All About Agates!

This beautiful Painted agate cabochon from Gary Wilson came home with me from Bead Fest Philadelphia.

For me, no trip to Bead Fest Philadelphia is complete unless I stop and make a purchase at Gary Wilson's booth. This year, the piece that caught my eye was a big, beautiful gemstone cabochon made from Painted agate, and I knew that if I didn't bring it home with me, I would regret it for years.

It got me thinking about my favorite gemstones, of which agate happens to be one. There are many beautiful variations of agate, from the pale, delicate colors of Botswana agate to the deep, dark, and dramatic red and black agates that I love to use in my beaded jewelry projects.

How an Agate Gemstone is Formed

The earthy tones of Bamboo Agate mix well with onyx.

Agates are characterized by their distinctive banding patterns, and this is what attracts me to these particular gemstone beads. Agate is formed in small spaces of volcanic rock where water containing high amounts of silica is pushed through, and these waters create each layer of the banded agate pattern that you see when the rock is cut apart. When there isn't enough silica left behind to fill up the entire space in the volcanic rock, druzy (crystal) formations occur, leaving behind thousands of tiny, shimmering crystal points similar to what you see in an amethyst or quartz geode.

Because of its volcanic nature, agate is an extremely durable gemstone and can be intricately carved into gemstone cabochons, beads, and decorative items like statues, plates, and even cups.

Metaphysical Properties of Agate

If you want to use your agate gemstones for healing, it is believed that they are best used as powerful emotional healers. Agates are believed to help discern truth, encourage honesty, and improve memory and concentration. Energy healers sometimes use agates placed under the pillow to help relieve insomnia or to banish bad dreams.

Idar-Oberstein Agates

My prized strand of Idar-Oberstein agate beads.

One of the the gems (no pun intended) of my antique trade bead collection is this strand of Idar-Oberstein agate beads. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, this little town in the corner of southwestern Germany was known as the gemstone capital of Europe, rich in natural resources that provided both the raw material and the power of the rivers to cut and polish the finished products.

Many of the Idar-Oberstein agates were actually mined in Brazil, and then shipped back to Germany as ballast on the now-empty ships. These gemstones were then sent to Idar-Oberstein where skilled craftsmen would turn them into sought-after gemstone beads, cabochons, and cameos.

While the gemstone cutting trade declined in the early 19th century, the Idar-Oberstein region still produced some of the world's most beautiful gemstone beads, including many made from agates. However, production has dropped off significantly in the last fifteen years due to increased competition in the gemstone market from places like Thailand and India where labor costs are much lower.

Learning More About Your Favorite Gemstones

If you love learning more about your favorite gemstones and seeing how some of today's most creative jewelry artists are using them in cutting-edge jewelry design ideas, you'll want to check out Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine. Each issue is full of tips and information about purchasing and using your favorite gemstones in projects ranging from advanced lapidary to simple bead stringing. You'll also find great advice and information for anyone in the jewelry business, hot new tools and techniques, and plenty of inspiration for your next jewelry making project. Subscribe to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine and get the inside scoop on all your favorite gemstones.

Do you have a favorite type of agate? Tell us all about it and leave a comment here on the Beading Daily blog!

Bead Happy,


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