What Is Onyx?

red_oynxOnyx is a showstopper of a stone. Used for centuries in jewelry, carvings, and for architectural accents, the stone’s stunning swirls and speckles of rich, vibrant color and unusual translucency make it an extremely sought-after material. Rarer than fine marble and highly desirable for its unique appearance, onyx remains a popular choice for homeowners looking to add a truly special touch to their homes — and make everyone else on the block jealous.

Onyx is mostly made of calcite and is formed in caves in several areas around the world, mostly in the Middle East, North Africa, and South America. When water drips from stalactites and stalagmites and then evaporates, it leaves behind deposits of calcium carbonate and other minerals, causing the stone’s colorful bands, swirls, and spots.

Onyx typically comes in a wide range of yellow-orange hues due to the presence of iron deposits, but other common colors are white, brown, green and purple. Travertine deposits are also commonly found in onyx. What about black? That’s a different kind of onyx completely, a stone mostly made of silica. The onyx we’re talking about here is often referred to as “marble onyx”, due to its similar composition and visual appearance to marble.

What makes onyx unique and desirable is how lush and deep the colors are, as well as their wide variations of colors and patterns. Another somewhat unusual property of onyx is its translucency, meaning that light can penetrate it. When lit for behind or underneath, this creates a soft glow that further highlights the color and pattern variations in the stone, adding dimension to the piece.

Onyx’s unique characteristics and rarity make it an excellent choice for homeowners who not only want to incorporate natural stone into their homes, but also create a signature, custom accent that most other people simply won’t have due to the stone’s cost and exclusivity. However, it’s very important to know the stone’s limitations, which will help you determine how best to incorporate it into your space.

Onyx is quite fragile and will almost always need a study backing (usually a fiberglass mesh) in order for it to be used as a countertop or tile. It’s also quite soft and prone to scratching and chipping with regular wear and tear, which makes it a poor choice for a kitchen countertop or flooring material in a high-traffic area. It’s also very susceptible to acid etching and erosion as well as water damage, so it’s not advisable as a bathroom vanity top as well. Finally, special cleaners and sealants must be regularly used to maintain it, as regular household cleaners can damage the surface.

That being said, onyx is a great choice for an accent piece that won’t be regularly handled or endure heavy wear. Many homeowners have used onyx to create a countertop for banquet tables, small islands, side tables or coffee tables, all of which can be backlit to enhance and accentuate the stone’s translucency. Onyx can also be used to create fireplace surrounds and wall tiles and panels, and it can be carved to create lamp bases, bowls, vases, and other decorative accents.

Onyx is also one of the most expensive stones you can use in your home, but it’s beauty, rarity, and exclusivity is what attracts many customers. As long as you know how to properly care for it and are aware of the stone’s limitations, your onyx piece can be a true work of art that can be passed down for generations. Curious about how onyx can look in your home? Check out our live inventory here!