Know your gemstones: Carnelian & Tiger’s Eye

Every month, we introduce another one of the twelve birthstones (and their alternates) in our blog.  You can learn all about garnet, amethyst, diamond, pearl, peridot, opal, tourmaline, topaz, and citrine in previous posts.

As you know, however, there’s a myriad of gemstones out there not featured as a birthstone.  From jade and lapis to carnelian and moonstone, we’re bringing you the history and lore of these beautiful stones in this new blog series.

The Eye of the Tiger

With its unique name and even more unique appearance, the tiger’s eye is not a gemstone to be ignored.  It’s a member of the quartz family, revered in ancient times for its protective qualities and purported courage-enhancing abilities.  Often used by travelers and wayfarers, it was believed to be a gemstone to restore and boost confidence.

Tiger’s eye is a “pseudomorph” of quartz, meaning that it transforms into another mineral.  “In the case of tiger’s eye, it began as crocidolite [(a type of asbestos)], but was later transformed into quartz.”  Crocidolite is composted of fine, dense fibers that later form the wavy lines of tiger’s eye.  As it transforms, quartz forms over the fibers, dissolving the iron in the crocidolite.  This gives the quartz the golden/brownish color that makes tiger’s eye so special. 

An inexpensive gemstone, tiger’s eye is commonly found in South Africa (where an abundance of deposits keeps the prices low on this unique gemstone).  Other sources are Australia, Thailand, and India.

It is quite uncommon to find a gemstone cut of tiger’s eye (a faceted cut would only mar the stone’s unique stripes and appearance).  It’s commonly commonly cut into a bead-shape or cabochon cut for pendants (as seen in our Jeweled Byzantine Cross).  Easy to carve, tiger’s eye is often transformed into intricately-carved pieces or floral designs.

Tiger’s eye is a wonderful stone for jewelry as, like many quartz stones, it’s durable.  The tiger’s eye stones are not typically treated, leaving it sensitive to household cleaners and common chemicals (like sulfuric acid).  Tiger’s eye should be cleaned with mild soap and water.  Ultrasonic cleaning is generally safe for this stone (however, the vibrations may loosen the stone from its setting).

The Fiery Carnelian

One of the oldest-known gemstones, carnelian has been coveted and worn for thousands of years.  Intensely-colored and easy to work with, the warm carnelian became associated with kings and nobility who considered the stone to be lucky.  “[I]t was popularly worn in amulets and talismans, and commonly used for the making of insignia rings and seals.”

The carnelian was prized by Arabian kings who likened the red/orange tone of the gemstones to fire and lions.  It is said that the Prophet Mohammed wore a carnelian ring on his right hand.

The stone’s religious significance also spread to Christianity. Carnelian is believed to be one of the twelve gemstones set into the breastplate of Aaron.

Today, carnelian is still carved into cameos (much like the ancient insignia rings) and also used as beads or polished into cabochons. It is an ideal gemstone for jewelry as it is extremely durable (however, it will be scratched by harder gemstones, such as diamond or sapphire).

Most carnelian is naturally colored and untreated; however, some of the lighter stones are heat treated to saturate their color.  Most modern carnelian is sourced from South America and India.

Like tiger’s eye, carnelian is a member of the quartz family.  “[It] is classified by its distinct color and is defined as a red-orange to brownish-red variety of chalcedony quartz [and] obtains its color through iron impurities that form within colorless quartz crystal.”

Carnelian is often confused with jasper.  While both stones have a similar color, jasper is completely opaque while carnelian is translucent.  Upon first glance, carnelian is also opaque, however it “[…]will still let light through when viewed from the edges.”  It is also confused with fire opal (which is brighter and more transparent) or amber (a much softer, more orange/yellow stone).

Main image: Banquet of the Gods. Guglielmo della Porta (Italian, Porlezza, near Lake Lugano ca. 1500–1577 Rome). ca. 1585.Italian, Rome.Gold, lapis lazuli, carnelian. via
The gemstone tiger’s eye –
Tiger’s eye gemstone information –
Carnelian Symbolism –
The gemstone carnelian –
Carnelian gemstone information –
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