Researchers discovered bowls in Egypt carved entirely from onyx dating back to the second dynasty. In Crete, during the Minoan period, sardonyx was frequently used, particularly in the Palace of Cnossos. Onyx was also favoured by the Romans. In addition, Pliny the Elder described two varieties and provided several methods for changing its colour.
A certain Roman legend recounts the origin of its name: while the goddess Venus was sleeping, Cupid, her son, used one of her arrows to cut her nails. As they were indestructible, they instead turned into onyx. In the bible, onyx is depicted as one of the stones constituting Aaron’s breastplate and as one of the gates to Heavenly Jerusalem.
The Indians and Persians believed that onyx protected them from the evil eye and had the ability to alleviate labour pains during childbirth. For this, they would place it on the woman’s stomach. Onyx was also deemed to reduce sexual desires.
In China, onyx was considered unlucky. It was mined by slaves and no one would touch it for fear of attracting evil eye or losing their energy. It was therefore exported to the unaware, far away from the country’s borders.
It was only in England during the Victorian period, that onyx had real success, particularly the black variety. Out of respect for Queen Victoria’s 40-year mourning period, other colours were formally forbidden.
In antiquity, onyx originated from Saudi Arabia and India. The most beautiful came from the Shibam mountain, not far from Mareb, the capital of the Kingdom of Saba (now buried under the sands of Yemen, in the Hadramawt region). The colossal size of the crafted onyx blocks always astonishes scientists and historians. Ancient civilisations used onyx in very skilful ways. In Abydos, Egypt, researchers discovered several plates, jars and vases in onyx. Funeral temples also concealed pearl earrings in onyx. Romans crafted it into signet rings engraved with various symbols. The Cabinet des médailles today features an old Phoenician seal dating from 780 BC, depicting the sun god child Nefertum surrounded by beautiful lotus flowers. According to Appian, a Greek historian, the King of Pontus (located in the North of present-day Turkey), Mithridates the Great (in around the year 100 BC), had two thousand onyx and gold vases in his possession. Pompey brought these beautiful vases back to Rome after his victory. Their material is not completely certain, since onyx can also be designated alabaster, a type of white marble. This alabaster can be used to craft containers used to preserve precious ointments and perfumed balms such as benzoin or myrrh. This fragrant resin was possibly used for murrhine vases or onyx murrha as stipulated in ancient stories. It is almost certain that Mithridates’s vases were in alabaster. Scientists and historians are also baffled by the ‘onyx marble’. Onyx, or sardonyx, is frequently named memphite. Around 200 BC, General Scipio Africanus brought the first sardonyx to Rome and it has been in high demand since. Antiquity was defined by glyptic art (Cameos and Intaglios) The Romans and Greeks preferred to use onyx blocks with straight and parallel strata. Several ancient works in sardonyx or onyx are displayed in museums. The Cabinet des Médailles in Paris maintains two of the most famous onyx works that date from the first century AD:
Later in the Middle Ages, in medieval writing, the term Onice refers to agate carvings. Those that feature animals have an excellent reputation, while the viper and the deer varieties transmit courage. Wearing onyx in a ring or necklace at night is discouraged: ‘it invites devils and induces nightmares’. Onyx allows you to speak with the dearly departed during sleep, while preserving the memory upon waking. It also has other negative influences: it encourages difficult moods, increases trials, awakens sadness… In the 12th century, Bishop Marbod stated that “If you carry sard, onyx cannot harm you”. Sard is named after the ancient city of Sardis, located in present-day Turkey. It brings temperance and softness to the onyx.
Much later, Isabelle d’Este, wife of Francesco II Gonzaga, owned a prestigious collection of antique cameos in Mantua. The most famous is the large Gonzaga or Malmaison cameo, spanning 16 × 12 cm. Having travelled extensively, this gem of third century BC has seen many owners such as Empress Josephine and Tsar Alexander I. Originally from Alexandria, it displays Ptolemy II and his sister-wife Arsinoe (Displayed at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg). The History of Art Museum in Vienna is home to onyx-kanne, an Onyx Ewer. This vase made of gold and onyx, and embellished by precious jewels is a masterpiece from Frenchman Richard Toutain. Charles IX offered it to a Tyrolean prince during his Union with Elisabeth of Austria. The onyx ewer then contributed to the flourishing of French art throughout Europe.
Onyx remained appreciated throughout the Bourbon era. Henri IV’s mistress Gabrielle D’estrée had an onyx pendant on which the image of the King was engraved. Louis XV had a seal made of onyx, gold and carnelia, inscribed with the motto “l’amour les assemble”. It portrays Madame de Pompadour’s profile, and is protected by a lid beautifully adorned with red fruits and foliage. Chantilly-sur-Marne is abound with pink chalcedonies and three-layered Onyx (two layers of a reddish brown and one of a bluish white).
Its name comes from Greek ‘Onyx’ meaning ‘nail’ or claw’. It may be a reference to flesh-coloured onyx that looks like a fingernail. It is of the same family as chalcedony and is composed of silicon (its chemical formula being SiO2). It is made up of black and/or white bands, however, it is found in almost every colour (except blue and violet). It is made from silica deposits which form from the flow of siliceous water into fissures, at a temperature of less than 200°. Onyx is an agate whose bands are concentric and circular. There are many varieties:
The primary onyx deposits are located in Chihuahua (Mexico), in Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), in Colorado and Utah (United States), in Uruguay and in India.
Onyx grants strength, and supports in difficult times, in business and during periods of physical and mental stress. It helps you to find an alternative solution during life upheaval whether it is negative or positive. It also allows us to take control of our futures. During meditation, onyx allows us to uncover the information we seek. Onyx stone allows to purify our karmic energies. This tremendous property makes it useful for processing past lives and allows us to heal old traumas. In India, it protected against evil spirits, while in the Middle Ages it provoked discord.
Onyx enhances self-control and fosters a sense of responsibility. It is a shield and provides stability against harassment.