My Love Affair with Onyx
Covering the Tuscon Gem Shows
By: David Wilson - Feb 02, 2010
While attending the 1998 Tuscon Gem show I found myself attracted more and more to Onyx for several reasons. It was available in a wide variety of color combinations and patterns as well as being worked into many different implements including bowls, plates, goblets, sculptures, pedestals, lamps and vases. The range of sizes of items went from small enough to sit in the palm of your hand to pieces requiring several brawny handlers to move. In addition, each piece is absolutely unique. Finally, onyx is widely available and relatively inexpensive. I still think for the dollar spent, the beauty acquired in a piece of Onyx is as great a deal as you are apt to find.
However, the onyx market is a bit deceptive. Here's why.
True onyx is a crypto-crystalline form of quartz. The colors of its bands range from white to almost every color save purple or blue. A variant, Sardonyx has colored bands of various shades of red, sard, rather than black. Onyx is a hard stone historically used for carvings and jewelry. While some onyx is natural, much of it is produced by staining agate.
Sometime in the past because of similarity of appearance, a softer, banded calcite stone often found in caves was given the name Cave Onyx. More recently it has been called flowstone. This material, much softer and much more readily available than true onyx, constitutes the majority of carved items sold as onyx. They can have red, brown, beige, white or transparent banding, but though rarer may show other colors such as blue and green if they contain copper oxides.
In any event, it is the softness of the stone which lends itself to fashioning so many different items and makes it amenable to polished surfaces. The drawback is that dishware while startlingly beautiful is not dishwasher friendly nor does the surface stand up very well to acidic foods or beverages. Onyx place settings are truly a luxury item if only for the care paid to maintaining them.
In the light of all this, it will not surprise you that my first Tuscon Gem Show visit each year is to the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show at the intersection of Oracle and Drachman. There at my favorite onyx dealer, Natures Own, I seek out the overstock and closeouts section. I try to do this right away, less the bargains be long gone as others with a similar passion beat me to the stash.
Over the years, Kate Readio, of Natures Own has patiently answered my questions and tutored me on the basics. I have always thought there was a fortune to be made by the person who could come up with a method for treating onyx to make it dishwasher safe and impervious to acidic foods and non-toxic. To this day, Kate says, she knows of no such process.
While onyx dishware is not suitable to my lifestyle, there are a couple dozen treasured onyx items scattered about the various furniture surfaces throughout our house. Each piece never fails to delight each time I rediscover it.
I want to thank Kate and Nature's Own for permission to shoot and use the enclosed pictures. I hope they bear some credence for my claims for the beauty of this stone and the utilitarian functions to which it is rendered.
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