The Art Medium Onyx

Onyx is a hard stone that has been used for carving for centuries. A type of banded chalcedony, onyx features various colored bands, but black tends to be the most celebrated color of this mineral. Common onyx usually features colored bands of white and black, yet onyx can feature other hues like brown, orange, cream, and more. Having been used as an art medium since antiquity, onyx has been featured extensively in jewelry design but also functional items like bowls and other vessels.

Onyx is found in various regions of the world. Currently the mineral is mined in nations like Uruguay, Brazil, Afghanistan, the western United States, and India. On the other hand, onyx deposits have been discovered all over the world. Ancient Egyptians revered onyx and the material was used to make everyday items like bowls. Ancient Minoans and later Greeks and Romans also favored the use of onyx as an art medium. Onyx was anciently formed in the gas bubbles of lava from silica gel. Historians believe that Egyptians of antiquity experimented with treatments to enhance the black color of onyx. Such treatments were also written about by Pliny the Elder during the first century. Today the mineral is almost always treated to enhance its color.

Both historically and today onyx has been used to produce beads as well as cabochons. Today onyx is frequently faceted, but historically the mineral was a favorite choice for intaglio carving. Though a hard stone, onyx does not rank as hard as other gemstones like corundum, for instance. However, it does rate a score of 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness. Because of its durability and toughness, onyx is favored for use by jewelry designers. Though onyx has been used to create decorative frames, ceramics, chess pieces, and other decorative objects, it is best known for its use in jewelry.

When it comes to jewelry design, one can expect to find onyx in rings, necklaces, earrings, and virtually any type of jewelry. Rich black onyx is a favorite complement to materials like silver, gold, and platinum. Onyx was a favorite art medium among jewelers of the Art Deco period and was used extensively in pendants and other jewels. Often this mineral was used as a backdrop or field to set with other precious stones like diamonds or rubies. Onyx was also frequently paired with jade during the Art Deco period to great effect. As a strong and beautiful stone, onyx is still widely worn today yet one can also expect to find many onyx artifacts in the museums of the world.