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Spotlight on: Onyx Jewelry

Spotlight on: Onyx Jewelry

Too many people lack an appreciation for onyx, compared to other gemstones. People know the origins of diamonds and pearls, but who knows where onyx is born, or how its lustrous bands of color are formed? In fact, the average person is apt to know only of black onyx, when in reality the mineral can be found displaying bands of many colors.

vintage Van Cleef & Arpels onyx bracelet

The word “onyx” comes from Greek by way of Latin, and means “nail.” The flesh-toned bands in onyx marble do indeed resemble a fingernail, and the English word is a cognate of the ancient Greek.

The mineral onyx is a variety of chalcedony; other varieties include agate and carnelian. Chalcedony is formed of the silica minerals quartz and moganite, which combine when silica-rich water meets volcanic rock. Modern onyx used for jewelry is more often artificially formed than natural onyx, or produced via dying and heat treatments to reduce impurities.

Onyx was used in the 2nd dynasty Egypt to make pottery and other items, while the Greeks and Romans leave us many examples of cameo engraved gems. The Romans also highly favored seals made from Onyx.

In modern times, onyx is the gemstone for celebrating the 10th year of marriage. The uses of onyx in jewelry are typically to form beads, or to be cut into a cabochon. A cabochon is an opaque stone that is shaped and polished with a convex top and flat bottom, rather than cut into facets as transparent gems such as diamonds are.

Onyx is a relatively inexpensive, but beautiful stone, making it a very popular gem for use in jewelry. The black varieties are the most popular, but onyx may present itself in black with white stripes, red, brown, and reddish brown. Onyx jewelry also makes for excellent heirlooms, as the hardness rating of 7.0 is durable enough to last for years of daily use.

Matthew H for Raymond Lee Jewelers, premiere fine jewelry and luxury watch boutique and buyer.

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