Sardonyx is not very well known in our time. Our predecessors loved this gemstone and attributed all kinds of good qualities to it. Even Cleopatra could not do without this gem!
Let’s start with the fact that sardonyx is one of the birthstones of August. The lucky ones that are born in this month can choose between the sardonyx, the spinel, and the peridot. Or combine them into one piece of jewelry!
What kind of gem is sardonyx?
That is a rather complicated question since sardonyx contains more layers of different gems, that make this gem so special.
In gemology, you have larger families and varieties of those families. Well, this gemstone comes from the chalcedonic family, and the variety is agate.
Essentially, it is agate with straight and parallel stripes made of layers of chalcedony and sard. The chemical composition is silicon dioxide and is formed when silica is deposited in gas cavities in lava rock.
The bands we see on onyx are the result of layers of silica deposits that absorb different minerals at specific temperatures, creating both sard and chalcedony in different colors. Black onyx, composed of only chalcedony, lacks the sard, making it less common.
The ‘quartz part’ can only be seen through a microscope, and then you discover small six-sided crystals.
The layers of contrast are the main feature that distinguishes sardonyx from other minerals. In it, stripes of dark shades alternate with light layers.
The colors of sardonyx
Let me first explain how the colors occurred in this special gemstone. As stated before the main element in this gem is silicon dioxide.
Impurities of calcium, aluminum, magnesium, and other substances are responsible for the different colors of the gemstone stripes.
Iron and its compounds paint the layers in reddish-brown tones. Brown shades are obtained from aluminosilicates and light ones, from oxides of non-ferrous metals.
So say it more simple: you find sardonyx in the colors (lightly flamed) black, brown, red, and white with stripes in different contrasting colors. And a lot of color combinations are possible.
The base of sardonyx varies from warm light orange hues to reddish, brown, or even black colors. The bright basic colors are alternate with wider light layers of white, white to pinkish, and even blue.
The difference with agate is that the contrast of the layers or stripes and the bright basic colors is maximum.
With this gemstone, the color itself is not as important as the contrast. A high-quality stone should have vibrant layers of red sard contrasting with bright white layers of onyx.
The key is the saturation in all the colors present in the stone. If the sard is more brownish red than true red and the onyx is black, the stone may still be highly desirable as long as each coat or layer is vibrant enough for the colors to stand out.
There are specific color combinations that are popular, like red sardonyx with red and white bands or stripes intertwined or the blue variety with blue and white bands intertwined.
Then you have the black stone with black and white bands, or with black and red bands intertwined. The latter is the most valuable.
To enhance the colors the stone is often treated with an iron oxide pigment. This is normal and acceptable (according to the experts) in the marketplace.
Where to find it?
Sardonyx is found throughout the whole world, like Brazil, Germany, Uruguay, and Russia, which makes it easily available and inexpensive. The best quality is found in India, where the geological composition is perfect for vibrant, flawless, and colorful stones.
What about the name?
Just as describing the material and the color of this gemstone is complicated, the explanation of the name is not really clear. There are two versions:
The gemstone is called after the city Sardu, once the capital of Lydia, and the most important location where sardonyx is found in those days.
Another version has everything to do with the composition of the layers of this gem, called ‘sard’(the brown stone) and ‘onyx’ (the black stone with white, brown, and even purple stripes or bands). Together it makes ‘sardonyx’.
Without the ‘sard’ it would be just onyx.
History shows how famous sardonyx is!
To be honest, even for a historian (like I am too), it is hard to distinguish history from the stories and legends and even myths. But they are all so exciting or interesting, that I give some examples about the fame of the sardonyx. Just for fun.
For thousands of years, Egyptians used sardonyx, as we know through the archeological findings, like necklaces, rings, and artifacts. The stone was mostly used for making cameos and intaglios (3D carvings in the gemstone).
Egyptian royals loved this amazing gemstone, which has the ability to stop aging and renew the body at all levels (a kind of anti-aging agent). Of course, Cleopatra fancied this and she owned a lot of sardonyx jewelry. She is the symbol of beauty and everlasting youth.
