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Onyx meaning, properties, and symbolism

Onyx Gemstone: Meaning, Properties & Symbolism

The onyx gemstone is incredibly unique and strikingly beautiful, making it a favorite for jewelry and a popular option for collectors. Onyx is also widely known, though many people don’t dive deep into the semi-precious stone’s meaning, healing properties, and symbolism. If you’d like to learn more about onyx, here’s a look at what the onyx gemstone is, its types and colors, the onyx meaning, and more.

Onyx Gemstone Properties

If you’re wondering, “Is onyx a real stone?” the answer is “yes.” However, many people have misconceptions about what the gem is in terms of composition and categorization.

While people often refer to onyx as a gemstone, that isn’t the best formal description of the gem. Instead, it’s actually classified as a mineral. Here’s a deeper dive into what the onyx gemstone is and whether it’s considered rare.

What Is Onyx Gemstone?

Banded onyx gemstone

Onyx is a variety of chalcedony, which is a silicate mineral. It features a significant amount of calcite, not unlike granite and marble.

When it comes to its form, the onyx gemstone is actually layered. While the exterior of a piece of onyx may appear to be a single color, when it’s cut or carved, layers of other colors are revealed as parallel bands. The most widely known combination is black and white bands. However, brown and white or red and white onyx also naturally occur. In white or black banded onyx, you may find gray or brown bands, too.

As for the luster, it can range from waxy to vitreous, depending on whether it’s raw, cut, or polished. Additionally, you can find opaque and translucent versions of the stone, depending on the exact type.

Is Onyx a Rare Stone?

Generally, onyx isn’t considered a rare stone. Instead, it’s classified as uncommon. However, in some cases, pieces of onyx won’t feature white banding but bands in other colors. Those stones are considered the most desirable, and those are rare finds.

Since solid black onyx is preferred in many cases, some faux black onyx that is created to resemble pure black onyx stone. When you’re looking at a pure black piece of black onyx jewelry, it’s wise to wonder if it’s genuine. While it may be, there’s also a chance that it’s dyed black or heat-treated chalcedony. As a result, you need to consider specific factors to determine its authenticity, such as whether the price aligns with what a solid black onyx gemstone would cost.

Types and Colors of Onyx Gemstone

When people think of onyx, the black version of the gem is what usually comes to mind. However, onyx can come in many more colors. Here’s an overview of the types and colors of onyx gemstones.

Natural Black Onyx

Black Onyx Varieties

Natural black onyx – as the name suggests – is a black gemstone with a luster ranging from waxy to vitreous, depending on whether it’s in its natural state, cut, or polished. Some specimens are pure, black onyx, though that version is scarce, making it highly desirable. Others feature distinct bands or layers of other colors, including white, gray, or brown.

Brazilian Green Onyx

Brazilian green onyx is a variant or form of onyx featuring layers of chalcedony and quartz. It has a distinctly green hue, not unlike jade or emerald. The stone commonly features bands in shades of brown, white, black, or cream. However, some specimens are only green and, at times, have a translucent quality.

Arabic Onyx

Arabic onyx is a version of the gem that has a black base with a white outer layer and black color below. It’s popular for cameos, where the white outer layer is carved to show an image, and the opaque black inner layer is used as a background, creating dramatic contrast.


Sardonyx is a gem that features layers like other types of onyx. However, some of the layers are sard, and others are onyx. Both sard and onyx are chalcedony minerals, though their coloring differs. Usually, the onyx layers are white or gray, and the sard layers are typically brown or red-brown, though they can lean toward yellow.

Carnelian Onyx (or Cornelian Onyx)

Carnelian onyx is similar to sardonyx in how it’s structured, featuring layers of red onyx and carnelian. The onyx is typically white, while the carnelian is red or red-orange. However, you may see other hues in the layers, too, such as grayish onyx or earthier reds or reddish oranges for the carnelian.

Nicolo Onyx (or Niccolo Onyx)

Nicolo onyx features a black onyx base but includes translucent outer layers. Usually, the translucent upper layer is light gray or light blue. In some cases, the light blue layer makes the body of the stone appear midnight blue, as light passing through the blue bands creates a slight blue glow.

