When people think of onyx, they usually think of a black gemstone. While that is not an inaccurate picture, onyx is much, much more than just a black gemstone. For one thing, onyx comes in many different colors with black being just one of them. For another, onyx is more than just a gemstone.
Onyx can also be found in the artworks of the Bronze Age Minoan civilization (3000 BC to 1100 BC) in the Aegean Sea. Later on, the ancient Greeks and Romans used onyx as a carving material for their arts as well.
The ancient Romans also believed onyx had the power to bestow courage upon its wearers, so much so that ancient Roman warriors carried amulets of onyx with them into battlefields. Ancient Persians believed onyx had special healing power. In Renaissance Europe, people believed that wearing onyx could bequeath to them the power of eloquence.
Onyx jewelry has existed for millennia. While onyx was an extremely valuable, even mythical gemstone in ancient times, today it has become much more affordable. It is a budget friendly alternative to mainstream gemstones such as diamond or ruby. Onyx, especially black onyx, is also an excellent choice for those looking for an unconventional, edgier style of engagement ring, wedding band, bracelet, or other types of jewelry.
Interested in knowing more about this fascinating gemstone with a history as long as the human civilization itself? You have come to the right place. The staff here at American Tungsten has done the hard work on your behalf and compiled the ultimate guide to onyx.
For the rest of this article, we will first go over the different popular varieties of onyx. We will then look into the prices and meanings of onyx. We will also take a look at various black gemstones other than onyx. We will show you how to wear and clean your onyx jewelry. Last but not the least, we will offer our ultimate fashion guide for onyx jewelry. By the end of this guide, you will have no trouble finding your way around this exciting world of onyx jewelry. Ready? Let’s dive in.
Onyx – a Very Short Introduction
As we have mentioned, while onyx is mostly known as the traditional black gemstone, it actually comes in a wide range of colors. The most common color varieties of onyx include black onyx, Arabic onyx, sardonyx, carnelian or cornelian onyx, and Nicolo onyx. In the rest of this section, we will look at these color varieties one by one. We will also briefly talk about the etymology of the name “onyx.” For those in a hurry, here is a summary of the various onyx color varieties:
Varieties of Onyx
|Solid, pure black color with no layers or bands
|Natural black onyx is very rare. Most black onyx on the market is artificially dyed
In Arabic, black onyx is known as el jaza, which means “sadness”
Considered a gemstone of protection and healing in the West
|A black base and a white upper layer
|Also known as “true onyx”
|White and reddish, brownish, or yellow layers
|Sardonyx carvings were very popular in ancient Minoan and Roman times
|Carnelian or cornelian onyx
|Similar to sardonyx, but has orange layers instead of brownish red layers
|Puabi, the Sumerian queen of Ur during the First Dynasty of Ur (2600 BC) was buried with carnelian onyx
|A very thin layer of white color that looks almost blue against a black base color
|Nicolo onyx carvings date back to ancient Egypt and Rome
Onyx’s name comes from the Latin word onyx and the Greek word ὄνυξ, meaning “claw” or “fingernail.” Supposedly, onyx got this name because onyx with beige and white bands can sometimes look like a fingernail. Another story is that according to Roman mythology, one day when the Goddess of Love and Beauty Venus was fast asleep, her fingernails were trimmed and the clippings were turned by the gods into the gemstone that is now known as onyx, “fingernail.”
Onyx is a variety of chalcedony, a cryptocrystalline form of silica. Other varieties of chalcedony include agate and jasper. Onyx has straight and almost parallel bands of colors. These bands or layers of colors make onyx a great material for intricate artworks – master gemstone carvers and artisans can take advantage of these color bands to craft intaglios and cameos with exceptional contradistinction and depth.
Although onyx is most widely as a black gemstone, it can come in almost any colors. There is pure solid black onyx. There is also onyx with black and white layers, red layers, brown layers, yellow layers, and blue layers.
Let us take a look at some of these color varieties of onyx in detail.
Onyx typically comes with thin layers or bands of different colors. But very occasionally, you can find onyx with layers thick enough that it is possible to cut a stone as a solid color. A black onyx is an onyx in a solid, pure black color with no layers or bands.
In reality, naturally black onyx is very rare. Most of the black onyxes you can buy on the market today are artificially dyed stones.
In Arabic, black onyx is known as el jaza, which means “sadness.” According to a manuscript from 1875, in China onyx was mined in very harsh conditions by slaves and menial servants who were barely eking out an existence. Hence the name “sadness.”
