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Agate is a gorgeous polychromatic gem. It can without a doubt be said that no other gemstone has ever been so creatively patterned by mother nature: each and every specimen is unique thanks to magnificent and picturesque striping. In some stones this resembles the finest of threads laid out to look like delicate embroidery; in others the concentric pattern reminds us of the rings of tree trunks; others again are scattered with speckles reminiscent of clouds suspended in ether. As a result, different varieties of Agate bear wild and poetic names according to their extraordinary designs and colours: among these there are Eye Agate, Cloud Agate, Rainbow Agate and more.
What is Agate?
This is a unique mineral of the chalcedony variety, which in turn belongs to the wider Quartz family. Generally it has a banded formation with concentric striping which are visible to the naked eye and create distinctive patterns reminiscent of an eye and its iris or a spiral seashell. These are the result of the oxidation with other minerals found in its composition, such as iron or manganese.
Agate forms within volcanic rocks as the mineral seeped into cavities filling these. Typically, this would form within ball-shaped or almond nodules, while they tend to be rarer in deposits shaped as stalactites.
Characteristics of Agate
The most noticeable characteristics of this mineral are the exceptional colours and tones of its streaking, which may be parallel, curved or concentric. Blue-grey gems or pale varieties with fine red veining are valued highly and considered to be the most eye-catching.
Once extracted and polished, the gem’s clarity will vary from translucent to opaque, with vitreous and clear lustre. As it’s a porous mineral, Agate should avoid contact with oil or any other grease or oil based substance.
It scores 6.5 to 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness. This means it allows for spectacular precision even in the most elaborate of carvings. When used in jewellery, it is usually carved into spheres for necklaces or pendants, or into ovals when mounted onto a ring. Particularly in the past, Agate has also been utilised to create intricate cameos.
Origins of its name
Agate was initially discovered sometime between the 3rd and 4th century BC by the Greek philosopher Theophrastus, who named the gem Achates, after the river it was originally mined in. The river (nowadays called Dirillo) runs through south-eastern Sicily, in Italy.
Typologies of Agate
There are several varieties of Agate which are classified according to the colour of the gem. The following are the most popular:
- Botswana Agate, which is found exclusively in said region of Africa, is characterized by tones of warm soil and sand and, occasionally, hues of deep orange
- Blue lace agate, its light blue and white veining are reminiscent of lace embroidery (in ancient times it was associated to the elements of Water and Air)
- Dendritic Agate, translucent or clear with striking dark inclusions resembling trees, ferns or lichens found in woodlands, this variety is also known as the Stone of Plenitude (bearer of abundance and fullness)
- Moss Agate, with dense and distinctive striping resembling moss and other forms of vegetation, in the past this variety was used to invite bountiful harvests and thus deemed a valuable stone for agriculture and gardeners
- Red Agate, with its deep red tones, also eerily known as Blood Agate
- Fortification Agate, so called because of its protruding edges, reminiscent of the bastions of a fortress.
Last but not least, there is also agatised wood. This variety is truly unique and has an intriguing genesis: it is actually petrified wood whose organic matter has been replaced by agate which fossilized the trunk.
Agate is a unique polychromatic gem, this characteristic however should not cause confusion. Deeper and more intense hues indicate a manmade stone, which is usually the product of strong dyes and gaudy colouring. Dazzling contrasting colours or vivid shades of fuscia, intense purple, electric blue, bright green or neon pink are not found in nature, rather they are created artificially: a trained eye is able to easily distinguish a natural stone from a synthetic one.
Where can Agate be found?
In ancient times Agate was extracted in India, Persia and Egypt. Principal deposits are nowadays found in Brasil and on a smaller scale in Uruguay.
The most renowned and respected craftsmanship developed in Germany, where, since the XV century, this magnificent stone was mined in the River Nahe valley. Though these deposits were exhausted in the course of the XIX century, the town of Idar-Oberstein remained active and became a prominent gem-cutting centre still functioning today in producing the most disparate of objects, from jewels to umbrella handles.
Italy too has a handful of minor deposits in the Alps, more specifically in the Fassa Valley and on the Alpe di Siusi.
Properties of Agate
This remarkable gem is frequently used to rebalance Yin and Yang and harmonise various parts of the body; it is also relied upon to release negative energy and protect.
Furthermore, an Agate pendant can be hung to children’s beds to calm them and free them from fears and nightmares. Worn by a child it can even help prevent falls.
This gem has several remarkable health benefits, and is often used to protect the whole body from negativity and illness:
- It provides invaluable support during pregnancy, and is powerful in contrasting sterility and impotency
- It strengthens all vital organs (lungs, kidneys, liver, the brain and stomach)
- It aids tissue regeneration
- Finally, it helps improve visual acuity and helps overcome illnesses afflicting the eyes, such as conjunctivitis (in this instance the stone should be applied directly onto the eyes at night)
On a psychic and emotional level, Agate helps develop rationality, guiding whoever wears it towards concentration and introspection. The energy radiating from the stone restores one’s belief in their own abilities, and helps regain clarity and focus on reaching objectives. It also stimulates vitality and guides those who are perhaps a little introvert or insecure towards rediscovering their inner courage and confidence. Furthermore, it harmonizes relationships and spaces.
It is a gem often associated with artists and students as it is known for awakening hidden talents and creativity.
In crystal healing therapy, Agate is considered to have a broad spectrum which, depending on the stone’s pigmentation, can be used to heal a variety of organs and balance different chakras:
- Black and grey Agate (corresponding to the first chakra, Muladhara, also referred to as the root chakra) helps regain psychic balance and stimulates pragmatism
- Striped orange or red Agate (corresponding to the second chakra, Svadhistana, located right between the navel and the pubic bone) is linked to pleasure and vitality
- Yellow Agate (which corresponds to the third chakra, Manipura, located at the navel), encourages a sense of self-worth and the drive to take action
- Green and pink Agate (which correspond to the fourth chakra, Anahata, also referred to as the heart chakra) stimulate emotions and feelings of love, while, on a physical level, they protect good vision and contrast female infertility
- Blue Agate (corresponding to the fifth chakra, Vishudda, located in the throat) clears blockages which cause respiratory illnesses, while also helping regain serenity
Colour also determines the element which the gem is associated with: brown, black or red gems are usually associated to Fire (energy, strength and fertility); black and white, moss or green gems are in tune with Earth (peace and wellbeing); while blue gems are linked to Water (emotions and sensitivity).
This rather unique gem encourages spiritual growth, by aiding our search for a deeper understanding of ourselves and stimulating our consciousness. In fact, Agate has the power to connect us with our past lives by helping us resurface faded and distant memories.
Agate through history and across the world
Since ancient times, in eastern cultures such as those of India, Tibet and Nepal, this dazzling stone was used as a powerful talisman and lucky charm to protect both people and places. Specific stones, especially those bearing darker brown or black tones, with a white circle in the middle, were considered particularly powerful and effective in warding off back luck or jinxes as it was thought they represented a watchful protective eye.
In ancient Rome, as reported in Pliny’s writings, Agate was believed to render athletes in competitions more powerful and invincible. Other testimonies also narrate of Agate being used to please the gods and boost fertility of the earth, by being set on a ring to be worn on the left hand or to be tied to the left arm.
The Medieval philosopher Albert Magno believed the gem to bestow a positive influence on whoever wore it, helping them avoid danger and obstacles. While in the course of the Renaissance it was widely used to create bowls, goblets, chalices and sculptures of various kind (gorgeous specimen are on display at the Louvre in Paris).