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The Agate: The Ornamental Stone

by Julie MIALET 13 Apr 2022

Agate is a member of the large family of quartz and more specifically of chalcedony.

These are translucent ribboned quartz with variously colored strata and areas.

The name “agate” comes from the word “Achates”, the name of a river in Sicily where, according to legend, Greeks and Romans collected it.



There is an infinite variety of agates!

The varieties and colors of this stone are very numerous. Let us quote the most known:

  • Moss agate

Moss agate
  • The landscape agate
  • Dendritic agate

Dendritic agate

  • The sardonyx
  • White agate
  • The fire agate
  • The eye agate
  • The blue agate
  • Onyx
  • Flame agate
  • Zebra agate
  • Honey agate
  • Ribbon agate
  • Feather agate
  • Xyloid agate
  • Polka agate
  • Sagenetic agate
  • Iridescent agate

Iridescent agate


The agate is an ornamental stone, and lends itself particularly to the art of glyptics and cameos.

The first cameos found date back to Ancient Greece and Rome. They were cut in onyx, sardonyx or carnelian and represented important figures such as gods, goddesses, heroes, rulers, important religious figures.

The colors and different tones of agate are naturally created by chemical additions or by inclusions of other minerals. Thus iron produces yellow, orange, red or brown, while nickel or chromium is the source of green, copper or cobalt of blue, manganese will produce orange or pink.


The use and exploitation of agate by man dates back to ancient times …

Already in the third millennium BC, the Egyptians and Sumerians used it to carve decorative objects such as cups, vases or amulets, found in tombs dating from that time. During Greek and Roman antiquity, agate was engraved and/or inlaid for the manufacture of seals or for rings or cameos.

Agate cameo

Finally, in the Middle Ages, it was highly appreciated and renowned. Its fame increased in 1550 with the discovery of the Idar-Oberstein deposit in Rhineland-Palatinate.

The mines there were full of agates, jasper, quartz and amethysts.

After this discovery, the town devoted itself to stones and their cutting. The reputation of Idar Oberstein’s stone cutters, grinders and engravers was well known throughout Europe.

Thus, an industry developed around the manufacture of cameos and decorative objects of high quality.

Idar-Oberstein is still famous for its gemstones and lapidary even though the deposits in the region have been exhausted since the end of the 19th century.

The Great Cameo of France

This sumptuous cameo is made of five layers of sardonyx. It is today the largest known antique cameo, it measures 31 x 26.5 cm. Currently, it is kept in the cabinet of medals of the BNF (Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

Nowadays, agate deposits are found on all continents.

In Central and South America (Uruguay, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil), in North America (Arizona, California, Montana, Oregon, Wyoming, Canada…), in Europe, in Africa (Botswana, Malawi, Namibia…) and in Asia (Turkey, India, China and Indonesia).


Caution! Agates are often treated by impregnation.

The colors are then very bright and not very “natural”: bright pink, electric blue, intense purple, flashy green, non-existent on natural agates.

Treated agates

If you are interested in agate jewelry, don’t hesitate to discover what les Pierres de Julie have to offer in the store…

We are also available for any free expertise of your agate jewelry, for that you can send an email with your photos to

Whether you're interested in buying a piece of jewellery or a stone, a free jewelry appraisal or jewelry resale, Pierres de Julie welcomes you to its Parisian boutique in the Village Suisse, a stone's throw from the Ecole Militaire and the Esplanade des Invalides.

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