Blue onyx

History and Symbolism of Onyx Stones

The name onyx was derived from the Greek word “ὄνυξ,” which means talon, claw, or fingernail. It has an incredibly long history, and it’s commonly associated with deities, royalty, and more.

According to Greek legend, onyx formed after Cupid trimmed the fingernails of Venus, the goddess of love. After being clipped, the nails turned into stones, effectively immortalizing her.

Banded yellow onyx

Cleopatra was said to believe that onyx stones had protective powers. In Egpyt – where the stone is also called Egyptian alabaster – the precious stone was used to create a variety of sacred objects, including canopic jars and unguent vases. Onyx is also one of only 12 stones specifically mentioned in the Bible, which says it adorned the Yahweh high priests’ breastplate.

In ancient times, nearly every color and variety of chalcedony was referred to as onyx. However, the Romans began narrowing the use of the name, using it only to describe stones with black or brown coloring. Pliny, an ancient Roman historian, also described some of the first darkening treatments for onyx, which included soaking the gem in sugar water before boiling it in a strong acid.

Where Is Onyx Found?

The onyx stone is found in many regions of the world. As one would expect, Greece has long been a source of onyx. It’s also found in many other countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Germany, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mexico, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uruguay, Yemen, and many others.

However, its most prominent sources today are India and South America. Brazil is one of the largest producers at this time, though other countries are reliable sources, too.

What Is Onyx Used For?

Generally speaking, onyx is an ornamental stone. It’s long been used for stone carvings and jewelry. Cabochons and beads have been popular since ancient times, and there are also instances where onyx was used for a variety of engravings.

Onyx stone carvings

Over time, how onyx is used hasn’t changed significantly. It remains a primarily ornamental stone, both due to its beauty and its association with protection.

Onyx Jewelry

Onyx jewelry has been popular since ancient times, and it’s widely available today. However, you won’t typically find much onyx jewelry in chain stores. Typically, this is because the banding in most versions of the stone doesn’t allow for consistency across large runs, making it ill-suited to chains that need a large number of pieces that generally look the same.

Fortunately, onyx is popular with smaller independent designers, as they can make small runs or even one-off pieces that take advantage of the unique features of onyx. In most cases, cabochons and beads are the favored approach, as faceting doesn’t necessarily elevate the stone.

Onyx was often used for cameos and mourning jewelry

As mentioned previously, onyx is also used for cameos and other forms of similar carvings, some of which do make their way into modern jewelry pieces. As a result, you can find some incredibly unique creations made by independent designers.

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Benefits and Healing Properties of Onyx Stone

Many people believe that wearing, holding, or meditating on onyx provides metaphysical benefits. While the exact nature of the benefits varies by belief system, there are some broad commonalities.

Generally, onyx is considered a protective stone or gem that’s said to keep negative energies and stave off negative energy. Some view it as a stone of strength, while others associate it with good fortune. Many think that onyx is a grounding stone, as well, and that it can give the wearer self control, confidence or holder more willpower. It’s also associated with soothing energy and is commonly connected to the root chakra.

Green onyx is known as a protective stone

It’s critical to note that gemstones – including onyx – are not scientifically proven to prevent or treat any medical condition. If you’re experiencing a health issue, using onyx as a substitute for legitimate medical care is unwise. However, there’s typically no harm in wearing, holding, or meditating on onyx. If those activities provide a person with peace of mind as they pursue formal medical treatments, using onyx in that capacity is usually low-risk.

Stones Similar to Onyx

Which stones are potentially similar to onyx depends on the exact type you’re trying to replicate. For black onyx, obsidian is one of the strongest substitutes, as the two are highly similar visually. Black agate, black tourmaline, black jade, and jet are also worth exploring.

Layered pieces of black agate are also a potential substitute for Arabic onyx. However, the lighter colored bands don’t necessarily form in the same way, so this option may only work well for beads or, in some cases, cabochons.

For Brazilian green onyx, jade is typically the closest stand-in for the gem. However, serpentine is somewhat similar to yellow onyx, as well as certain jaspers. For sardonyx or carnelian onyx, layered stones like agate or rhodochrosite are worth exploring. You could also check out brown obsidian or scapolite.

Nicolo onyx is harder to find a substitute for due to the light blue or gray layer on the exterior. However, deep blue versions of sodalite may have a similar appearance in some cases.

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