The Egyptian scientist (and also the Roman emperor Tiberius) owned sardonyx artifacts. Artists in Alexandria (harbor city in Egypt in those days) used this gem to carve portraits of the gods.
Rome and Greece
Around 2000 BC the gem has been regarded as a precious, or rather semi-precious stone and gained importance in the jewelry industry of those days.
Ancient Greeks and Romans wore sardonyx pendants and rings before they went to war because they believed in the protective powers of the stone. It was a symbol of strength, happiness, and courage.
In the Roman culture soldiers, sent to war, wore cameos depicting the god Mars, the god of the war, to bring them victory and save their lives on the battlefield.
In the same period, Roman officials used signet rings of sardonyx to seal documents and letters. Pretty practical, since the stone resisted the hot was of the seal.
The Roman ladies wore jewelry made of this gemstone too. They wore pendants, carved with the image of Venus (the goddess of love), hoping to attract a nice gentleman for romance.
Most of the time the higher classes wore precious stones, that were too expensive for the lower classes to even dream of owning. But the sardonyx was easily available and not too expensive. So the higher and the lower class members could be seen with the jewelry of this gem.
Around 300 BC artists were able to carve images out of stone. Sometimes those images were glued on another stone, from another color. Or they used the softer sardonyx and used the different colored layers to make stunning cameos.
One of the most famous pieces of jewelry made of sardonyx might be the cameo depicting the image of Queen Elisabeth I of England. She gave this precious piece of jewelry to the count of Essex, to thank him for his loyalty and friendship.
It is remarkable that this gem known for its protection did not work for this count of Essex, since he was executed a few years later. The story does not say whether the Queen demanded the cameo back.
Another great story I about the Roman artist Benvenuto Cellini. He made the most excellent piece of art depicting the Last Supper of sardonyx. Every person on the ‘cameo’ had another color, using the stripes and bands in a sophisticated way.
The Pope exiled him because of depicting Jesus in a stone. Later things turned out for the good and his piece of art is inside the altar of the Cathedral of Petrus.
Sardonyx and the Bible
In the Bible, this gemstone is mentioned as the fifth pillar of the Great Heavenly Jerusalem. It is believed that the gem is one of the holiest stones since it is supposed to be used on the breastplates of the High Priests.
In the first century AD, the Jewish historian Josephus described in the ‘Antiquities of the Jews, book 3’ two Sardonyx buttons with the inscription of the names of the sons of Jacob.
The buttons were at the shoulders of the ephod that held the breastplate of high-priest Aaron. A remarkable fact is that of a few years back those same buttons showed up. The owner claimed that he received them from the Knights of the Templar and was in the family for generations.
A specialist discovered Hebrew engravings in the gemstone below the smooth surface. We still don’t know how that could be accomplished.
The Sardonyx had even more features
If a certain gemstone is popular most of the time people give them powers or people think the gemstone has certain powers. Here I just describe them, but no guarantee from my side that the features people claim for that stone are true.
It is said that sardonyx promotes and encourages integrity and virtue and makes people kind and helpful. The stone brings happiness and stability to relationships.
Besides that, it gives the wearer confidence and perseverance and helps to understand the meaning of everything you experience.
In Ancient Times one believed that placing sardonyx at every corner of your house gives you protection against evil.
In the Middle Ages, this gemstone was used to abolish the negative effects of onyx. It was believed that onyx brought anxiety, sadness, and anger. And even the demons could get a hold of you wearing an onyx. The sardonyx is supposed to balance those effects out.
The claimed healing features are the strengthening of the senses, it regulates and stimulates the body fluids. It promotes the absorption of nutrients and the excretion of waste. It is very strong and worn on the stomach or belly.
Since Ancient Times sardonyx has been considered a way to promote the regeneration of the human body after damage. A piece of this gem was used to quickly grow cartilage and bones due to fractures, repair ligaments after sprains, stop bleeding, and heal wounds.
