Carnelian vs Amber: What’s the Difference? (ANSWERED)

Carnelian vs amber: this is a worthy comparison. They stones often look vary similar or color, especially when they are set into jewelry.

You’d be making a mistake if you assumed they were the same material, because they so so different! In the article that follows, we’ll explain what the two substances are, and why it is that they are completely and totally different.

Carnelian vs Amber: Are They The Same Kind Of Stone?

What is Carnelian?

Carnelian is a semi-previous gemstone, and is a member of the silica mineral family (silicon dioxide, SiO2).

People often call it a “kind of chalcedony.”

Carnelian gets it’s reddish brown color in varying shades from the presence of iron oxide mixed in (but not bonded to the silicon dioxide), though it can be found in very light colors (pale orange, for example), as well as so dark it is almost black.

In most cases, the stone is going to be opaque rather than translucent, meaning that it is not a stone that is easy to see through.

Carnelian is often compared to another semi-precious stone called “sard.” Sometimes the two names are used interchangeably. Though if you had to differentiate between the two, sard is thought of to be darker and harder than carnelian.

We might catch some drama from the specialists by saying this, but agate, jasper, and other reddish version of silicon dioxide are pretty much the same, absent the slight variations of color.

On a molecular level, they are the same, give or take more or less of the iron. Yet, a really big deal is made out of whether you can call a piece of chalcedony a “jasper” or a “carnelian,” especially when their chemical makeup is the same and they are often the same color.

We often question whether it is worth it to even try and classify them as substances or semi-precious stones separate and apart from each other.

What is Amber?

Amber is not a member of the chalcedony family like jasper and agates.

Instead, amber is fossilized tree resin.

This makes it dramatically different than the closely related members of the silicon dioxide family tree.

Scientifically and chemically, we call amber a heterogeneous mixture, meaning it is a chemically inconsistent material composed of more than one substance that is not bonded to the others.

In the case of amber, the substances in the mixture are organic compounds, such as hydrocarbons, resins, acids, and oils. There might also be bugs and plant matter.

Amber is found in a variety of colors, from yellowish gold to orangeish brown. It can also be found in green, red (cherry amber) and in blue (blue amber).

Are Carnelian And Amber The Same Kind Of Stone? How Are They Different?

No, carnelian and amber are not the same kind of stone.

While they may occasionally resemble each other in color (especially when the stones being compared are around equal size), they are very dissimilar.

First, carnelian is an inorganic substance. A mineral. It is a mixture of two different compounds, and both of those compounds are inorganic as well (meaning they don’t contain carbon to hydrogen bonds).

Amber, on the other hand, is formed initially from a living thing. It is composed of organic substances, through it takes a really long time for amber to become fossilized as we find it.

Chemically speaking, the substances couldn’t hardly be more different from each other.

Next, carnelian is a pretty hard substance. On the Moh’s scale, (like its silicon dioxide family members), it rates a 6-7. This means that it is decently impervious to scratching and damage, and is fairly durable. It is easily used in jewelry and decor.

Amber, on the other hand, is extremely soft. It ranks only 2 to 2.5 on the Mohs’ scale. This puts it around the same level of hardness as gold, or your fingernail. It is not a good candidate for jewelry or decor, as it is easily damaged.

It is the hardness level that makes amber pretty easy to identify, when presented with a whole bunch of reddish orange stones to review.

That being said, amber is a precious substance, and it thought to have medicinal uses which encourage people to hold or wear amber jewelry even though amber as a substance is not well-suited for it (think amber teething necklaces as an example).

Next, carnelian is a stone. It cannot be used as fuel or burned (like charcoal) unless it is heated to some pretty extreme temperatures.

Amber, on the other hand, is burnable. In fact, in ancient times, some cultures actually burned amber during festivals.

How Can I Tell If The Stone I have Is Amber Or Carnelian?

When you are trying to tell if a stone is amber or the much harder carnelian, the quickest and easiest way is to do a simple and quick scratch test.

If a material has a hardness level of less than 3 on the Moh’s scale, you should be able to scratch it with your fingernail, Or barring that, a copper penny should do the job as well.

If the substances can be scratched by the nail or the penny, it is too soft to be carnelian.

If the substance cannot be scratched by the nail or penny, that it is too hard to be amber.

Here’s the thing about scratch tests though–they cannot necessarily confirm what the substance is.

There are many types of minerals which exhibit similar colors and levels of hardness that carnelian does (think other iron oxide varieties of chalcedony, jasper, sardonyx, citrine, quartz, etc).

But there are not too many stones that look like a carnelian that are as soft as an amber.

The other thing you can do is shine a light on the stone up close. Carnelian should be opaque and not translucent, so if a lot of light is coming through, you should be suspicious.

You can also use the light to look to see if you can see any inclusions in the stone.

If you can identify anything that looks like bugs or pieces of organic matter (that would have fallen into the tree resin before it became fossilized), then you also know you have amber and not carnelian.

Wrap Up

Curious to learn more about the rocks and minerals that make up our world, such as sand, calcite, and pyrite? Check out our blog for our latest articles.