Onyx vs. Obsidian: Decoding the Distinctive Traits

It’s easy to mistake onyx and obsidian, two of the best-known black gemstones. Both have shiny, polished surfaces and a sleek, deep black appearance, and when used in jewelry, make for intriguing accessories.

But for all their similarities, onyx and obsidian are two very different gemstones, differing in structure, chemical properties and value, among others.

Here’s a quick rundown of onyx vs. obsidian and the differences you should watch out for before you buy.

Onyx vs. Obsidian: What are They Made Of?

black onyx pendant
Onyx is the most famous black gemstone. See this here.

Onyx and Obsidian are both beautiful stones, but they are made of different things. Onyx is a type of chalcedony, which is a quartz stone, and is mostly made of silica. It’s known for its straight lines of color, usually black and white, but can be other colors too. Onyx forms slowly inside volcanic rock, taking thousands of years, which gives it a layered, crystal-like look.

Round Black Obsidian Gold ring
Obsidian rings set in gold. See this ring here.

Obsidian, however, is a type of natural glass that comes from quickly cooled lava. It doesn’t have a crystal structure because it forms so fast. Obsidian is usually black but can have other colors like brown, green, or even rare red, due to small particles or differences in the glass. Its texture is smooth and glassy, different from Onyx’s more layered appearance.

Onyx vs. Obsidian: Origin and History

Oval Black Onyx Gemstone
Oval Black Onyx Gemstone. See it here.

Onyx and Obsidian are both ancient stones, but they come from very different backgrounds. Onyx is a type of quartz known as chalcedony. It forms slowly in volcanic rock from layers of silica-rich water, turning into Onyx over time.

This process creates Onyx’s signature bands of color, usually black and white, but sometimes in other colors too. Onyx was a favorite in ancient Egypt and Rome for making jewelry and carved items. It was also famous for cameo art during the Renaissance.

Obsidian, however, is a kind of natural volcanic glass. It forms quickly when lava cools down fast, not allowing crystals to grow, which gives it a smooth, glassy look. People have been using Obsidian since the Stone Age, first for making tools and weapons because it breaks into sharp pieces, and later for decorative items.

Obsidian was also important in many cultures for spiritual and healing purposes. Found in places around the world with volcanoes, from the Americas to the Mediterranean, Obsidian connects to many ancient cultures and their traditions.

Onyx vs. Obsidian: Appearance

Natural Obsidian Crystal Sphere
Natural Obsidian Crystal Sphere. See it here.

Onyx is a mineral with a hexagonal crystal system, while obsidian is essentially black volcanic glass. Despite sometimes looking similar, especially when polished, they are quite different. The simplest way to tell black onyx apart from black obsidian is by their weight – onyx is denser and heavier.

Beyond weight, the finish of black onyx often appears slightly duller compared to black obsidian, as it’s a crystal, not glass. However, high-quality polishing can give black onyx a very glassy appearance, so this isn’t always a reliable indicator.

The types of inclusions in these gemstones also differ. Black onyx may show white or greyish marks resembling spilled milk inside the stone. In contrast, any white, grey, or colored inclusions in obsidian don’t have a fluid-like appearance.

Both onyx and obsidian can be completely black, opaque, and appear deep, so the weight difference is usually the best way to identify them.

Onyx vs. Obsidian: Price and Value

Black Obsidian Pendant Necklace
Black Obsidian Pendant Necklace. See it here.

The price and value of Onyx and Obsidian vary due to their unique qualities and uses. Onyx, a type of chalcedony quartz, is valuable for its looks and scarcity, particularly when it has bands. Its value changes based on color, clarity, cut, and unique banding. Rarer Onyx colors or patterns usually cost more. The work put into carving Onyx for jewelry or decorations also affects its price.

Obsidian, more common than Onyx, is generally cheaper. This volcanic glass is valued for its aesthetic and cultural importance rather than rarity. Obsidian’s price depends on size, color variety, and finishing quality. Unique types like Rainbow or Snowflake Obsidian are more valuable for their special look, but they’re still usually cheaper than top-quality Onyx.

