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Definition: onyx from Philip's Encyclopedia

Semi-precious variety of the mineral chalcedony, a form of agate. It has straight parallel bands. White and red forms are called carnelian onyx; white and brown, sardonyx. It is found mostly in India and South America.


Summary Article: Onyx from Guide to Gems

Onyx is a variety of AGATE, but instead of curved bands it has straight parallel ones of alternate black and white. If reddish brown bands occur instead of black, it is called SARDONYX. The onyx name is generally applied in commercial dealings to the black bands, and this has led to any black chalcedony being called onyx, whether it is natural or dyed. Baja California, northwest Mexico, was a major source until cheap imitation stones appeared on the market.

The ancient Romans carved different patterns in each layer of a multi-layered onyx and often used the stone for their seals, carving a design in negative relief to produce the raised print. They had first used the onyx name for a variety of marble having white and yellow veins, and onyx is the Greek word for ‘claw’ or ‘fingernail’, because these veins resemble the colours of a fingernail. The marble is still called ‘onyx marble’, being less valuable and softer than onyx.

Onyx has been dyed since ancient times to enhance the colour. It has traditionally been used for carving cameo brooches. Because of the stone's different bands, part of the black layer can be carved away to create a white background while leaving a black design on top. The colours can be reversed: Wedgewood ceramic ware, for instance, resembles onyx cameos with white figures over a dark grey background. Onyx items are affordable, and include brooches, beads, earrings, necklaces, pendants, stones for rings, chess pieces, bookends, cups, vases, and figurines such as animals. The stone may scratch or chip easily. Natural black onyx is rare, so the commercial black variety is nearly always agate that has been stained by the sugar-sulphuric acid treatment, soaked in a sugar solution and then heated in sulphuric acid to carbonize the sugar.

Polished slice of onyx

Onyx and diamond necklace featuring 20 large onyx beads Green and black onyx cabochons

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Word Origins

[13 century] Greek ónux meant ‘claw, fingernail’ (it is distantly related to English nail ). Certain sorts of onyx are pink with white...

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Variety of Chalcedony with variegated bands, straight rather than curved as in Agate . Sardonyx has white and brown bands; carnelian onyx...

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The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A semiprecious stone consisting of a variety of chalcedony characterized by straight parallel bands, often distinctly coloured. Onyx occurs...

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