Carnelian vs Citrine: What Are They, And What’s The Difference?

Both carnelian and citrine are known for their stunningly bright orange hues, and because of this, they are quite popular.

However, they can often be confused if you don’t know the differences between them.

To help make identification easier, here is what you need to know. 

Carnelian vs Citrine (EXPLAINED)

What Is Carnelian? 

Carnelian is an agate with a translucent orange, red, or brown chalcedony.

It is one of the most popular semiprecious stones, and is frequently used in jewelry or in tumblers.

Its bright color and toughness make it a good choice for beads and even carvings.  

Because of its hardness, a 7.0 on the Mohs scale, when used in tumbling, it is best coupled with stones of similar hardness, such as quartz, jasper, or other agates.

It is also a good choice for people new to tumbling, as it tumbles easily to a high polished stone. 

Stained Varieties

A lot of stones sold as carnelian are actually less colorful agates which have been treated with dye or heat to improve their coloration.

Heating creates a bright orange or red color by acting on the iron impurities in the stone, while dye adds color via an outside pigment. 

These types of stones are often used in jewelry, and it can be important to check where you get your carnelian from, to ensure that it has a natural color as opposed to one that has been influenced by artificial heat or dye. 

What Is Citrine? 

Citrine is a variety of quartz which exhibits a yellow or orange coloration.

Because of its durability, clarity, and color, it is one of the most commonly sought after yellow-orange gems.

It is also used as the birthstone for the month of November, something that further drives it’s popularity. 

The name citrine is given to varieties of quartz which have an orange-yellow to brown-orange color regardless of saturation.

Even those with fainter colors can be considered citrine.

However, the color does have an impact on the price, and stones with richer, more uniform colorations are considered much more valuable and desirable. 

Red-orange and brown-red colors are rare among quartz, and varieties with these colors are often called Madeira citrine.

This name comes from the Madeira Islands of Portugal, which produce wines of a similar color. 

Citrine As A Birthstone

For November, both citine and topaz are considered official birthstones, as both are available in hues of yellow and orange, although citrine usually costs less to obtain.

Citrine is also slightly softer than topaz, with a Mohs hardness rating of 7.0, whereas topaz has a rating of 8.0.

This often makes people believe that topaz is more durable than citrine.

However, this is hindered by the brittleness of topaz, which makes it easier to break along cleavage. 

If you’re looking for a durable birthstone for November, citrine should be considered as overall it can hold up just as well as topaz.

Citrine in Geodes

Citrine crystals can also be found in geodes, and some of the most impressive specimens come from Brazil.

These are often found for sale at gem and mineral shows targeted at serious collectors and enthusiasts.

These citrine geodes are found in basalt fields and some of them can be as large as six feet or taller, although smaller two-foot specimens are also commonly found.  

It should be noted that many of these stones were actually filled with amethyst crystals when they were first discovered, and many of these amethyst geodes are sold as is.

However, some are heated, causing the purple of the amethyst to change into the orange hue of citrine. 

This heating process is done to enhance desirability for those who prefer the colors of citrine or for those looking for a geode that contains their birthstone.

Because citrine is any variety of quartz that exhibits an orange coloration, these heated crystals are treated the same as any naturally occurring citrine. 

Natural, Treated, and Synthetic

With all of the above being said, there are a few things to be aware of.

For instance, there are currently five categories of citrine ranging from natural, to treated, to synthetically made.

These include: 

  1. Citrine found with a naturally occurring color
  2. Citrine that is natural but enhanced with additional treatments
  3. Citrine which is created via heating amethyst crystals
  4. Synthetic citrine man-made from silicon dioxide
  5. Synthetic citrine that is man-made from a material that is not sillica

While all of these have their uses, and some collectors won’t be turned off if a large geode has been heat treated to become citrine, it is always important to know the processes a specimen has gone through.

This is especially true if the sample is synthetic. 

Natural citrine is rare, and some people are willing to pay more for a 100% natural product.

However, the majority of the citrine used for gems and jewelry is amethyst mined from Brazil, which has been treated with heat.

Many people accept this form of citrine, although some collectors may see them as two different stones.

If you’re specifically after natural citrine, it’s important to always check with sellers to ensure that the specimen you’re getting isn’t heat-treated amethyst.

When it comes to synthetic citrine, there are a few ways to tell them apart from the real deal.

For instance, synthetically made citrine will have very few inclusions, giving them an impeccable clarity.

This lack of inclusions is one way to help tell them apart from a natural stone, although this can be difficult using only traditional tools.

Similarly, gem laboratories will offer testing which is often cheap and conclusive.

This can be one of the best ways to determine if the stone you have is natural or synthetic. 


This variety of quartz is a combination of purple amethyst and orange-yellow citrine.

It is a rare specimen with most samples coming from the Anahi Mine in Bolivia.

This type of quartz is usually cut to enhance the duality of the colors, showing off both the citrine color and the amethyst hues. 

Because of it’s rarity and its uniqueness, it is highly prized by many collectors, and even rough samples can go for premium prices. 

Carnelian and Citrine

Although they both have impressive orange coloration, these two stones are very different.

Carnelian is an agate and usually less transparent than citrine crystals, especially when the citrine isn’t very saturated.

Similarly, natural carnelian appears much more stone-like when compared to the crystaline appearance of citrine quartz. 

In terms of categorization, carnelian is of the chalcedony variety, while citrine is a silicate mineral.

Carnelian also has absent cleavage, whereas citrine has an indistinct cleavage.

Although both are technically translucent, citrine can also be nearly opaque in some instances. 

Two Prized Stones

Both carnelian and citrine are prized by collectors due to their impressive colorations.

If you are interested in adding these stones to your collection, consider how they differ, as well as how you can tell synthetic varieties apart.

Knowing this, you can ensure you get the exact stone that you want.

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