For every color, the sardonyx has other specific healing features.
The gem with white stripes or bands and red bulls eyes gives you charisma and an exuberant personality. Wearers notice an increased self-confidence and a stronger sense of self-identity.
Black and white striped or banded gemstones have a bold variety that can enhance traits such as smarts, versatility, verbal skills, and positivity in people who already possess these personality traits.
Other colors like black and russet are associated with grounding, protection, and neutrality when it comes to communication. White and reddish-brown copies symbolize purity.
In the medical; books of ancient Russia you can read that the gem was used as a pain reliever, and anti-inflammatory. The doctors cured with a jewel ‘fragility of the body’ or as we call it ‘arthrosis’.
To accomplish that pink or light orange beads were applied to the problem area, secured with fox fur. People believed that the stone ‘comes to life’ under the influence of animal heat, eliminating severe pain.
In Russia, powdered sardonyx was believed to kill a tumor in the abdominal cavity. This powder was used by Russian healers for severe abdominal pain.
Modern scientists find out that this method actually takes place in intestinal disorders, as the action of the striped mineral powder is equivalent to the action of sorbents.
Sardonyx jewelry quickly gained popularity in Ancient Times for its practicality, sturdy construction, and striking striped colors and patterns. Jewelry made of this gem was wanted because nearly everyone could afford it.
Another great feature is that the stone is about 6-7 on Moh’s scale, which means that jewelers can easily carve and cut them. In this way, the beautiful patterns and color can do more justice to the beauty of the stone in a piece of jewelry.
This gemstone was very popular to make cameos with, due to the relative softness and the different layers with striking colors.
Beads or polished pieces
The above-mentioned features make it possible to make stunning beads out of the rough stone. It can be cut and shaped into jewelry, and also tumbled smooth for holistic healing.
Sardonyx jewelry designs usually use beaded cabochons that have been smoothed and polished to prevent hard edges from cracking.
Taking care of
Cleaning this gem is easy. All you need is warm soapy water and a soft brush. Anything stronger and containing harsh chemicals can eventually damage your stone.
You should make sure that your stones are set properly in jewelry designs, as they can scratch if it crosses paths with a harder gemstone such as a diamond or sapphire and ruby.
Also avoid harsh chemicals like detergents or bleach when working with gemstones, especially softer ones like sardonyx.
There is somewhat confusion about the differences between sardonyx, sard, and carnelian. And even the difference between onyx and sardonyx is not that clear.
Remember I talked about the family of gems, to which the sardonyx belonged? Well, sard and carnelian belong both to the family of chalcedony quartzes. The difference is the color: sard is deep reddish-brown and carnelian is red to orange.
Carnelian is red to orange, but the exact color depends on the minerals added to the quartz during the forming process. If the color orange turned into deeper brown, it is called ‘sard’. There is no more difference than that.
Sardonyx is a combination gem, if I may call it like that. It contains onyx and sard. Onyx is blackish (sometimes blue) and sard is brownish with stripes or bands.
Another small difference between onyx and sard is that the gloss of the sard stone is glassy to waxy and the transparency of the sard is translucent to opaque.
They belong all three of them to the same family but are another variety (sard and onyx) or just another color (sard and carnelian).
It is remarkable that a gemstone, beautiful but not expensive, is already so long popular and at the moment hardly known by people. Although it is the birthstone of August, hardly anyone chooses sardonyx to be set in a piece of jewelry.
That is a pity, and the probable reason is that people don’t know this gemstone very well. My intention is to change that with this blog.
By now you must be interested in birthstones and in gemstones in general. FlorenceJewelshop wrote a PDF about this subject with a lot of information and tips. A great reference for you, but also a stunning present to add to your birthday/birthstone gift.
The good thing is that it is worth a fortune, but it is free for you. Just let me know where to send it to.
Florence from FlorenceJewelshop
This article was very thorough and cleared up a lot of questions I had about Sardonyx.
Thank you Margueritte for the compliment, Florence