In the West, black onyx has long been considered a gemstone of protection and balance. It is thought to have the ability to shield the wearer from negative energy and emotion, and to promote balanced emotion and well being.
Arabic onyx is onyx that has a black base and a white upper layer. Onyx with this color pattern is also known as “true onyx.”
Onyx with white and reddish, brownish, or yellow layers is known as sardonyx. The name sardonyx comes from the word sard, a brownish shade of red. Sardonyx is the traditional August birthstone. Sardonyx was used by the ancient Minoans and the ancient Romans to create many exceptionally beautiful carvings.
Carnelian or Cornelian Onyx
Carnelian or cornelian onyx is similar to sardonyx. But instead of the brownish red layers in sardonyx, carnelian or cornelian onyx has orange layers.
The use of carnelian onyx dates to the very dawn of human history. The very first human civilization, the Sumerian civilization in southern Mesopotamia, created exquisite jewelry from carnelian onyx. Puabi, the Sumerian queen of Ur during the First Dynasty of Ur (2600 BC) was buried with carnelian onyx in her tomb.
Nicolo onyx is onyx that has a very thin layer of white color against a black base color. The white layer can sometimes appear almost blue against the black backdrop.
Nicolo onyx carvings date back to ancient Egypt and Rome.
Average Pricing For an Onyx Ring On The Market
In this section, we will delve into the detail of onyx ring pricing. For those in a hurry, here is a table summarizing the various pricing information related to onyx ring:
Average Pricing of Onyx and Various Ring Settings
|Average Pricing (not including accent gemstones)
|$1 – $10 per carat
|Sterling silver onyx ring
|$30 – $200
|14k white gold, yellow gold, or rose gold onyx ring
|$400 – $1,000
|18k white gold, yellow gold, or rose gold onyx ring
|$600 – $2,500
|Platinum onyx ring
|$800 – $3,000+
In antiquarian times, onyx was a very rare and expensive gemstone. Fortunately, we live in a time where onyx has become more plentiful. That has caused the price of onyx to drop significantly. Today, onyx is a very affordable gemstone that can fit into the budget of everyone.
For the onyx gemstone itself, prices range from $1 to $10 per carat. As a frame of reference, prices of diamond range from $2,000 to $20,000 per carat.
The total price of an onyx ring largely depends on the material of the ring setting.
An onyx ring with a sterling silver ring setting can be had for under $50 or even under $30. Higher quality ones can be had for $100 to $200.
An onyx ring with ring setting made from 14k white gold, yellow gold, or rose gold will cost on average $400 to $1,000. If the ring has accent gemstones such as diamonds that will of course add more to the price.
For 18k white gold, yellow gold, or rose gold onyx rings, the average prices range from $600 to $2,500. Again, accent gemstones such as diamonds will add to that price.
An onyx ring with platinum ring setting may cost $800 to $3,000+. Accent gemstones will cost extra.
The Meaning And Symbolism Of a Black Onyx Ring
Black onyx is associated with the planet Saturn. It is the birthstone for the month of July as well as the zodiac sign Leo. A black onyx ring would make a great birthday gift for a Leo or anyone born in July.
Black onyx is also the anniversary gemstone for the 7th wedding anniversary. Looking for a 7th anniversary gift to get for your wife or husband? Look no more. A black onyx ring with a white gold or platinum setting would be the perfect anniversary gift to mark this special occasion.
The meaning and symbolism of a black onyx ring varies from culture to culture. It also varies across time periods.
In Western culture, black onyx is the gemstone of protection, strength, joy, and healing. Traditionally, black onyx is worn as a protective stone in conflicts to fend off adversaries of all kinds. It is also said to be able to deflect negative energies from external sources, and to prevent the draining of the internal energy of the wearer. It promotes the development of personal stamina and strength, both the emotional and physical kinds. It offers support in times of need and provides relief from grief and stress. It aids in the healing of old wounds and emotional traumas. It inspires good fortune and joy. It gives its wearer strength to sustain self-discipline and to let go of the past.
In Indian and Persian cultures, black onyx is also believed to possess protective powers. Black onyx is used to protect the wearer from evil. During medieval times, black onyx was placed on the stomachs of pregnant women in labor to reduce labor pains and to bring safe deliveries.
