Jewelry Guide

Everything You Need to Know About Black Obsidian

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Black obsidian is one of the most famous variations of the obsidian rock. It’s a fascinating gemstone to look at and to use in jewelry, especially when it’s well cut. The captivating deep black color suits a lot of different styles and designs, and always makes for a beautiful piece.

As a gemstone, black obsidian is among the most widely used stones in jewelry and the artisan crafts. In some cultures in the past, obsidian has also had other practical uses ranging from home appliances to weapons.

So, what should you look for when buying black obsidian jewelry? What can you expect to get and what should you be prepared to avoid?

Let’s take a detailed look into everything you need to know about black obsidian.

What is Black Obsidian?

Black obsidian, like other types of obsidian, is a naturally produced volcanic glass formation that results from the cooling off of felsic lava. Such cooling typically happens rapidly after a volcano becomes inactive.

The most common place to look for obsidian rocks is in the margins of the rhyolitic lava flows that are otherwise known as “obsidian flows”. The reason this is so is that these flows are rich with silica, and obsidian is typically made of 35% – 80% silica. That, together with the other specifics of the chemical content allows a high viscosity, which is what allows the lava to form into glass.

Black obsidian arrowhead pendants

Arrowhead obsidian pendants featuring sharp glass-like edges. See these here.

Because obsidian is only found in locations that have experienced volcanic eruptions, the most common mining sources for this gemstone are, in alphabetical order, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Canada, Chile, Georgia, Greece, El Salvador, Guatemala, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Scotland, Turkey and the United States.

As a volcanic glass, obsidian resembles a mineral but it’s not a true mineral because its composition is too complex and lacks the typical mineral crystalline structure.

As a type of volcanic glass, obsidian is hard, amorphous, and brittle. It doesn’t have the typical cleavage of other gemstones, plus its conchoidal fracture and acute edges when broken allow it to form very sharp and smooth edges.

Black obsidian pendant

Pure black obsidian can be quite rare. See this pendant here.

The dark color of obsidian is largely due to the presence of iron and magnesium. When the formation of the volcanic glass is free from inclusions, the end result is clear black obsidian. Pure black obsidian is quite rare because, more often than not, the rocks will include some inclusions which will give it a brownish, yellowish or reddish coloring. Obsidian can be recognized by its glassy structure and single refraction.

The obsidian stone bears its name after the Roman Obsius who was the first European to discover this volcanic glass in Ethiopia.

Black Obsidian and Clarity

Black obsidian should be, by definition, clear from any inclusions. It’s generally completely opaque with a nice, crystal shine to it. As a volcanic glass, it has a vitreous and a glassy luster.

Black obsidian with a high enough clarity should have enough reflective properties to be usable for the famous obsidian mirrors. You can find many such mirrors online – while these are obviously not as functional as standard glass mirrors, beautiful obsidian mirrors like this oval scrying mirror are truly gorgeous.

Black Obsidian Cut

A lot of jewelers say that obsidian is a very fun gemstone to cut and carve. Because of its hard and brittle nature, it’s easy to cut with a diamond saw as well as to carve with a Dremel diamond tip drill.

No matter how they choose to do it, however, black obsidian gemstones are traditionally shaped into rounds or ovals, cabochon cuts, fancy cuts and can be faceted, tumbled or carved. These cuts tend to best accent the beauty of the black obsidian.

In addition to that, however, an obsidian stone can be cut in countless other manners – in various pillar shapes, in pointed pendulums, decorative arrowheads, and moon shapes. As obsidian stones are easy to cut and frequently used in ornamentation, the possibilities are only limited by the cutter’s imagination.

Black Obsidian Carat Sizes

Obsidian gemstones can vary greatly in their carat weight. Unlike many other precious gemstones, beautiful and practical obsidian stones can be found in very large sizes up to hundreds of carats.

Obsidian is moderately heavy for its size with a 1.00 carat oval obsidian stone typically having dimensions of around 2” x 1.5” x 0.5”.

A black obsidian gemstone of such dimensions can cost hundreds of dollars, depending on its clarity, shape, and cut. Pieces as large as 8-10 inches can be cut and sold.

How To Choose A Black Obsidian Gemstone

black obsidian gemstone ring

Smooth black obsidian makes for stunning jewelry. See these rings here.

Choosing black obsidian is mostly a matter of personal preferences – what size, carat weight, cut and shape you’re looking for, as well as how polished and refractive you want it to be.

There are some variations of black obsidian, depending on whether there is some slight coloration or not, as well as on how glassy it looks.

The Apache Tear, for example, is a type of black obsidian that’s formed by being thrown in the air during its creation which results in a much less glassy and significantly rougher appearance.

Snowflake obsidian ring

Snowflake obsidian ring

Snowflake obsidian is also a popular variety of black obsidian. Here, white flecks and spots similar in appearance to snowflakes dot the surface of the obsidian. This occurs when quartz crystals form on the surface of the obsidian rock, with the crystal formation removing the glassy appearance of the rock where it forms.  

