthstones for Leo, see also Leo Birthstones.

Months. As a month stone, carnelian is an alternate birthstone for July in Britain alongside ruby, and was the traditional birthstone for the same month in the ancient Arabic calendar. On the other hand, carnelian was also assigned as birthstone to the month of August in the Old Italian and Roman calendar, as well as the Hebrew calendar, which designated carnelian as May birthstone at the same time.

Carnelian Jewelry

Carnelian is a popular gemstone both for fine and fashion jewelry. A translucent, bright orange carnelian stone is well sought-after as pendant for rings and earrings, while the darker red carnelian is a favorite gemstone for beaded bracelets and necklaces. Carnelian is the traditional birthstone for August, while in Britain the gemstone was made the modern birthstone for July alongside ruby. Indeed, like ruby, carnelian has earned a place for itself in the catalogue of stones as the red gemstone.

Carnelian Intaglio

An antique carnelian intaglio

Carnelian Value

Carnelian is a popular gem in history. Today, the carnelian gemstone remains relatively more expensive than other semi-precious stones. Of course, the finer carnelian gem — lighter in shade and brighter in color — fetches a much higher price. To intensify their color, a carnelian crystal is often subjected to heat treatment. Even the ancients knew and did the same by exposing a carnelian stone to the sun. Now, natural carnelian rock is becoming increasingly rare. To cope with the demand, many carnelian stones in today’s market are cut from the red bands of agate, which is a chalcedony stone like carnelian. Beware of pink, green, yellow, black and white carnelian sold in the market; they are either fake, or a different variety of quartz.

Do you like carnelian?

Carnelian is popular as a red gemstone. Since antiquity, a carnelian stone is worn to boost one’s courage and confidence. Do you like carnelian? Do you like having the carnelian gemstone among your sets of jewelry?

Do you like to wear carnelian?

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Published May 14, 2014Last updated November 3, 2015

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