According to the Chinese feng shui philosophy, black onyx enhances meditation and heals old wounds. It supports wise decision-making and perseverance. It brings luck and happiness. It also helps in relieving anxiety and doubt.
The table below is a brief summary of the meaning and symbolism of black onyx in various cultures.
Symbolism of Black Onyx
|7th wedding anniversary
|Indian & Persian Cultures
|Protection from evil
|Chinese Feng Shui
Anxiety & doubt relief
Onyx Is a Semi-Precious Gemstone
Onyx is considered a semi-precious gemstone. While onyx was an extremely valuable gemstone in ancient times, today it has become much more affordable. You can easily find onyx for less than $10 per carat. That makes onyx a semi-precious gemstone without a doubt.
You might be curious – which gemstones are considered precious? Traditionally, only 4 gemstones are classified as precious gemstones:
All other gemstones, including onyx, are classified as semi-precious.
Types Of Black Gemstones
Black gemstones have a mystique that gives them an allure not found in other gemstones. There is a certain magic, an understated elegance, a certain je ne sais quoi about them that sets them apart and draws your attention toward them.
Black gemstones have been getting more and more popular in recent years. But it was not always like this. During the medieval period, black gemstones were considered a source of bad luck and negative energy. They were the gothic gemstones associated with tragedy and mourning.
Today, black gemstones have shed all of their negative connotations and become a sought after class of gemstones. They look modern, elegant, and minimalist. They also go well with any outfit without clashing with any colors. They are visually strong enough to stand up on their own but at the same time will not overwhelm any outfit you might be wearing.
While black onyx is the most widely known black gemstone, it is not the only one. There are many other options. Here is a list of the 13 most popular black gemstones you can buy on the market today:
- Black onyx
- Black diamond
- Black sapphire
- Black tourmaline
- Black pearl
- Black jet
- Black zircon
- Black garnet
- Black spinel
- Black jasper
- Black cat’s eye scapolite
- Black jade
Black Onyx vs. Obsidian
It is easy to mix up black onyx and obsidian. They are the two most widely known black gemstones. They both have a deep black color and a smooth, shiny surface.
Despite these superficial similarities between black onyx and obsidian, there are also some deep seated differences between the two popular black gemstones.
The biggest difference is their respective formation and structure. Black onyx, and onyx in general, is a crystal that grew slowly on the surface of the Earth. Specifically, it is a variety of chalcedony, a cryptocrystalline form of silica. Obsidian, on the other hand, is a volcanic glass that was formed when molten lava from a volcano eruption reached land or water and was cooled rapidly. This rapid cooling means that obsidian, unlike onyx, does not have a crystalline structure.
The easiest way to tell a black onyx apart from an obsidian is to pick them up and feel their weights. Black onyx is much denser and heavier than obsidian.
One thing you might want to keep in mind is that the vast majority of solid black onyx stones you can find on the market today are artificially dyed because naturally all back onyx is very rare. Naturally all black obsidian, on the other hand, is very plentiful and there is no need to resort to dyeing. So if you are looking for a naturally all black gemstone, obsidian is probably a better choice for you.
When it comes to pricing, black onyx and obsidian are equally inexpensive. You can easily find both for less than $10 per carat.
Differences Between Black Onyx and Obsidian
|Slow crystallization on the surface of the Earth
|Rapid cooling of molten lava from a volcanic eruption
|Weight and Density
|Heavy and dense
|Lightweight and low density
|Most pure black onyx is artificially dyed
|Most pure black obsidian is natural
|Less than $10 per carat
|Less than $10 per carat
How To Clean and Store Onyx Jewelry
When it comes to cleaning onyx jewelry, the most important thing to keep in mind is that unlike gemstones such as diamond, onyx is much softer and very porous. In short, onyx is a very fragile gemstone.
In addition, the vast majority of black onyx you can buy on the market is artificially dyed. You want to make sure the process of cleaning does not lead to the discoloration of the stone itself. That means no chemical cleaning agents should ever be used on your onyx. Clean with only a dry cloth or at most a damp cloth moistened with water only. Anything else would be too harsh for the fragile onyx.
Any time you want to clean onyx jewelry, you need to be very gentle. Follow the following simple steps to make sure you do not damage your onyx jewelry.
Cleaning Onyx Gemstones
- Use a soft, dry cloth made from cotton or microfiber to gently wipe any dirt off your onyx stone.
- For dirt that is harder to clean, moisten your cloth with a little bit of water and use the damp cloth to wipe off your onyx gemstone.
