History of Onyx

Onyx was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The name Onyx comes from the Greek word onyx means nail of a finger or claw. Legend says that one day while Venus was sleeping Eros/Cupid cut her fingernails and left the clippings scattered on the ground. Because no part of a heavenly body can die, the gods turned them into stone which later became known as onyx. Onyx is also mentioned in the Bible at various points, such as the priests’ garments and the foundation of the city of Heaven in Revelation. Use of Sardonyx appears in the art of Minoan Crete, notably from the archaeological recoveries at Knossos. Onyx was used in Egypt as early as the Second Dynasty to make bowls and other pottery items.

It is a member of the chalcedony family which also includes carnelian, agate, bloodstone, etc. Occurring naturally in a variety of colors, black onyx is polished to enhance appearance, a member of the quartz family.

Properties of Onyx

Originally, almost all colours of chalcedony from white to dark brown and black were called onyx (SiO2 with impurities). Today when we think of onyx we often preface the word with black to distinguish it from other varieties of onyx that come in white, reddish brown, brown and banded.

A variety of onyx that is reddish brown with white and lighter reddish bands is known as Sardonyx. Onyx is the black variety of agate. However some parts are more or less translucent. This is why it is often heated to accentuate the intensity of its color.

Onyx is a form of chalcedony, part of the quartz group. Like the other stones in the chalcedony family, onyx has a smooth, waxy luster. Onyx can be found in a wide range of colors, often layered.

Uses of Onyx

Black Onyx is often used as a backdrop in jewelry, such as cameos. It is also used as cabochons and as a building material. Onyx can be enhanced by applying artificial colours. Black and coloured onyx is always dyed.

Onyx is easily dyed, so beware of the more “unnatural” looking colours, such as bright blue, etc, they are treated Onyx.