Is Obsidian a Gem?
For many people, obsidian is a jewelry favorite. It has a look that's hard to find in any other gem. Plus, it's incredibly versatile and relatively easy to work with, making it a favorite among boutique jewelry makers.
But many people ask, "Is obsidian a gem, or is it something else?" If you're curious about obsidian, here's a look at some fun obsidian facts, including whether obsidian is a gem, how it is made, and more.
Obsidian Properties – Is Obsidian a Gem?
If you're wondering, "Is obsidian a gem, or is obsidian a mineral?" the answer is neither. Technically, obsidian is a kind of naturally-occurring glass, though it's usually considered to simply be an igneous rock. However, it is sometimes classified as a mineraloid, as it does have many mineral-like qualities.
When it comes to what obsidian is made of, silica plays a big role. In fact, the silica is part of why obsidian has such a lovely glassy finish that reflects the light so brilliantly.
However, it isn't always the only component. Different inclusions or impurities can alter the final color of the stone. Still, their presence doesn't mean you aren't looking at a piece of obsidian.
As for how obsidian is made, it forms from viscous magma usually. When lava cools quickly and doesn't have much crystal growth as the temperature falls, it can create the glassy rock we know as obsidian.
When people think of obsidian, the black obsidian stone is what commonly comes to mind. Black obsidian is usually what you find in jewelry, and it's also incredibly popular with lapidaries. However, obsidian actually comes in a wide range of colors.
Blue obsidian tends to be fairly transparent with a distinct blue coloring. The exact shade can vary slightly, with some pieces being a stronger sapphire hue while others are closer to a robin's egg or even a light teal.
Golden obsidian usually has a darker base color, like black or deep brown. However, it also has a golden sheen, making it seem like tiny golden glitter particles are trapped right beneath the surface.
Mahogany obsidian, thanks to the presence of iron, is usually a brick red color. It can feature varying amounts of black as well, generally in a mottled or striped pattern.
Snowflake obsidian is a black stone that features white inclusions. It gives the piece a mottled appearance, not unlike snowflakes scattered across the night sky.
Peacock obsidian - also known as velvet obsidian - is quite rare. This version has magnetite inclusions, giving the stone a multicolored look and iridescent quality that's incredibly striking. Usually, the coloring beyond black involves blues and greens, not unlike the shades you find in a peacock feather.
Fire obsidian is another rare variant with amazing colors. Instead of a largely black base, fire obsidian tends to be clear with iridescent qualities. It can have a breathtaking play of color, with hues that can mimic the Northern Lights, the flames in a campfire, the light bouncing off of soap bubbles, the shine of oil slicks, and more.
The History of Obsidian
Obsidian has a long history, serving as a widely-used stone in many cultures. What is obsidian used for today? Ornamental purposes are the norm. However, while many people think of obsidian as a gem for jewelry, back in the stone age, that wasn't the case.
One of the original uses for obsidian was weaponry and cutting tools. Since it's glass, the edge can get incredibly sharp, making the stone a logical choice for knives, spear tips, arrowheads, and similar purposes. That made obsidian exceptionally valuable to ancient people.
However, even in an era where we have access to metals and other materials, we still use obsidian as a cutting tool today. In fact, obsidian blades are used in surgeries, at times, largely because the cutting edge can be sharper with obsidian than what you can get in a traditional steel scalpel.
Where Is Obsidian Found?
How obsidian is formed relies on volcanic activity. So you'll only find it in areas that either currently or previously had active volcanoes. While this might make it seem like obsidian would be relatively rare, that isn't necessarily the case. Many parts of the planet have been home to volcanic activity, so obsidian is actually very widespread.
There are large obsidian deposits in numerous countries, including Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Iceland, Indonesia, Kenya, New Zealand, Russia, the United States, and more. However, the majority of obsidian jewelry is produced in the United States.
Obsidian jewelry is incredibly popular and highly accessible. In most cases, obsidian is either turned into beads or cabochons. However, some lapidaries do turn it isn't faceted gems, particularly more transparent versions of the stone. Additionally, you may find shaped pieces, such as an arrowhead pendant created out of obsidian.
If you're looking for an obsidian necklace, you might find strands of beads or pendants. With a black obsidian bracelet, beads are the most common option. However, you may also find a series of set cabochons too.
Typically, obsidian is set in silver. But that doesn't mean you can't find gold jewelry with obsidian, as well. Usually, the only metal you won't find obsidian paired with is platinum, mainly because that metal tends to be significantly more expensive than the others. That doesn't align with a lower-cost stone like obsidian.
The meaning of obsidian can vary from one belief system to the next. Additionally, the piece's color can play a role, particularly when it comes to associating a sample with a chakra.
Generally, the black obsidian meaning ties the stone of the base chakra. It's also said by some to be a stone that boosts creativity, supports greater self-control, and provides protection during times of change.
Blue obsidian is more closely connected to the throat chakra. Some belief systems state that blue obsidian helps with communication and self-expression partially due to that association.
However, that's only the tip of the iceberg. Some think that mahogany obsidian is grounding and stabilizing, while snowflake obsidian is calming and balancing.
Essentially, every version is going to have a slightly different meaning. However, it's critical to remember that gemstones shouldn't be viewed as substitutes for medical care in any of those cases. Holding, wearing, or meditating on a stone may boost your mood or mindset. Still, it isn't a proven way to treat any health condition, so it shouldn't be used in place of visiting your doctor.
Stones Similar to Obsidian
Many stones can be similar to obsidian, depending on the color you're trying to substitute. For black obsidian, black onyx and black spinel may be fairly close matches. Black tourmaline or black jasper could be other reasonable substitutes.
For golden obsidian, black cat's eye scapolite could work, though the gold coloring tends to be weaker in the cat's eye stone. Black star sapphire may be a better match, but it may not be quite as easy to find.
At times, black rutilated quartz may be a decent stand-in for snowflake obsidian, as well as certain pieces of marble or onyx. For blue obsidian, topaz, aquamarine, tourmaline, spinel, and many other gems with blue variants could work. Other stones could substitute for different colors of obsidian, as well.