- After cleaning with a damp cloth, immediately use a dry cloth to dry off your onyx.
Onyx Gemstone Cleaning Don’ts
- DO NOT use chemical cleaning agents to clean your onyx. This means no ammonia which is commonly used to clean jewelry, no soap, no detergent, and no dishwashing liquid. Onyx is very porous and absorbent. It will absorb any chemicals it comes into contact with, which could lead to discoloration of the stone itself. This is especially a concern for black onyx because the vast majority of black onyx you can buy today is artificially dyed black instead of naturally black. Any chemical cleaning agents could interact with the dye and cause a change in color.
- DO NOT put your onyx under a running tap or in the water. Once again, onyx is very porous and absorbs water easily.
- DO NOT use an ultrasonic cleaner to clean your onyx because the ultrasound vibration as well as the cleaning liquid can cause damage to your gemstone.
Cleaning Onyx Jewelry Settings
Normally, to clean jewelry made from sterling silver, gold, or platinum, you would soak it in a solution of warm water and soap or jewelry cleaner for 10 to 15 minutes and then brush it clean with a soft brush.
Do not use that same method to clean the metal setting of your onyx jewelry. Under no circumstances should you soak onyx in any liquid due to the porosity of onyx.
Instead of soaking, the best way to clean the metal setting of your onyx jewelry is to use a soft, damp cloth moistened with a little bit of water to wipe clean the metal.
You can also use a soft brush to clean any hard-to-reach parts of the jewelry setting. Just make sure you avoid contact with the actual onyx stone itself.
It is OK to polish the metal setting with a polishing cloth as long as you do not touch the onyx stone with the polishing cloth.
Wearing Onyx Jewelry
It is important to develop good habits to protect your onyx jewelry while you are wearing it. Avoid doing anything that would damage, scratch, or wet your onyx jewelry.
- Do not wear onyx jewelry to the gym where it could easily get scratched or damaged
- Take off your onyx rings and bracelets before washing your hands, cooking, or doing housework, Water and cleaning agents are a big no-no for onyx.
- Put on your onyx jewelry only after, not before, you have applied hairspray, perfume, or cologne. You do not want chemicals to fall on the onyx stones
- Do not wear your onyx jewelry when swimming or taking a shower
Storing Onyx Jewelry
Onyx is soft and fragile. You want to store your onyx jewelry in a way that protects it from scratches and damages. A few ideas:
- Wrap your onyx jewelry individually in a soft and thick cloth made from cotton or microfiber before putting it away
- Store each individual piece of onyx jewelry in its own jewelry pouch to protect it from scratches
- Use a jewelry box with separate compartments – make sure each onyx jewelry gets its own compartment to prevent damages caused by collisions and scratches
Onyx Jewelry Fashion Guide
Compared to more mainstream gemstones such as diamond or sapphire, onyx offers an offbeat alternative to those who are looking for something different and unique. Onyx does not have the bling factor of say diamond or emerald. On the other hand, its bold colors and patterns make it a very versatile stone for jewelry.
Onyx is great for both everyday wear as well as fancy occasions. It also makes for a great gemstone for engagement and wedding rings, especially for those who do not wear jewelry very often or those who are looking for something a bit more unconventional.
The solid, pure black color of black onyx makes it very versatile. It is a good fit for practically any outfits and any occasions. You do not have to worry about clashing colors, and your jewelry will always be appropriate for the occasion.
Onyx also works very well in various styles: modern, minimalist, gothic, Victorian, Art Deco, and more.
For the rest of this section, we will look at onyx engagement and wedding rings in more detail. We will also talk about a few fashion styles that work particularly well with onyx.
Onyx Engagement Rings
For engagement rings, onyx is a great choice if you do not want too much bling or anything too flashy. The symbolism of onyx as a stone of protection and joy will give additional meanings to your engagement ring.
For a modern look, go with a black onyx center stone on a minimalist setting of white gold or platinum. If you prefer something more vintage looking, a sardonyx center stone on an ornate rose gold setting would look very striking.
If you prefer something more elaborate, pair your onyx center stone with diamond or ruby accents.
Onyx Wedding Rings
For a wedding ring, you probably want something simpler in design. A minimalist platinum band with black onyx accents would suit that purpose well. Another good combo is carnelian onyx accents on a rose gold band. Both styles can look very understated and elegant.
