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The Myths and History Behind Onyx

The Myths and History Behind Onyx

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The Myths and History Behind Onyx

There are some absolutely amazing and unique gemstones out there, but nothing can match onyx. This black mineral is well-known for its white stripes but you may not be aware that it comes in a variety of other colors. It’s a beautiful and unique addition to any piece of jewelry.


The name “onyx” comes from the Greek word for “claw” or “fingernail.” According to mythology, Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, rested on the banks of a river. While she slept, Cupid, the god of love, used one of his arrows to cut her fingernails. The nail clippings fell into the sacred river’s waters and sank to the bottom. Over time the discarded clippings became onyx.


Onyx is formed due to the buildup of silica in gas cavities in lava. These gas cavities and silica help to form the stripes and bands that make the stone so recognizable. The gem comes in a variety of colors, including orange, brown, and even red.

Throughout history, onyx was used for various purposes. It was used for handstone carvings like cameos, displaying incredible images, as well as for jewelry. In ancient Egypt, it was used to make bowls and other kinds of pottery. It was believed to have protective features and was worn into battle. The ancient Romans carried onyx amulets engraved with the god of war, Mars, into battle.

Beginning in ancient Egypt, onyx has been stained as a way to improve the stone’s coloring or to change its appearance. Natural black onyx has become incredibly rare, so many of the onyx stones we see in jewelry stores these days are actually agate that has been stained using a variety of treatments.

Onyx is found all over the world, including in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Canada, the United Kingdom, India, and in the western United States.

Some Additional Quick Facts

  1. Onyx is a great stone for use in carving due to its 6.5 rating on the Mohs scale of hardness.
  2. Sardonyx is a variety of the stone that is a reddish brown shade. It features white and lighter reddish bands.
  3. Onyx is the zodiac stone for Leos, people who were born between July 23 and August 23. It is also the mystical birthstone for people born in December.
  4. According to legend, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra carried onyx with her as a form of protection.

Thinking about selling your onyx jewelry? Contact Ralph Mueller & Associates or call us at 480.949.9229. We purchase diamonds and gold in Arizona, and across the United States.