Carnelian Gemstones - A Chalcedony type of gem
Carnelian, is one of the Chalcedony gemstones, and it is also known as Cornelian; Chalcedony is a subset of the cryptocrystalline group of gemstones called Quartz. This is one of the gemstones that have been favored over the centuries for making signet rings, highly favored by men of good social standing.
Because of the orange to red-orange colors, which resembles the color of flesh, Carnelian derives its name from the Latin word meaning “Fleshy”. Sometimes this colorful gemstone is also referred to as the Red Agate or Red Chalcedony, because of the magnificent red tints that it derives from having traces of iron oxide.
According to the romans, the different hues of the stone represented the different sexes. Dark hues were associated with men while the lighter ones were referred to as female stones. There is a thin line between Carnelian and another gemstone called Sard; the only difference is the fact that Sard has a distinct brown shade; there are other differences which you shall read about later in this article. When Carnelian has a white tint, it is called Sardonyx, and when it has a very, very dark color, it is referred to as Jasmine.
Some myths and legends of Carnelian
There is a lot of myth and legend surrounding the gemstone. It is said to be a healing stone that stops bleeding and heals wounds. The Egyptians had a strange belief that it would help people in the afterlife, and therefore there was nothing to fear about dying, if a person had one of these stones. When archeologists opened up a tomb that belonged to a Sumerian Queen, they found a majestic robe that was fully encrusted using this mineral; it was presumed that she was buried in it so that it could help her get along in the afterlife. They also thought that the journey of the soul could be helped by this gemstone.
The gemstone was originally discovered in the British area of Cornwall, and also in France, but the major sources of Carnelian, today, are Japan, Uruguay and Brazil. There are some very old Carnelian mines found in India, and some of them are still in operation to this very day; the mines in India are known for producing Carnelian gemstones that have a very strong reddish brown color.
Natural vs. dyed Carnelian gemstone
Today, you find that most of the stones that are passed on as Carnelian are actually dyed Agate stones. The two gemstones, Carnelian and agate, are from the same Quartz family. This has led to the trend that dealers do not have to disclose whether the stone they are selling is genuine Carnelian or Dyed Agate. This trend has come about because the gemstone is very hard to find, today, unlike in the past. Therefore, when you are looking at a Carnelian bracelets or necklace, you can assume that it is made of treated agate; asking about this is entirely up to the buyer because the dealer does not have to disclose this fact.
However, telling the difference between a genuine Carnelian stone, and one that has been treated is very easy, even to the untrained eye. Natural Carnelian, will have very few inclusions, and usually has a very cloudy appearance; Carnelian that is made from dyed agate will have some color banding in the crystal, or some stripes.
The history of Carnelian
Between the 4th and 5th Millennium, BC, The Mehrgarh, used to drill holes looking for Carnelian, using the bow drill. The beautiful gemstone was found in the Bronze Age, nestled in Minoan layers found on the island of Crate as a place called Knossos; it was done in such a way that demonstrated that it was valuable for making decorative items and adornments. This is said to have been popular at around 1800 BC. In the Roman times, Carnelian was popularly used for making engraved gemstones that were used in making signet rings, and also seal rings; the seal rings were used to make imprints on wax, used to seal important documents and correspondence. The reason why the gemstone was popularly used to make seal rings is because hot wax does not stick to carnelian, ensuring proper and detailed sealing of documents and letters. The Assyrians used Sard to make cylinder seals, Phoenician and Egyptian Scarabs, and also Etruscan and early Greek gemstones. The first stone that was found on the breastplate of a High Priest was a red stone, that was probably jasper or sard; this stone was also called Odem, which was a Hebrew name which was translated to Sardius, and hence the name Sard.
