What is Carnelian?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Carnelian is a reddish brown to orange gemstone frequently used in jewelry such as beaded necklaces, engraved brooches, and rings. The distinctive reddish color of the stone is quite elegant, especially when the stone is used in larger settings which showcase the delicate color variations and striations found in individual specimens. Large carnelian beads are often strung into chunky necklaces for a striking appearance. Today, it is primarily mined in India, Brazil, and Australia, and it was widely used throughout the Ancient world as well.

Carnelian is mined in the South American country of Brazil.
Carnelian is mined in the South American country of Brazil.

The name “carnelian” is derived from the Latin word for horn, which probably refers to the milky, flesh like color that some carnelians have. In Ancient Greece and Rome, carnelians were used to make signet rings, which have endured through the ages to show archaeologists small snapshots of daily life in the Ancient world. Carnelian was also used in North Africa and India, and appears today in both of these areas in religious and decorative artwork.

Carnelian is mined in India.
Carnelian is mined in India.

Carnelian is a type of chalcedony, a milky quartz that comes in a wide range of colors. Carnelian gets its color from iron oxide, and another stone, sard, also has a dark brown to reddish color. Technically, the two stones have the same chemical composition, since both are made from Si02, or silica, with trace amounts of iron oxide, or Fe2O3. The difference between the two is subtle: some gemologists do not distinguish between carnelian and sard, and also lump jasper, a much darker form of chalcedony, in with the two.

The cut most commonly used for carnelians is a cabochon, which is a rounded and polished cut without facets. Facets do not tend to emphasize the natural beauty of carnelian, while the rounded shape of a cabochon brings out the glow and elegance of the stone. Some antique brooches were made from single cabochons of carved carnelian, bringing out the variations in the stone.

Carnelian is a fairly sturdy stone, and can be worn every day, as long as it is in a secure setting. You should avoid exposing it to excessive sunlight, because the stone can redden in sunlight. Try to avoid heat and chemicals while wearing carnelian, and if the stone does become dirty, wash it in a mild soap and water solution, and dry it immediately. Be aware that cracking the stone against a hard surface can cause it to chip, so try to avoid wearing carnelian in active situations.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


If you have the opportunity to travel through Eastern Asia you will come across quite a few stalls at temples that sell jewelry made from carnelian. This beautiful warmly colored stone has been popular for those who wish to mediate as the stones are thought to be good for helping to focus the mind.

Overall, I find that the bracelets and necklaces sold that are made out of carnelian are quite inexpensive in Eastern Asia. You can usually pick up a long necklace for under ten dollars.

If you don't have the chance to visit abroad, you can buy these pieces online, although they will have quite a bit of a markup.


Carnelians have been believed to special healing powers for those that carry them and are recommended for numerous conditions. If you have lower back problems, the stone is said to ease the pain. For those that are concerned about their overall health carnelian is supposed to help with vitamin and mineral absorption which can promote well being.

In addition to all this people have claimed that carnelian is helpful with depression because of its amazing properties. It is well known as a stabilizing stone and is supposed to help people been more positive and banish bad emotions.

Whether any of this is true or not remains to be seen, but there are those that certainly buy the carnelian stones for their health benefits.


I had a classmate back in college who wore a special red carnelian necklace to class, but only on the days we had exams. She believed it brought her good luck and helped increase her memory which improved her test scores.

I don’t know how much of it was her own knowledge or the stones ability but she always did come out with a better score than the rest of us.


The metaphysical properties of gemstones are so fascinating to me. I’m not one who carries stones around in my pockets or base my life on their presence, but I do believe in the possibility of their magnetic energies.

The carnelian meaning and history dates back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans who all believed in the power of gemstones. The Egyptians used to place the carnelian on their mummies to help them navigate their way through the afterlife. The Greeks believed it brought them good luck and the Romans felt it gave them strength and courage.

People today still believe the carnelian possesses powerful positive energies that bring them good luck, good health and success. They feel it protects them against negative energies like anger, jealousy and depression.

Whatever ones reason for wearing it is doesn’t really matter I guess. Its cheerful bright orange color should be enough to make you feel happy inside.

Post your comments
Forgot password?