In the gemstone market, Onyx and Obsidian maintain their value because of their distinct beauty. Onyx often costs more, as its rarity and complex natural patterns drive its price. Obsidian, though cheaper, is popular for its sleek look and cultural significance, making it a budget-friendly yet appealing choice for buyers and collectors.

Onyx vs. Obsidian: Jewelry Styles

Onyx Lariat Bracelet
Onyx Lariat Bracelet. See it here.

Onyx and Obsidian, each with their own unique features, are popular in different jewelry types. Their distinct looks suit various styles, making them favorites for both classic and modern designs. Here are some popular types of onyx jewelry.

1. Rings

Onyx is particularly favored in ring designs, which range from simple and elegant bands to more elaborate statement pieces. The gemstone’s capacity for fine carving and its ability to be polished to a high shine make it perfect for distinctive jewelry pieces like signet rings, often bearing family crests or initials, and large cocktail rings that become the focal point of an outfit.

Onyx rings can vary from modern minimalist designs to intricate vintage styles, often paired with precious metals like gold or silver, enhancing the stone’s deep, dark hue.

2. Earrings

Onyx earrings offer a wide range of styles, from understated and refined studs perfect for everyday wear to more dramatic, dangling designs that make a bold fashion statement. The deep black color of Onyx provides a striking contrast, particularly when set against lighter metals or paired with other gemstones like diamonds, pearls, or colorful crystals.

This versatility allows Onyx earrings to suit a variety of occasions, from formal events to more casual settings, making them a versatile choice in any jewelry collection.

3. Necklaces and Pendants

Onyx is a standout choice for necklaces and pendants, where its sleek and sophisticated appearance can be fully displayed. Jewelry designers often use Onyx in various necklace designs, ranging from delicate chains with small, subtle Onyx accents to larger, more prominent pendants that showcase the gemstone’s natural beauty.

These pendants can be intricately carved or smoothly polished, and are sometimes framed with metals or other gemstones to create a piece that’s both eye-catching and elegant. Onyx necklaces can be layered or worn alone, offering flexibility in styling.

4. Bracelets

Onyx bracelets come in numerous styles, such as beaded bracelets that offer a bohemian vibe, sleek bangles for a more modern look, and sophisticated link-based designs for a classic appeal.

Its ability to complement both casual and formal wear makes Onyx a versatile choice for bracelets. Whether used as the primary gemstone or as an accent in combination with other materials, Onyx bracelets can add a touch of elegance and boldness to any outfit.

5. Brooches and Pins

The ability of Onyx to be intricately carved lends itself well to the creation of unique brooches and pins. These pieces often feature detailed designs, including floral patterns, animal motifs, or cameos – a traditional style of carving that presents a raised relief.

Such brooches and pins are not just jewelry items but are considered wearable art, reflecting the skill and creativity of the jeweler. They can add a touch of sophistication to jackets, scarves, or hats, making them versatile and timeless accessories.

Obsidian Jewelry Types

Now, let’s take a look at the various types of jewelry featuring obsidian.

1. Rings

Obsidian rings are known for their distinctive, smooth, glassy appearance, which is often highlighted in simple, elegant settings. These rings are less common in traditional jewelry collections but are favored in unique, artisanal, or contemporary designs.

The appeal of Obsidian rings lies in their minimalist beauty and the natural character of the stone, making them suitable for those who prefer understated yet stylish jewelry. They are particularly popular in modern, bohemian, or alternative fashion circles.

2. Earrings

Obsidian is commonly used in earrings, mostly in designs that emphasize the stone’s natural beauty without excessive adornment. Its glass-like shine is especially attractive in both simple studs, which can be worn as everyday jewelry, and in more elaborate drop or dangle earrings for a more dramatic look.

These earrings can complement a range of styles, adding a touch of earthy elegance to both casual and formal attire.

