One of the most abundant yet unique of all gemstone varieties, agate comes in a range of colors and patterns. Because of the way agate forms, very piece of agate is unique.
Agate is also highly versatile, suiting stylish, high-end jewelry, as well as minimalist, bohemian styles. Agate’s symbolism also makes it a meaningful gemstone.
What Is Agate?
Agate is a widely found variety of chalcedony, which is a microcrystalline quartz producing gemstones like jasper and onyx. Agate is made up of fine, minute crystals, often only visible under a powerful microscope. Agate is found everywhere in the world, most notably in Brazil, Uruguay, and Mexico.
When silica is deposited within pockets of igneous rocks, agate begins to slowly form. This formation can occur either around the walls of the pocket, forming concentric layers, or in layers starting from the bottom up.
As each new wave of silica deposit is brought in from groundwater, these packed layers continue to grow, creating the banded patterns that easily distinguish agate from other stones.
Because of the way it is formed, each piece of agate is different from the other. This is one main reason that makes agate so perfect for jewelry.
Agate is one of the oldest gemstones used in jewelry. In fact, small agate beads found in the Middle East are thought to be approximately 9000 years old!
Types of Agate
The many varieties of agate occur based on how the stone is composed, the trace minerals present, and the unique inclusions each stone has.
It would take a whole article just to list and explain each type of agate, so we’ve only listed some of the most popular varieties below.
1. Fortification Agate
This is the most common type and generally the one that springs to mind when we talk about agates.
This variety has the famous crystallized bands that follow the contours of the cavity, with all the bands connected to each other.
When sliced, fortification agate looks much like a colorful cross-section of an old tree, full of rings.
2. Fire Agate
This beautiful and rare variety of agate comes with an iridescence that sets it apart. Fire agates are old stones, formed many millions of years ago through volcanic explosions.
The stone itself looks fiery due to its reddish-brown color, often combined with little shots or swirls of color. Fire agates are valuable and come with a higher price tag.
3. Lace Agate
As the name suggests, this variety is reminiscent of beautiful lace with elaborate hoops and swirls. It is among the rarest and most highly coveted forms of agate. You can find these in many colors, with red and blue being quite rare.
Types of Agates with Unique Inclusions
One of the things that makes agate unique is the type of inclusions some varieties have. These inclusions divide the agate into unique categories.
1. Dendritic Agate
Dendritic agate is a rare variety, that doesn’t have the typical banded pattern of agate. It’s mostly colorless, white, or gray, with brown/black diverging inclusions.
Dendritic agate is sometimes called tree agate because its inclusions are dendritic, which means having a branched form like a tree. This variety is more valuable than most other types of agate and makes for unique and beautiful jewelry.
2. Moss Agate
Moss agate also contains unique inclusions, that are green in appearance with a moss-like structure. Some moss agate can also have black or brown shades throughout the stone.
3. Plume Agate
This form of agate has feather-like inclusions, mainly on the surface. These are suggestive of ferns or other fauna present on the walls of the rock cavity during formation.
When polished and properly cut, these inclusions blend in beautifully with the stone, creating dazzling designs and stunning colors.
The 4Cs of Agate
As with any gemstone, agate is also evaluated using the 4Cs – cut, clarity, color, and carat.
1. Agate Color
Agate comes in a variety of colors, such as red, yellow, pink, blue, orange, black, gray, rainbow (multi-colored), and banded.
Multi-colored and banded agate come with a combination of colors, where the colors can either be mixed together or separately layered, row after row.
Due to the porous nature of agate, most of the gemstones found on the market are dyed to enhance the look.
2. Agate Cut
Agate can be cut into a variety of shapes, including round, pear, square and emerald. If agate is cut expertly, it will enhance the natural bands and patterns of the stone.
Cutters often consider the type of jewelry the agate will be set into, as well as the unique patterns of the stone, to find the best cut for the agate.
3. Agate Clarity
Clarity is a critical factor when choosing agate. Crystal clear agate with no noticeable inclusions is valuable. Make sure that the stone is eye clean and does not contain cracks or scratches.
However, with some varieties of agate such as moss, dendritic and plume, it is the inclusions that enhance the value. These can be relatively more expensive because of their inclusions. In these cases, the value of the agate will depend on its individual beauty and pattern.
4. Agate Carat Weight
Agate can be found in large and substantial form, but not all agate is of gem quality. Sometimes, large agate slabs are used to make furniture and crafts.
For gem quality agate, the rough agate is sliced and polished to form smaller stones of varying carats. Generally, agates between 2-4 carats are suitable for jewelry, while sizes over 4 carats are used for crafting ornamental items.
Prices of colored agates are calculated per carat as agate is sold by weight. Similar sized stones of different varieties vary largely in value.
Agate in Jewelry
Agate is a stylish and elegant stone that goes beautifully with any outfit. Famous designers such as Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent have used agate in their designs, and celebrities often sport the bright colored stone.
Time and time again, agate will pop up in the fashion scene as the ‘in’ thing.
