Jewelry Guide

How to Buy and Care for Carnelian Gemstone

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The carnelian gemstone, also called cornelian, and often referred to as sard is a semi-precious gemstone that’s frequently used in jewelry. Carnelian is easily recognized, with its orange-red color and smooth luster.

This ancient gemstone has been a part of jewelry pieces for millennia. While not as valuable as it once was, carnelian still remains a beautiful stone that makes for intriguing jewelry.

If you’re looking to buy carnelian, here’s a complete guide to help you with the process.

What Is A Carnelian Gemstone?

A variation of the silica mineral chalcedony, the carnelian gemstone has its orange or reddish color due to the iron oxide impurities in it. Depending on how much iron oxide there is in the individual stone, the color can range from pale orange to an intense, nearly black coloration.

carnelian pendant

Carnelian’s color and waxy luster, as seen in this pendant, make it easily recognizable.

Carnelian is one of the oldest gemstones, and dates back several thousand years. One of the first carnelian gemstone cuts in history was found in the Varna Chalolithic necropolis, Bulgaria, and dates back to the middle of the 5th millennium BC – approximately 6,500 years ago. It was a carnelian bead with 32 facets (16 on each side of the bead). Since then, carnelian jewelry has been found in many other places in the Balkans, in Greece, and across the rest of the ancient world and the Middle East.

The word carnelian or cornelian comes from the Medieval Latin word “corneolus” which itself came from the Old Latin word “cornum” – cornel cherry. Presumably, the name was chosen because the carnelian stones resemble those translucent red fruits.

Nowadays, the main source areas of this gemstone are Brazil, India, the U.S., and Uruguay.

What’s the Difference Between Carnelian vs. Sard?

Both carnelian and sard are varieties of microcrystalline quartz, of the type known as chalcedony. Sard, which is often mistaken for carnelian, is generally darker in color and relatively harder. The distinction between the two isn’t too well defined, however, which is why the two are often mistaken with one another or intentionally referred to as the same gemstone.

Generally speaking, the carnelian gemstone ranges in color from light orange to reddish brown, while sard ranges from deep redish brown to almost black. Carnelian is softer, while sard is tougher and harder. Additionally, the carnelian fractures into uneven, conchoidal or splintery pieces, while sard fractures into even duller pieces.

How To Choose Carnelian Gemstone Color

Carnelian comes in a variety of orange to red hues, from faint to vivid. While dynamic, vibrant hues are generally more desirable, there is no specific carnelian gemstone color that’s valued more than the others.

carnelian ring in gold plated setting

Carnelian color ranges from orange to red. See this ring here.

Both light orange and dark red carnelian gemstones are equally priced and valued, so the choice between them is purely cosmetic and subjective. Choose the carnelian color that you think looks best on you.

Carnelian Gemstone and Clarity

Carnelian is almost always translucent but can also be opaque at times. It has an attractive vitreous to waxy luster, which gives the stone a beautiful appearance. Carnelian’s luster brings out the color of the stone and makes you want to reach over and touch the smooth stone.

While generally free of inclusions, the stone can appear cloudy. If you hold a light against a carnelian, you’ll notice that the transparency of the stone is irregular, with parts of the stone appearing cloudier than others.

Carnelian Gemstone Cut

Carnelian gemstones are usually cut in smooth cuts, beads or cabochons, which accentuates its smoothness and color. But it can also be cut faceted into various shapes, such as round, oval, square or rectangular.

Carnelian gemstones can even be cut into homogenous figurines and small statues if the cutter so chooses. Either way, as a quartz gemstone, carnelian is not too hard to cut which leaves a lot of freedom for creativity and experimentation.

A well-cut and well-polished carnelian gemstone will have a beautiful shape, will reflect light off its surface quite effectively, and can make either a great jewelry gemstone or a beautiful piece of ornamentation in and of itself.

Carnelian Gemstones In Jewelry

As with other opaque silica gemstones, carnelian jewelry is quite affordable making it ideal for daily jewelry pieces. It adds a burst of color to any outfit and tends to stand out beautifully against any skin tone.

Carnelian looks beautiful in both silver-hued and yellow gold metals. When set in yellow gold, carnelian takes on a vintage charm as the two colors complement each other perfectly. However, silver metals accentuate the color of the stone and adds the perfect contrast.

Carnelian gold earrings

Carnelian pairs well with yellow gold as in these beautiful earrings.