Black Obsidian Jewelry

As we mentioned earlier, black obsidian can have almost limitless applications in jewelry and the artisan crafts. All types of jewelry pieces can be created with black obsidian – rings, pendants, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, piercing, and more.

black obsidian earrings in gold

Black obsidian stone earrings. See them here.

Because black is a neutral color, obsidian set in any metal color tends to look beautiful. However, black obsidian in yellow gold settings have a rich contrast and tend to be very eye-catching, as opposed to silver-hued settings which are more relaxed and casual in appearance.

Because of its color, black obsidian is a unisex stone, suiting both males and females. For men, it makes for excellent engagement or wedding ring stones as well as in cufflinks and other similar accessories.

It’s perfect for large statement pieces of jewelry, but because a little obsidian goes a long way, even small dainty pieces of black obsidian jewelry stand out and can be very eye catching.

Other Uses of Black Obsidian

Outside of jewelry, black obsidian can be used for statues, decorative ornamentations on mirrors, vases, mugs and goblets, picture frames, even utensils.

In history, black obsidian, in particular, has also found a lot of practical applications such as knives, weapon blades such as the Aztec macana which used to have black obsidian edges attached to it, arrowheads, and more. In modern days, obsidian has also been used for the making of special obsidian surgical scalpels. All these applications were possible because of how sharp obsidian can be when cut right, as well as because of how easy it was to cut it.

Of course, the other main reasons some civilizations used obsidian in such a manner is because they didn’t have access to iron, bronze, and steel. Once these metals became widespread, obsidian was relegated to jewelry and the artisan crafts only, but those have proven to be more than welcoming for this black volcanic glass.

Cleaning and Caring For Black Obsidian Jewelry

Black obsidian pendant

Caring for black obsidian will keep it lustrous for a long time. See this pendant here.

Cleaning black obsidian, as well as jewelry with obsidian pieces in it, should be done with a lot of care. Since obsidian is essentially a type of glass, it can be easily broken or chipped off and you should handle it carefully. Obsidian only ranks 5-6 on the Mohs scale of hardness, making it a relatively soft stone.

Black obsidian can be washed with hot water, as well as with mild soaps and other cleaning products. It should only be brushed with soft brushes or with cloth as metal brushes can easily scratch its surface.

Additionally, when storing black obsidian, it’s best to keep it away from diamonds and other hard stones as they too can scratch the obsidian’s surface. If the obsidian itself is cut into a form with sharp edges, it can damage softer objects.

Are There Enhanced Or Imitation Black Obsidian Gemstones?

Aside from polishing obsidian, there aren’t many standard ways to enhance it. It can be mistaken for other gemstones, however, since onyx and jet can both look like black obsidian when polished well. A professional should always be able to tell the difference between these, especially with a microscope, but a regular customer could get confused.

Just like obsidian, jet is not a crystal or a mineral and it too lacks the typical crystalline structure. Jet, however, is actually a type of coal and falls into the category of organic gemstones. It’s formed from pieces of wood that were buried in sediment. As such, it’s different to the touch and is much lighter than obsidian. It’s also softer and less durable (2.5 to 4 Mohs). However, when mounted onto a piece of jewelry, and when polished well enough, it can be mistaken for black obsidian.

Onyx, on the other hand, is much denser and heavier than black obsidian. It is a mineral with a crystalline structure and can have a slightly duller finish. However, when polished well it can look quite glassy and be easily mistaken with black obsidian. Onyx is generally more valuable than black obsidian.

Black Obsidian Meaning and Symbolism

For some, black obsidian also has a lot of mysterious vibes and meanings attached to it, ranging from protection against shadow traits to psychic cleansings.

Known as the “psychic vacuum cleaner,” black obsidian is believed to be able to draw negative emotions away from the user and suck them in. It’s supposed to be a great “bodyguard” to your soul and prevent many emotional wreckages. Additionally, black obsidian is also said to be able to protect the user from various shadow traits such as fear, anger, addiction, anxiety and truth-telling.

This video highlights some of the metaphysical uses and meanings of black obsidian.

*Disclaimer: Jewelry Shopping Guide does not guarantee or validate any of the claims related to the metaphysical and alternative healing powers of this or any other gemstone. This information should in no way be used as a substitute for medical advice.

Where to Buy Black Obsidian

Black obsidian is not a mainstream gemstone, and it might be difficult to find many options at your local store. Taking your search online will open up many options and competitive prices that are available.

When buying online, ensure that you are buying from a top-rated vendor with a proven track record. We recommend starting your search on Etsy and Amazon as these platforms have endless options to suit various budgets and styles.

Etsy

Etsy has a huge assortment of vendors that offer a wide variety of black obsidian jewelry. Their obsidian jewelry ranges from a few dollars to pieces that cost hundreds of dollars and come in a variety of styles.

Amazon

As it is one of the biggest online retailers worldwide, it’s not surprising that you can find all kinds of black obsidian jewelry and artifacts on Amazon. There’s something for everyone here.

Of course, since every vendor on Etsy and Amazon have their own policies and rules you might need to do a bit more digging and research, but that’s ultimately worth it in the end when you manage to find the perfect black obsidian jewelry. Use the site’s extensive rating and review sections to gauge the quality of each product.  

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