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crystals rocks minerals

Onyx Stone Meaning and Healing Properties

rough natural onyx mineral

1. What is Onyx?
2. What is Black Onyx?
3. Onyx or Calcite?
4. So Much Confusion!
5. Onyx Healing Properties
6. Article Photos
7. Shop Onyx

What is Onyx?

Onyx is a natural mineral used for a wide variety of purposes.

As well as for gemstones onyx is used for fireplace surrounds, household furniture and a wide array of ornaments.

A great deal of confusion exists regarding the correct use of the name "onyx".  In the vast majority of cases it's used incorrectly. 

With regards to colour, onyx is a black and white banded variety of the mineral agate.  It may also be a single coloured agate with alternating shades of light and darker coloured bands.

Although onyx and agate are both varieties of chalcedony, the main difference is the bands in onyx are parallel whereas in agate they're curved. 

What is Black Onyx?

Most black onyx is either black agate or black chalcedony.  Natural black onyx is quite rare.

Throughout history the vast majority of black onyx has been dyed.  In one respected gemstone reference it's stated in order to achieve the black colour stones are soaked in sugar or honey before being treated with sulphuric acid.

In his encyclopedia Naturalis Historia [circa 77-79 AD] the ancient Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder speaks at length about techniques used to change the colour of one gemstone to make it look like another.

"There is considerable difficulty in distinguishing genuine stones from false; the more so, as there has been discovered a method of transforming genuine stones of one kind into false stones of another.

Sardonyx, for example, is imitated by cementing together three other precious stones, in such a way that no skill can detect the fraud; a black stone being used for the purpose, a white stone, and one of a vermilion colour, each of them, in its own way, a stone of high repute.

Nay, even more than this, there are books in existence, the authors of which I forbear to name, which give instructions how to stain crystal in such a way as to imitate smaragdus and other transparent stones, how to make sardonyx of sarda, and other gems in a similar manner.

Indeed, there is no kind of fraud practised, by which larger profits are made."

Ref; (Pliny's Naturalis Historia chapter 75).

Some History of Onyx

The history onyx can be traced back much further than ancient Rome.  It's mentioned numerous times in the bible and is said to have been one of the gemstones in the high priest breastplate.

This biblical garment was worn by Aaron the first Jewish high priest over the top of a tunic-like garment.

Onyx is said to have been the second stone in the fourth row.  To its left was a beryl and to its right a jasper.
onyx polished gemstone Much of the "onyx" used for decorative purposes so items like chess sets, figurines, tumbled stones and gemstones is banded calcite.  The stone in our photo which comes from our collection is a perfect example.

Calcite is often used instead of onyx because it's more readily available.  It's also a much softer stone which makes it easier to work with.

According to the traditional birthstone chart ruby is the birthstone for July but onyx can be used an alternative.

Is It Onyx or Calcite?

On sight alone it can be difficult to tell onyx from calcite.  The simplest way to identify one from the other is to do a scratch test or an acid test.

The problem with both is that some level of damage is likely to be caused.

On Mohs scale of hardness onyx grades 6.5 to 7, calcite grades 3.  It will therefore be easier to scratch calcite than onyx.

To establish whether a stone is calcite you can try scratching it with fluorite or a feldspar mineral such as labradorite, amazonite, moonstone or sunstone.  You could also use a piece of window glass or a metal knife (regular knife used for eating).

These materials are harder than calcite but softer than onyx.

With onyx being relatively hard it's difficult to scratch.  Quartz which also grades 7 on Mohs scale may scratch onyx.  Corundum, topaz and diamond will definitely scratch it.

Hardness should not be confused for toughness.  One refers to the resistance of one mineral to be scratched by another.  The other refers to a mineral's resistance to cracking, chipping, pressure or breaking.  
banded calcite sphere The other test that can be carried out to determine whether the mineral is calcite or onyx is an acid test. 

Calcite is the crystalline form of calcium carbonate.  Add a drop of acid to calcite and it will effervesce (fizz).  This is because of a chemical reaction between the acid and the carbonate ions in calcite.  Vinegar could be used for this test. 

At the point where the acid makes contact with the stone, if it's calcite or another calcium carbonate mineral you'll see tiny bubbles.  You'll have to look very closely, possibly through a magnifier. If it's onyx it will not effervesce.

Any stone that's not black with light coloured alternating parallel bands is likely to be calcite, chalcedony, agate or any number of other minerals.

So Much Confusion!

The name onyx is used to describe a banded variety of chalcedony.  The mineral chalcedony can include many different types of quartz.

Terminology can be ambiguous and the translation of names into different languages, especially over hundreds or even thousands of years also complicates matters.

In historical texts lapis lazuli was often mistaken for sapphire.  That's because in the ancient world it was called sapphirus.

Determining the precise characteristics of some minerals can be subjective and open to interpretation. Geologists often have different criteria and perspectives when defining onyx which leads to disagreements and debates.

The use of trade names to popularise rocks and minerals can also cause confusion.  Many stones that have been named "... Jasper" do not contain any jasper at all.

"Limestone onyx" is a trade name for limestone that can look similar to onyx.

Green onyx is dyed agate or calcite.  The green banded stone that's widely recognised as being "onyx" is calcite or agate.  It's usually dyed.

Material from Pakistan marketed as "onyx" or "onyx marble" is travertine.  It's made up of colourful bands of calcite.

Onyx Healing Properties

Onyx provides strength and support especially in difficult and stressful situations.  It can help you to be the master of your own destiny and promotes vigor, stamina and determination.

It holds onto memories so they can be used to explore past lives.  Onyx is a comforting stone for those dealing with grief.  It can be used to strengthen self control and for stimulating the power of good decision making.

It boosts self confidence, helps ease the fear associated with phobias and balances yin and yang energies.

In ancient times onyx is said to have been carried by warriors because it was believed to bring courage and protect them from harm. Today it's carried or worn to protect against dark forces and to promote a sense of security.

Onyx can help with the release of negative emotions and past traumas. This allows you to heal and move forward. It promotes self-control and discipline which can help ease addictive patterns of behaviour and destructive habits.

Onyx is a stone for the present but one that carries with it happy and positive memories from the past.

Article Pictures

We have access to an extensive collection of photographs of minerals.  This is because we have permission from several great photographers to use their work on our website.

Despite this, we found it extremely difficult to find a photo of natural onyx.

The vast majority of material labelled as "onyx" was calcite or contained a significant percentage of calcite.

The image at the top of our article is natural onyx.  Photo courtesy of Stan Celestian.  It's clickable and redirects to the original image.

Here's another two photos of onyx.  We've linked to them because we don't have permission to use the images on our website; 

The second two photos in our article are both banded calcite.  The gemstone is from our collection.

shop now explore our collection of onyx
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