The gemstone also suits a range of styles, be it casual and bohemian or classy and formal. This depends on the setting and the skill of the designer. It also pairs well with more expensive materials, such as gold and diamonds, which can make for stunning and unique jewelry designs. This is why you’ll find carnelian jewelry ranging from a few dollars to thousands of dollars.

Carnelian pendant silver setting

Carnelian suits a range of styles. See this pendant here.

Carnelian stones can be used in anything from rings and earrings to bracelets, pendants, necklaces and rings. With a hardness of 6.5 to 7 and a very good wearability, the carnelian stone actually makes for a very long-lasting and sturdy jewelry stone – when maintained and cared for properly, it can last in top condition for a very long time.

Our readers sometimes ask us whether carnelian makes for a good engagement ring stone. It is an excellent alternative gemstone to engagement rings, but it might not be for everyone.

The trouble with engagement rings is that it’s a piece of jewelry that you’ll be wearing frequently, if not every day. As such, it needs to be durable enough to withstand regular exposure. Carnelian is a relatively soft gemstone, compared to engagement ring staples such as diamonds, sapphires and rubies and will require careful maintenance to keep it from scratches and fracturing.

Carnelian engagement ring

Carnelian makes for attractive engagement rings. See this ring here.

It’s important to set your carnelian in a protective setting like bezel or halo and to remove it whenever engaging in vigorous activity. While we don’t recommend carnelian for engagement rings, if your heart is set on it, it’s not impossible to make it work.

Cleaning And Caring For Carnelian Gemstone Jewelry

Speaking of caring for carnelian jewelry, let’s go over the basics. The best way to keep the stone clean is to use warm soapy water and a soft cloth. After washing the piece, make sure that it’s carefully dried and stored. Avoid using ultrasonic cleaners as these can cause fractures or chips.

When storing carnelian, keep it away from harder gemstones like diamonds or sapphires.  Since the carnelian is typically cut in beats or cabochons, it’s smooth, round surface can easily be scratched when enough pressure has been accidentally applied. If you have to store your carnelian gemstones in the same jewelry box as other pieces, it’s smart to make sure that it’s well wrapped up in a piece of cloth.

Take off carnelian rings or bracelets when doing activities such as swimming, gardening or cleaning. This will keep it away from exposure to knocks and bumps as well as harsh chemicals.

Enhanced or Imitation Carnelian Gemstones

Most carnelians on the market are untreated, but sometimes these stones can be subject to heat treatment to enhance their natural color.

Additionally, you can also encounter certain “carnelian” stones on the market that are little more than died white chalcedony stones or lightly colored agate. You can usually tell these apart by holding up the stone to a source of light. If the stone displays an internal striped pattern, it’s usually dyed agate. Natural carnelian is cloudy inside, with no patterns.

Carnelian itself is rarely used as an imitation of other stones but it can sometimes be mistaken with fire opal or amber. Fire opal is usually brighter in color and more transparent, however, while amber is significantly softer.

Carnelian Gemstone Meaning and Symbolism

The carnelian gemstone is widely regarded as a stone of motivation and endurance, as well as of courage and leadership. Its warmth and bold energy are beloved by timid speakers who need the courage to go out in front of large audiences, and they were also the favorites of fierce warriors that were heading into battle.

Raw carnelian pendant

Raw carnelian pendant. See it here.

Ancient Egyptian architects used to carry carnelian stones as a sign of their high rank, while alchemists in the Middle Ages used carnelian as a boiling stone for other chalcedonies in order to activate their energies. Called “The Setting Sun” by the ancient Egyptians, the carnelian was also identified with the female energy and was associated with the fertile blood of Isis, the Egyptian Mother goddess.

Today, it continues to be valued by those who believe in crystal healing.

*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.

Where to Buy Carnelian Jewelry

Carnelian is a beautiful gemstone, but it may be difficult to find many options at a local jeweler. Specialist gemstone shops often carry carnelian jewelry and are perfect to check at if you prefer purchasing your carnelian in person.

However, if you take your search online, you’ll be able to check out endless options and competitive prices. The important factor is to opt for a vendor that is trustworthy, with excellent customer reviews, customer service and good after sales policies. You want a vendor that stands by their products and will take them back if there’s an issue, so check the returns policies before you buy.

We recommend searching on the following platforms:

Etsy

Etsy is a platform where you can find unique, handmade carnelian jewelry. These range in price and styles, so take the time to search through to find the right piece for you.

Amazon

As it is one of the biggest online retailers worldwide, it’s not surprising that you can find all kinds of carnelian jewelry here. The range is extensive and will take some time to go through, but it’s well worth it.

The retailers on both these platforms often have their own policies so check through these prior to purchase.

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