The Chemistry of Carnelian gemstones
Carnelian is primarily made of silica, or Silicon Dioxide, and has a Trigonal crystal system. When it comes to transparency, this gemstone is said to range from semitransparent to translucent. It has a refractive index of 1.535 to 1.539. It does not have any dispersion, as with other clear gemstones. This is a gemstone that is somewhat soft, with a value of 6.5 to 7 on the Mohs scale. It has a specific gravity of 2.55 to 2.7, but is typically at 2.6. The gemstone is said to be tough, and does not break easily. It has a number of inclusions, which make it have a cloudy appearance. The stripes and bands that are seen will classify the stone as a dyed agate stone. It has a vitreous to greasy luster. This is said to be a very stable stone and does not have a cleavage.
The etymology of Carnelian
One would not know it, but the name Carnelian, as it is used today, is a corruption that came about in the 16th century, of the name that the stone was given in the 14th century, Cornelian. This name was strongly associated with Cornalyn and Corneline, which are orthographies for the stone. Cornelian and other similar words, used by the romans, is a name derived from the Medieval Latin name of Corneolus; this is a name that came from the Latin name of Cornum, which was the name given to a red, translucent fruit that was called the Cornel Cherry, which looks a lot like the gemstone. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the name Carnelian is termed as a Perversion of the name Cornelian; this comes from the following similarity with the terms Carno, or Carnis, which were Latin words for Flesh.
The Elder Pliny is said to have believed that the name Sard, was derived from a city in Lydia called Sardis, but says that it may also have come from the Persian word, which means yellowish.
The difference between Carnelian and Sard
There is a small thin line that differentiates Sard and carnelian, and these two names are used to describe several similar stones; however, there are differences that cannot be ignored.
When it comes to color, Carnelian is lighter, and the colors range from reddish brown to orange, whereas Sard is darker and the colors range from deep reddish brown to a color that can only be described as being almost black.
A profile of Carnelian gem
- Carnelian is soft, while sard is harder and rougher.
- Carnelian has an uneven, conchoidal and splintery fracture, whereas sard also has the same type of fracture, but one which is dull and jagged; the jagged appearance can also be said to be hackly.
- There are more properties that differentiate the two types of stones, but these are so small that they can be considered to be inconsequential.
In today’s gemstone world there is a lot of value placed on transparent gemstones, and this is because when they are faceted, they make some of the most brilliant and beautiful gemstones ever. However, in the olden times, gemstones were worn more for their power, than their aesthetical properties. For example, if someone had a gemstone that was engraved with a name, or image, then it was said to have more power, and was said to be better as a talisman; there were times that entire phrases would be engraved on the stone to bring forth this perceived power.
At the time, there was one type of gemstone, chalcedony, which was considered as the rock star of ancient jewelry; it was a beautiful, translucent and colored stone, which spoke of power and opulence. The ancient civilizations used the various colors of chalcedony in the adornments; these included Sard, Agate and carnelian. These gemstones were used popularly for rings and pendants, because they were excellent as carving materials.
Of all the chalcedony minerals, the most popular was carnelian, which had vivid red to orange colors, and was considered to be the gemstone for the zodiac sign, Virgo. Carnelian was used to make colorful bead strings, cabochons, amulets, seals and inlays, making it one of the most prestigious gemstones of ancient civilizations.
In ancient Egypt, when dead people were mummified, they were adorned with carnelian necklaces, which also had figurines of the gods carved on them so that they could be powerful talismans which the dead would use for protection in the afterlife.
There is evidence that the prophet Mohammed wore a carnelian seal, which was set in silver, on the little finger of his right hand. This is why the gemstone is held in high esteem amongst people in the Arab world.
The Muslim world has always thought of carnelian as a holy stone, and it is mainly used as a seal, and it usually engraved in silver, similar to that worn by the prophet. It was said, by the Inman Jafar, that when wearing the carnelian, any wishes that the wearer made would come true. In Persia, traditional jewelry, which would also bear the names of one of the twelve imams, was made using carnelian.
In the secular world, carnelian was also held in high esteem, and was associated with the powerful people in society. It is said that Napoleon had a carnelian stone which was engraved with the phrase “The slave Abraham, relying on the Merciful (God).”
Today, the appeal of carnelian is still high, and beds made from the stone have become very fashionable. This has increased the demand for carnelian; remember that this is a color gemstone that is priced at an affordable amount.