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Sell With a Story: Black Onyx Gemstones


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Ominous and opaque like an October midnight, black onyx gemstones are uniquely renowned for their jet-black luster. Unlike more obscure semiprecious stones like, say, hematite or fluorite, there’s something instantly recognizable about onyx. Its name is used to brand businesses, loyalty programs, software, bands, and heck, it’s even a popular pet name. Onyx is nearly as iconic a label as diamond or platinum. So, what is it about onyx that makes it so well-known? Perhaps the answer is surprisingly simple.

What makes black onyx gemstones so popular?

A variety of chalcedony, onyx is a cryptocrystalline form of quartz. It stems from the same family as agate, bloodstone, carnelian, chrysoprase, and sardonyx. In fact, it’s a variant of agate, comprised of parallel back and white colored bands. Onyx is traditionally darker in shade, while its sister stone, sardonyx, has white bands with red and brown coloring.

So, if onyx comes in multiple color varieties, why are black onyx gemstones so well-known? Perhaps it’s the stone’s murky opacity that sets it apart. Few others are as dense, edgy, and commanding. It stands alone for a bold and richly self-assured look, while dramatically complimenting brilliantly colored gemstones or metallic silver and gold finishes. Its versatility and affordability bring the stone to the forefront of fashion. Yet sadly, true black onyx gemstones are extremely rare; most on the market are artificially treated.

SWAS Black Onyx Gemstones Loose

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The origin of onyx

Stemming from a Latin word of the same spelling, Onyx derives from the Greek word for “claw” or “fingernail.” Legend holds that while she was fast asleep, Cupid mischievously clipped Venus’ fingernails, leaving them strewn about on the sand. And since the deities never die, these divine clippings were eternal, morphing into stone and thus— producing onyx. Today, the stone is unearthed in many regions of the world, with major sources in Brazil, Madagascar, and Uruguay.

All throughout history

Mentioned in the Bible multiple times, onyx traces back nearly 5,000 years to Second Dynasty Egypt, where it was used to make bowls and other items. Ancient Romans carved reliefs into sardonyx and used them as seals, claiming the wax wouldn’t stick to the stone. It’s also been used for centuries for intaglio and cameo engravings, with its white striations adding depth to the carvings.

SWAS Black Onyx Gemstones Casino Monte Carlo Columns

The atrium in the Casino de Monte Carlo • Source

In architecture and decor

Like marble and granite, onyx is used in exquisite décor and architecture all around the world. The atrium inside the Casino de Monte Carlo in Monaco features 28 exquisite columns onyx columns (see above), while the Hôtel de la Païva in Paris features a yellow onyx staircase. Onyx slabs are sometimes backlit and used on countertops and wall décor in contemporary lobbies and manors. The result is a geological masterpiece.

SWAS Onyx Backlit Hotel Lobby

Backlit Onyx Lobby Feature Wall • Source

Onyx Superstitions

Because of its popularity, black onyx gemstones carry a sinister reputation. The stone was used in mourning jewelry during the Victorian Era to convey somberness and grief. Some believed black onyx gemstones would bring death to those who touched the stones, while others claimed it brought on nightmares, misfortune, and sorrow. It’s also used to ward off the Evil Eye in India.

Wear and Care

Rated “fair” for everyday wear, avoid exposure to heat, contact with chemicals, and protect from scratches and harsh blows. To clean, gently scrub with a soft toothbrush and a solution of mild dish soap and warm water, or clean in an at-home ultrasonic unit.

Onyx Benefits

Onyx is a protector stone. Roman warriors carried sardonyx to give them strength and courage in times of war. Black onyx gemstones are also said to:

  • Bring recovery from fallen relationships and unrequited love
  • Increase stamina
  • Ease childbirth
  • Dull sexual and emotional desires
  • Connect with those who have passed on
  • Help its wearer make wiser decisions

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