All About Agates!

Sep 3, 2012

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,

Jennifer


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Comments

kghornsten wrote
on Sep 3, 2012 4:55 AM

I call it the Lake Superior agate, because i am from minnesota and that's where i did most of my agate hunting when i was young. It is my favorite stone because of the memories it imparts. Dad and i used to walk my grandma's long gravel driveway in MN  looking for agates together. Great memories. When i grew up and the family camped on Lake Superior i found some beauties along the shoreline.

Hajer wrote
on Sep 3, 2012 6:14 AM

Hi !

I was so surprised to see this article,cuz it's just the perfect timing!

I'm looking for some beads that match betswana agate to make a necklace,,which material of beads or stones will go well with it?

I'm allready thinking about some,but just not sure about the material

Thanks

Hajer

LouKyMom wrote
on Sep 3, 2012 10:16 AM

My favorite agate is Kentucky agate; one, I'm from Kentucky, but two, I love the colors, from golden yellow to red and black.  I bought my first and only Kentucky agate after I saw one on the cover of Lapidary Journal.  I treasure it.  Mine isn't quite as nice as the one on the cover, but I did find one within my budget that had all the colors.  It's beautiful.  I continue to look for them on eBay and such as they are illegal to mine in the state.  You must happen upon them in creek beds in a far from me tri-area of rural Kentucky.  That's about all I know about Kentucky agates.  I hope you enjoyed this little story as much as I did writing it.  If you have a chance and want to see some beautiful stones, use Google images on Kentucky agates.

ringyraccoon wrote
on Sep 3, 2012 12:14 PM

Montana Moss Agates are sure beauties.  From the ribbons of red running through to the tiny 'trees' found inside, each rock is unique.  Walking along the Yellowstone River is the only way to find them and then, only if you are lucky and have a good eye.  The actual rocks themselves look like any other but once you turn a real one over and hold it up to the sun you know you've found a 'gem.'.

ringyraccoon wrote
on Sep 3, 2012 12:14 PM

Montana Moss Agates are sure beauties.  From the ribbons of red running through to the tiny 'trees' found inside, each rock is unique.  Walking along the Yellowstone River is the only way to find them and then, only if you are lucky and have a good eye.  The actual rocks themselves look like any other but once you turn a real one over and hold it up to the sun you know you've found a 'gem.'.

Ann L. wrote
on Sep 3, 2012 4:46 PM

Regarding agates, I particularly like the banded agates.  They bring subtle drama to jewelry creations and give you a variety of color choices to compliment the fancy focal bead(s) of your project.

Colleen@64 wrote
on Sep 3, 2012 6:37 PM

I love Crazy Lace Agate. I have several pieces of it in my stash..

MistyRobbins wrote
on Sep 5, 2012 7:13 AM

I lived 20 minutes outside of Ider-Oberstein, it was in my top 10 favorite shopping towns in Germany!  I bought several sets of jade grapes and pieces of jewelry on my shopping trips...love this little town.  If you ever have the opertunity to go there do.  They host a fantastic flea-market as well.  

JDon871120 wrote
on Sep 8, 2012 5:40 AM

Jennifer,

How about showing us what you do to the Agate from Gary Wilson's when you complete it... No hurry.. Just wondering what it will look like finished...  I love your post...

Janet

Valbeads wrote
on Sep 8, 2012 12:08 PM

My favorite agate would definitely be tree agate.  I really love the lacy green pattern on the stone.  It almost gives it motion, like leaves blowing in the breeze.  I also have a beautiful chunk of golden druzy agate that is just GORGEOUS!  I'm just having a tough time deciding what color wire I want to use to wire wrap a bezel for it.  I'm thinking maybe antique bronze, because siver will clash and gold won't stand out at all.  This article was perfect timing; it's getting my brain percolating with ideas for autumn jewelry.

jotell wrote
on Sep 8, 2012 2:30 PM

Jennifer: First off, I wanted to let you know that I really enjoy reading your articles every week. Next, I NEED to know what the black stone is that's on your "All About Agates" blog from 09/03/12. It's so beautiful. Thanks for all you do in keeping our interests up.

hethcox9 wrote
on Sep 8, 2012 7:42 PM

I enjoy your blog...I find your comments real and useful. I started looking up different agates after reading this one and now I want to start rock collecting in addition to bead collecting. Ok, so I'm really supposed to be stringing, but there is definitely a collecting aspect to it too!

hethcox9 wrote
on Sep 8, 2012 7:43 PM

I enjoy your blog...I find your comments real and useful. I started looking up different agates after reading this one and now I want to start rock collecting in addition to bead collecting. Ok, so I'm really supposed to be stringing, but there is definitely a collecting aspect to it too!

seejarn wrote
on Sep 17, 2012 6:41 PM

Check out Dryhead Agates from Montana.  There is a new book out by the same name authored by John Hurst.

JeanneH@6 wrote
on Nov 11, 2012 1:37 PM

Thank you Jennifer-All About Agates and the blog comments are great. re:seejarn's Dryhead Agate book blog, I am that John T. Hurst, author and photographer. New book available at  john.hurst2@comcast.net, or 1-303-443-7885 or www.dryheadagate.weebly.com.

MistyRobbins' blog on Idar-Oberstein--Let's add the annual Achatboerse (Agate Show) on the second weekend in March 2013 about 15 minutes from Idar-Oberstein in the village of Niederwoerresbach. They fill two halls with agate dealers selling agates, jaspers, thundereggs, etc. from Germany, Morroco, Poland, and around the world. Their roast pork in the food tent is an extra perk!