Onyx is an opaque black variety of polycrystalline chalcedony quartz. It has a very fine, smooth texture ideal for carving. As such, onyx has been used for thousands of years to make figurines of the gods and heroes and for ceremonies and burials, to make beads for necklaces and later in fine jewellery to create elegance and to beautifully offset the intense sparkle of diamonds.
Some onyx also displays white bands or ribbons against a black background. If the layers are even, this type of onyx can be carved into cameos, producing a contrasting white relief over black. This banded onyx was very popular with the ancient Greeks and Romans in seal rings.
In more recent history, black onyx rose to popularity in Victorian times for necklaces, rings and earrings. This popularity is attributed to the Victorian ritual of mourning, in which those who had lost loved ones could only wear the colour black. Following the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s mourning played an important part in the fashion for black clothes and jewellery throughout the mid-Victorian period, both in mourning dress and also in everyday wear.
Moving into the 1920s and 30s, onyx provides a striking contrast when paired with diamonds or rock crystal and exudes elegance in Art Deco designs. In jewellery design as in fashion, colours look crisper against a black background. The fact that onyx can be cut into almost any shape makes it ideal for dramatic Art Deco jewellery, particularly when a flat geometric form is required in the design.