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Behind The Gems: Onyx

Behind the Gems is a long-running monthly series that takes you on an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of our signature collections.

This week we’re looking at one of the oldest known gemstone in history…

Onyx Facts: Composition, Origins and Appearance

Onyx is part of the chalcedony group of minerals, having a silicon dioxide composition. At 6.5-7 on the Mohs scale of hardness, it is considerably stronger than precious metals, but much softer than sapphires or diamonds. Onyx comes from deposits in India, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Australia, China and the United Kingdom, and its defining characteristic is the alternating dark and bright layers.

More specifically, onyx can be translucent or opaque, brown and red, black and white or even solid black, resulting in well-defined variations: 

  • Onyx: Black with white colour bands. 
  • Sardonyx: Brown base with red colour bands. 
  • Cornelian Onyx: Red base with colour bands ranging from dark red to white. 
  • Niccolo Onyx: Thin upper layer which allows the black base to be seen through, giving it a blue-grey hue.
  • Black Onyx: Single uniform colour, no colour banding. 

As a side note, onyx is very similar to agate - they often get mistaken for one another. The difference is in how the colour bands form. In agate the layers are curved, whilst in onyx the bands form in straight, parallel planes.

Onyx Facts: History, Etymology and Symbolism

The name comes from the Greek word onux, meaning veined gem. Its earliest recorded use was in Egypt 4800 years ago and it was present throughout Antiquity and Renaissance in descriptive and decorative carvings. Onyx was particularly well suited for cameo, a technique where parts of the white layer would be carved away, revealing a positive white relief agains a dark and flat background.

Ancient Romans used to wear amulets of carved onyx depicting Mars, the god of war, to bring them courage. In Renaissance Europe onyx was thought to bring eloquence and was regarded very highly by orators and public speakers. 

In current culture, the gemstone is associated with wedding anniversaries: onyx is for the 7th anniversary and black onyx is for the 10th anniversary. 

Our Onyx Jewellery

Polished Black Onyx Fleur de Lys Earrings

In our jewellery collection, onyx is present as a stunning pair of Fleur de Lys earrings.

We’ve chosen the black variation of the gemstone and a perfectly polished finish for an elegant, dramatic flair. The result is a pair of Fleur de Lys earrings that are in a balanced contrast to their translucent, frosted quartz counterparts.