What Do We Know About The Onyx Gemstone?

Posted in News   |   By

Liljana Tomova

Jun 28, 2017 8:47:02 PM

To delve into the world of gemstones means to be ready to spend an eternity in discovering their history, meaning and properties. It is almost impossible to give a precise number about how many types of colored gems are out there, as gemologists are continuously discovering new “species”, then adding them to already existing gemstone groups and categories. Today, we are going to explore a quite unusual gem, the onyx. In times past, it had been a very popular jewelry choice, but modern trends seemed to have overshadowed the importance of its uniqueness in our craftsmanship. Therefore, the paramount question arises: What do we know about the onyx gemstone?


Black Onyx Fashion Ring

Saved from Lang Antiques


The onyx gemstone is, in fact, a mineral, like granite, marble and quartzite. The official definition describes it as a variety of the oxide mineral chalcedony. It is a layered gemstone, meaning that apart from the basic color, it can display another, layered one too. For example, there are black onyx gems with white or red layers, called “carnelian” and there are brown onyx gems with white layers called “sardonyx”. The layers, also known as “veins” or “bands”, are not always white; they can appear in a range of colors, including red, orange, brown and their varieties.



In addition to being a gemstone with a solid color base, onyx also features the following characteristics:


- Mineral Class: Chalcedony

- Chemical Formula: SiO2

- Crystal System: Hexagonal

- Mohs Scale of Hardness: 7

- Refractive Index: 1.54 to 1.55

- Specific Gravity (SG): 2.63 to 2.65

- Color: Black, White, Banded (most common)

- Luster: Vitreous

- Transparency: Translucent / Opaque

- Cleavage: Indiscernible


The natural onyx gemstone occurs in the gas cavities in lava with the presence of silica, which is the reason why it has its remarkable layered texture. The most common color appearance of onyx is black, but back in the day, it was invented a special technique for staining it, in order to change or improve the stone’s color. Of course, who would develop this mastery if not the clever and artful minds of ancient Egyptians?


Black Onyx Fashion Ring

Saved from Lang Antiques


Let’s start from the very beginning. We just mentioned that onyx is a microcrystalline quartz variety, called chalcedony. This word is derived from “Calchedon”, referring to an old port on the Sea of Mamara (an inland sea located between Europe and Asia). As for the “onyx” name,  it is a one of Greek origin and it means “fingernail” or “claw”, because the layers display the color of a fingernail. It might seem funny or strange, but this is how ancient civilizations managed to characterize and distinguish one type of gem from another, by comparing their main features with things or facts from real life. Since the mined black onyx is very hard to find, today’s black onyxes used for commercial purposes are practically all chemically treated. Therefore, they undergo a special staining procedure where a sugar-sulfuric acid treatment is applied to give them a solid black color with or without layers.

The only places on Earth where onyx can be found are: Peru, Brazil, Madagascar, India and the United States.




One of the most captivating myths about this gemstone’s origin says that while Venus, the goddess of love, was sleeping on the banks of the Indus River, Cupid gave her a manicure with the point of his magical arrow. Thus, the parings of her nails dropped into the river’s holy water and when they sank to the bottom, they turned into onyx. 

Furthermore, Indian and Persian warriors wore an onyx gemstone to protect them in battles and keep them safe from the evil eye. Before heading to fight, they were given an onyx gem with either an engraved figure of Hercules or the head of Mars (the god of war), to bring them more strength and courage.



Black Onyx Fashion Ring

Saved from Lang Antiques


Nowadays, onyx is a gemstone used to celebrate a 7th marriage anniversary and it is also famous as the birthstone for Leos. But, for a very long time, onyx enjoyed a not so good reputation, because its black-colored appearance was often associated with bad luck. Nobody wanted to touch this gem, hence the reason why in the 19th century in China, onyx was mined only by slaves and servants. Since it could not be sold on the Asian market due to its sinster reputation, it was brought to the western countries and sold to the gemstone merchands there, as they were not aware nor familiar with its notorious status. That is how the onyx gemstone got a whole new meaning and started being used for commercial (jewelry) purposes.

Now, let’s look at the positive sides of owning an onyx jewel. It is believed that onyx promotes protection and defensive magic. Some civilizations even thought that this gemstone reinforces the belief that there is no death; that the wheel of life includes birth, death and rebirth. It also helps in the realization of future plans and prevents spirit possessions.  

Modern beliefs are even more vivacious when it comes to the powers of the onyx gemstone. Thus, there is the saying that it increases optimism, stamina, strength and self-control. If you are born under the sign of Leo, onyx will help you enhance your authority and become the master of your own destiny by keeping your mind calm and concentrated to bring good and wise decisions. If you are struggling with confusion, uncertainty or nightmares – get yourself an onyx jewelry piece. Much to your surprise, this gemstone is also a one of romantic quality. Hence, in India, onyx is used as a promoter of healthy and harmonious relationships that keep the love and romance endure.

In terms of onyx’s medical uses, it is used for treating teeth issues, soft tissue disorders and bone marrow diseases. Last but not least, in some parts of the world, the alternative medicine uses this precious stone for treating epilepsy and repairing damaged cells.


Black Onyx Fashion Ring

Saved from Lang Antiques

Do you know anything else about the onyx gemstone? If so, we invite you to share your knowledge and delight us with your presence on our blog. Thank you for stopping by!

Written by: Liljana Tomova

Kobelli Jewelry

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