[ kahr-neel-yuhn ]
/ kɑrˈnil yən /
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a red or reddish variety of chalcedony, used in jewelry.
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Also cornelian.

Origin of carnelian

1685–95; variant (with a of carnation) of cornelian,Middle English cornel(ine) (<Middle French, probably equivalent to Old French cornele cornel cherry + -ine-ine1) + -ian
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is carnelian?

Carnelian is a reddish gemstone. It is a variety of chalcedony, a type of quartz.

It varies from semi-opaque to translucent, and it can be various shades of red or amber. When it is variegated or banded (meaning the stone shows stripes of white), it is sometimes called agate.

Carnelian is sometimes spelled cornelian (its original spelling), though this is now much less common.

Carnelian is considered a semiprecious gemstone, which is a label applied to gemstones that have a lesser value than those deemed precious. However, carnelian is not commonly seen in fine jewelry and can be quite inexpensive. Carnelian is typically formed into a shape known as a cabochon, which is polished but not cut into facets. These are often used as beads in necklaces and bracelets.

Carnelian is one of the traditional birthstones for the month of August (though in the UK it is considered one of the birthstones for the month of July).

The word carnelian can also refer to a color—a shade of dark reddish-brown, like that of the gemstone.

Example: The ancient pendant was made from a striking piece of banded carnelian.

Where does carnelian come from?

The first records of the word carnelian come from the late 1600s. It’s a variant of cornelian, from the Middle French corneline, which may be equivalent to the Old French cornele, meaning “cherry.” The change in spelling from cor- to car- is thought to have been influenced by the Latin carneus, meaning “flesh-colored” (a root also seen in the word carnation, which also may have influenced the spelling change).

Carnelian is found throughout the world, most commonly in India, Brazil, Germany, Indonesia, Russia, and Uruguay. It is a variety of chalcedony, a microcrystalline, translucent variety of quartz. Other varieties of chalcedony that are also used as gemstones include jasper and onyx. The coloring of carnelian is due to the presence of iron.

Carnelian has been used in ornamentation and jewelry since ancient times, with some artifacts dating to the 3rd century. It was frequently used to make cameos—engraved gems.

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to carnelian?

What are some synonyms for carnelian?

  • agate (when it is banded)

What are some words that share a root or word element with carnelian?

What are some words that often get used in discussing carnelian?

How is carnelian used in real life?

Carnelian is considered a semiprecious gemstone, but it is often fairly inexpensive. People sometimes value it for what they believe are spiritual or mystical properties.

Try using carnelian!

True or False? 

Carnelian is a variety of the mineral known as chalcedony.

How to use carnelian in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for carnelian

/ (kɑːˈniːljən) /

a red or reddish-yellow translucent variety of chalcedony, used as a gemstone

Word Origin for carnelian

C17: variant of cornelian, from Old French corneline, of uncertain origin; car- spelling influenced by Latin carneus flesh-coloured
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012