Onyx, with its sleek and glossy beauty, has long been sought after for use in jewellery. It is often thought of as being pure black but in reality it is usually banded white and black or banded white and brown. It can come in a variety of other colours, such as shades of white, green and red, but these colours are not generally found in jewellery usage.
Onyx is a variety of chalcedony. It can be differentiated from agate because the bands in onyx are parallel whereas in agate they are curved. Onyx is cool to the touch, quite heavy and has a highly polished and glossy finish. For this reason, it can sometimes be confused with French Jet.
The demand for pure black onyx has traditionally outstripped the supply so most all black onyx is dyed. This is why most black onyx has such an even finish. A trained eye can tell the difference between dyed and natural onyx under a loupe by looking for uneven surface colour.
Black onyx was particularly revered by the Victorians, especially during the Grand Era 1861-1880. The Victorians of this era loved all black materials and the fashion of wearing mourning styles went far beyond that which was necessary. They created a wide variety of jewellery items from all black onyx, including lockets, pendants, brooches and earrings. They also mixed it with coral, turquoise, seed pearls and rubies.
Art Deco Era
Black onyx was also especially beloved in the Art Deco era as the stone lent itself to the bold and stark minimalism of the Machine Aesthetic. Jewellery designers used contrasting materials such as coral, jade or diamonds to further accentuate the beauty of the black.
Theodor Fahrner was a well known Art Deco designer who used onyx in many designs.
Onyx is also one of the most popular materials for cameo as the bands are ideal for creating contrasting relief images. Sardonyx is the name for the brown and white banded variety of onyx that is often used for cameo and intaglio.
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