Style – Modern & Minimalist
If you prefer a modern or minimalist style, black onyx should be one of your top go-to choices for jewelry. The sleek black appearance of black onyx gives it a very stark, architectural presence, almost reminiscent of the black monolith from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
To play up this starkness, pair a small black onyx stone with a minimalist setting of silver or platinum. This classic combo would work equally well for a ring, a bracelet, or a pendant.
If you want a little bit more color, add a small sardonyx stone to the mix. The red and the black from sardonyx and black onyx form a striking palette that is both clean and rich at the same time.
Style – Victorian
Onyx was very popular during the Victorian era. Pay homage to this heritage and choose a Victorian style onyx jewelry. Go with a ring or necklace with a rectangular onyx cameo centerpiece on a setting of yellow or rose gold. Popular cameo design themes during the Victorian era include profile silhouettes, trees, and birds. Black onyx is the most popular type of onyx during this period.
Style – Art Deco
The Art Deco era is another period in which onyx jewelry enjoyed widespread popularity. The Art Deco movement portrayed luxury, glamour, exuberance, and faith in social and technological progress. Art Deco jewelry is known for its geometric patterns and industrial look and feel.
For an authentic Art Deco design, look for rings with an old European cut diamond centerpiece on a background of black onyx. Another popular Art Deco design element is filigree metal works in white gold or platinum.
Art Deco jewelry is also known for its bold colors and strong contrasts. So do not shy away from colored onyxes such as those in red, burgundy, green, or blue.
What To Look For When Buying Onyx
When you buy onyx jewelry, there are a few factors you should consider.
Onyx comes in a wide range of colors. Black is the most classic one. But the vast majority of black onyx you can buy today are not naturally black. They are dyed black. If you must have a black gemstone with natural coloring, you might want to avoid black onyx.
If you want onyx in natural color, sardonyx (reddish brown) and carnelian onyx (red or orange) are two classical choices. Blue and yellow are also great options.
Look for onyx with a smooth surface with no cracks and no inclusions. There should be no impurities. The onyx stone itself should give off a glossy and uniform luster.
Look for onyx in a cabochon cut that maximizes its luster. Alternatively, go with onyx in a flat cut for its simplicity and minimalism.
Onyx looks good with pretty much all metal settings: sterling silver, white gold, platinum, yellow gold, and rose gold. Which one to get is a matter of personal preference and economic consideration. As mentioned, onyx is very inexpensive, so the price of your onyx jewelry will largely depend on your choice of setting. A platinum setting is going to be 100 times more expensive than a Sterling silver setting. Any accent gemstones you choose will add even more to the price.
In this article, we have covered a lot of information about onyx. By now you are well equipped to make informed decisions about what onyx jewelry to buy and to wear. Before you go off to do your shopping, let’s do a quick recap.
- Onyx jewelry is as old as human civilization itself, tracing its history all the way back to ancient Sumerian, Egyptian, and Minoan civilizations almost five thousand years ago
- While black onyx is the most famous variety of onyx, there are many other great color varieties available: Arabic onyx, sardonyx, carnelian onyx, and Nicolo onyx to name a few
- Onyx is a semi-precious gemstone with very affordable pricing. It typically sells for less than $10 per carat. The price of onyx jewelry will largely depend on its setting. A platinum setting can cost 100 times more than a Sterling silver setting. Accent gemstones such as diamond accents will add even more to that cost.
- Onyx is the birthstone for July and Leo
- Sardonyx is the birthstone for August
- Onyx is the anniversary stone for the 7th wedding anniversary
- The symbolism of onyx varies from culture to culture. In Western culture, onyx is the stone of protection, strength, joy, and healing. In Indian & Persian cultures, it is the stone of protection and pain relief. In Chinese culture, it symbolizes happiness, luck, meditation, healing, and wise decision-making.
- While both black onyx and obsidian are black gemstones, black onyx is a crystal whereas obsidian is a volcanic glass. Black onyx is substantially heavier and denser than obsidian.
- Onyx is very porous and fragile. Do not clean onyx with chemicals or ultrasonic cleaners. Use a soft cloth instead. Do not let your onyx get wet. Store it inside a protective pouch or compartment.
- Onyx is a great choice for engagement and wedding rings for those who are looking for something different
- Onyx looks good in many styles including modern, minimalist, Victorian, and Art Deco
- When buying onyx jewelry, consider its color, clarity, cut, and setting