3. Pendants and Necklaces

Obsidian is a popular choice for pendants and necklaces, often featured in its natural, unpolished form to showcase its unique texture and color variations. These pieces are frequently found in bohemian and nature-inspired jewelry styles, reflecting the stone’s earthy origins.

The pendants can range from small, delicate pieces to larger, statement-making items, often combined with other natural materials like leather or wood for a more rustic look.

4. Bracelets

Obsidian bracelets are typically found in more casual, relaxed styles, such as beaded bracelets that are perfect for everyday wear. They often feature Obsidian alone or mixed with other natural stones or materials, creating a varied and eclectic aesthetic.

These bracelets are popular in bohemian fashion, appealing to those who prefer a more natural, grounded style in their accessories.

Beaded and Specialty Jewelry

The abundance and ease of shaping Obsidian make it a common choice for beaded and unique, unconventional jewelry designs. Special varieties like Snowflake or Rainbow Obsidian offer additional visual interest with their distinct patterns and color play.

This type of jewelry often attracts those who appreciate natural beauty and one-of-a-kind pieces, adding a unique touch to any collection.

Onyx vs. Obsidian: Spiritual Meanings

18k Black Onyx Necklace
18k Black Onyx Necklace. See it here.

The reason both obsidian and onyx were so highly valued in the past lies largely in their prescribed spiritual qualities. Despite the two gemstones’ recent drop in overall price, a lot of people who still value such factors rate onyx and obsidian – particularly their black variants – very highly.

Obsidian, also known as the “psychic vacuum cleaner,” is beloved for its intense and mysterious vibes. It’s believed to be able to deliver a deep and comprehensive psychic cleansing to anyone who keeps an obsidian stone by their side.

It’s essentially viewed as a spiritual maid service – it cleans your mind, soul, heart, and auras of any negative notions and emotions, plus, it also protects you against their future inceptions. The so called “shadow traits” such as anger, fear, anxiety, addition, and others, all are believed to be treated by obsidian stones.

Onyx, on the other hand, is viewed as a powerful “warrior’s stone”. It’s believed to be a strong and sturdy companion to anyone’s journey as it is capable of stomping out negative thoughts and notions, with fear being the onyx’s most frequent victim. In Peruvian and Native American cultures, the onyx crystal is meant to symbolize initiation and change. There, it inspires the feeling of personal growth and power, the type of personal development that’s achieved by facing one’s fears.

As you can see, both onyx and obsidian have rather similar spiritual meanings and symbolic perceptions. That’s likely not an accident. Because both have very deep and opaque appearances, resembling a bottomless pit when cut and polished right, they can leave the impression of being stones you can “drop your negativity in”, never to see it again.

Where to Buy Onyx and Obsidian Jewelry?

While onyx is more of a mainstream gemstone, finding obsidian at your nearby brick and mortar shop can prove more difficult. We suggest searching online for more options and competitive pricing.

  1. Etsy is a marketplace for independent artisans and sellers, and offers a wide variety of both Onyx and Obsidian jewelry. The platform is known for unique, handcrafted, and artisanal pieces, making it an ideal place to find these types of gemstone jewelry.
  2. As a large online retailer, Amazon offers a broad selection of Onyx and Obsidian jewelry through various third-party sellers. The range can include everything from affordable fashion pieces to more expensive, high-quality options.

Wrapping Up

Onyx and Obsidian each add their own special touch to gemstone jewelry. Onyx stands out with its elegant, deep layers, perfect for creating sophisticated and timeless pieces. In contrast, Obsidian brings a natural and earthy feel with its smooth, glassy look.

Both stones provide unique ways to express personal style through jewelry, making them popular choices for a variety of styles and occasions.

Nadi Alahakoon

Nadisha has been a fashion aficionado for as long as she can remember! From following the latest trends to checking out vintage styles, she’s always curious about what’s in and what’s out! She has a background in Nursing, literature, and English. When she’s not writing about jewelry and diamonds, Nadisha spends her time window shopping, dancing, or traveling the beautiful landscapes of Canada.

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