1. Agate Necklaces
Because agate is an eye-catching stone, an agate necklace can really add color and style to your overall look.
You can opt for a minimalist style, choosing a delicate and classy agate pendant on a chain. It goes well with formal and casual wear.
If you are someone who likes to make a statement, consider a larger, statement-making agate necklace. This will add color to your outfit and take it up to the next level of glamor.
2. Agate Bracelets and Cuffs
Agate bead bracelets are highly popular, giving a bohemian, minimalist look.
If you are after a glamorous look for an evening function, consider an agate cuff. It is eye-catching and stylish. Again, the color you choose depends on your outfit, although blue and pink agates are quite popular colors.
3. Agate Earrings
The options for earring with agate are endless. The sheer variety of patterns and colors means that there’s a pair of agate earrings for every style, whether you like simple studs or statement making chandeliers.
Agate slices are also a popular style for earrings, as they showcase the natural beauty and patterns of agate.
4. Agate Rings
Agate rings are a great choice for both men and women. Darker colors of agate are typically crafted into rings for men, including signet rings.
Because agate is an affordable stone, it works beautifully in larger rings, making a bold statement of confidence and style.
Other Ways to Use Agate
Agate can be carved, sliced, or shaped into various items. Because of the soft nature of agate, it can be easily and intricately carved, liked this stunning chameleon carving done using druzy agate.
Agate coasters are another way to showcase the beautiful patterns of the stone. Made from slices of agate rock that are polished to show the natural patterns of the stone, the outer edges of agate coasters are often encased in metal or gold or silver plated to enhance the beauty of the piece.
If you have the money to splurge, consider agate furniture and larger household décor, like this natural Brazilian agate side table.
Agate Symbolism and Meaning
Agate has a long history and is even mentioned in the Bible as one of the 12 gemstones on Aaron’s breastplate. This stone has been used for centuries.
Agate has long been valued as a talisman. It is believed to increase self-confidence and provide clarity of mind and strength during difficult times. It is considered a calming stone, that can help you to relax and refocus when stressed.
Agate is thought to be an agent of change, helping you to implement change in your life when you wear it. People have worn agate since ancient times in amulets, as a talisman that offers protection.
From a metaphorical perspective, agate represents inner beauty and individuality. An unpolished agate looks unappealing from the outside, but once it’s cut into, the beautiful colors and patterns reveal themselves. As each stone is unique, it represents individuality and the act of celebrating differences.
*Disclaimer: Jewelry Shopping Guide does not guarantee or validate any of the claims related to the metaphysical and alternative healing powers of this or any other gemstone. This information should in no way be used as a substitute for medical advice.
Agate Imitations and Enhancement
Because agate is quite affordable and found in abundance, you will not often find an imitation on the market.
However, sometimes glass can be sold as agate, so you will need to watch out for that. For example, you could be paying a large sum for a superior fire agate, which may very well be a piece of well-crafted glass.
Also make sure that you aren’t being sold a poor-quality agate for the price of a valuable one. This is why it’s best to check the reputation of the jeweler you intend to buy from to make sure you aren’t being ripped off.
In terms of enhancement, as agates are porous, they are often dyed to enhance their natural color. Apart from lace agate, which is often natural, most of the other varieties are dyed. Enhanced agate stones don’t require any special care.
When purchasing agate, the jeweler should inform you whether the stone has been dyed. These stones are labeled with a ‘D’ for this purpose.
If you want to see whether your agate has been dyed, you can perform a simple test. Put the stone into a sealed plastic bag and lave it near a heat source, such as in direct sunlight. Dyed agate tends to bleed out dye as it heats up.
How to Care for Agate
Agate is a durable stone with a Mohs hardness rating of 6.5 to 7. This means that only materials over this rating can scratch or damage agate.
It is best to store your agate in a cloth pouch or in a jewelry box, away from direct sunlight to prevent any damage, especially discoloration.
Because most agates are dyed to enhance its natural color, take extra care when cleaning the stone. Use mild soapy water to clean agate jewelry but avoid using harsh chemicals or ultra-sonic cleaners.
Where to Buy Agate
Agate is a mainstream gemstone so finding a piece of agate jewelry at your local store might not be too difficult. However, for more options and some gorgeous designs, we suggest searching online. If searching for agate jewelry on the internet, ensure that you’re buying from a reputable store with a proven track record.
We recommend starting your search on Etsy as there is an abundance of agate jewelry at a range of price points and to suit a variety of styles. You can even find vintage or antique pieces worth thousands. Each Etsy store has its own policies and rules, so make sure you check reviews and the after sales policies of the store before you purchase.
Amazon also provides an excellent variety of agate jewelry. As Amazon is a massive platform and offers everything, you’ll need to filter and sift through their inventory to find the right piece of agate jewelry for you.
Agate is a complex gemstone that encompasses several types. This can make choosing agate quite difficult, as there are so many variables involved in choosing the stone. However, once you’ve chosen the type of agate that suits you, you can then assess the stone using the 4Cs to pick a high-quality stone.