Antique and Vintage Elegance Jewellery Blog
Black Onyx in Jewellery, A Favourite Through The Ages
The semi-precious stone known as Onyx is a variety of chalcedony, black in colour and often containing white or coloured banding. Its use in jewellery dates to pre-historic times – along with agate and other hardstones it was probably one of the earliest materials used for personal adornment!
Onyx is a silicate mineral, hard enough to withstand wear but soft enough to be shaped by the earliest cutting and grinding techniques. It can be polished to a high shine and lent itself perfectly to the creation of the polished beads and amulets used in pre-historic necklaces.
Interspersed with beads of contrasting colour (of chalcedony, lapis, amethyst or gold), onyx necklaces have been discovered amongst the treasures of ancient Egypt, and even earlier from the archaeological excavations at Ur – an ancient mesopotamian city dated to 3,800 BC.
For all their antiquity, these strikingly beautiful pieces would not look at all out of place in a modern atelier, so timeless and universal is their aesthetic appeal.
The ancient greeks, minoans and romans all used onyx extensively for signet rings, seals and carved intaglios, their purpose often functional as well as aesthetic. These trends persisted down through the ages, particularly in mens jewellery, and hardstone signet rings or fob seals were common accessories to both Georgian and Victorian attire.
The Victorians made great use of onyx in a vast variety of (often somewhat macabre!) mourning jewellery, while the early decades of the 20th century saw it once more gain great popularity as a means of adding colour contrast – think fabulously eye-catching Art Deco jewellery combining red coral or carnelian, sparkling white diamonds, green jade and black onyx in a setting of white gold or platinum.
Onyx plaque rings set in gold or platinum (and often featuring small diamonds or pearls for extra sparkle and lustre) were hugely popular during the Art Deco period, and have retained their appeal through to the present as gorgeously striking dress rings without the price-tag of similar-sized precious gemstones.