Posts tagged onyx
Black Materials

Here is an overview of the different black materials used in vintage and antique jewellery

Jet

Jet is fossilised wood. For more information see here.

Simple jet bead circa 1910. Elder and Bloom. 

Simple jet bead circa 1910. Elder and Bloom. 

Onyx

Onyx is a variety of chalcedony. For more information, see here.

Victorian Onyx pendant locket. Elder and Bloom. 

Victorian Onyx pendant locket. Elder and Bloom. 

Berlin Iron

Berlin iron is made from cast iron and delicate wire pieces. For more information, see here. 

Germany, Cast iron earrings. c. 1820-1830 V&A Museum   

Germany, Cast iron earrings. c. 1820-1830
V&A Museum

 

Enamel

Enamel is fired ground glass. In theory, almost all methods of enamelling can produce black items but generally it is en grisaille, niello and taille d'epargne which are known for being worked in black. (Technically, niello work is not true enamel but is usually classified as such)

For more information, see here. 

Niello work. 

Niello work. 

Gutta Percha

Gutta Percha is a type of rubber derived from the gum of Asian trees. It is usually molded rather than carved and mould lines can be visible when examined carefully. When rubbed vigorously, it gives off an acrid, rubber smell. It is very flexible and durable and can produce a wide variety of jewellery items. Upon close inspection, you can see that it is actually brownish-black. Popular through the mid and late Victorian era, it made its debut at the Great Exhibition of 1851. 

Gutta Percha Brooch. 

Gutta Percha Brooch. 

Vulcanite

Vulcanite is vulcanised India rubber formed using sulphur. It was first patented in 1844 by Charles Goodyear. Vulcanite is almost always moulded, as opposed to carved. It is actually white and can be dyed to produce a variety of colours, often in imitation of coral and tortoiseshell. Most commonly, however, it was dyed black and used in mourning jewellery as a substitute for jet. Over time, black vulcanite usually turns dark brown. It is lightweight and warm to the touch. It will develop a sheen with polishing but is never as glossy as jet. Like jet, it will leave a brown streak on porcelain or unglazed tile. 

Victorian Vulcanite cameo pendant. 

Victorian Vulcanite cameo pendant. 

French Jet

French jet is black or very dark red glass. It can sometimes be backed with foil or attached to a metal setting but is most commonly found as beaded necklaces. It first made its appearance in the early part of the 19th century but came into its own in the 1860s when the techniques to produce it were perfected. It was produced in France, Germany, Austria, England and what is now the Czech Republic. It is cold to the touch and heavier than jet and has a distinctive glitter. Sometimes it is roughly moulded or carved to further simulate jet. Upon close examination, it can often be identified by tiny chips. If you gently tap it against your teeth, you should be able to identify the chink as glass. 

French jet necklaces. Elder and Bloom. 

French jet necklaces. Elder and Bloom. 

Bog Oak

Like jet, bog oak is fossilised wood. It is usually mined from the bogs of Ireland and is not necessarily oak but can be fir, yew or pine. Similar in feel to jet, it is lightweight and warm to the touch but generally has a more matte finish. It was used from the early 1800s and grew in popularity after 1852 when techniques involving heat and pressure were invented to mold it and create detail. It can be carved or moulded. It is generally found in mourning jewellery as a substitute for jet but can also often be found with Irish motifs in the form of souvenir jewellery. 

Victorian bog oak brooch. 

Victorian bog oak brooch. 

Tortoiseshell

With age, tortoiseshell can darken enough to appear black. See here and here.

Tortoiseshell pique pendant. Elder and Bloom.

Tortoiseshell pique pendant. Elder and Bloom.

© Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder and Bloom LLC, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder and Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Onyx

Onyx, with its sleek and glossy beauty, has long been sought after for use in jewellery. It  is often thought of as being pure black but in reality it is usually banded white and black or banded white and brown.  It can come in a variety of other colours, such as shades of white, green and red, but these colours are not generally found in jewellery usage.

Onyx is a variety of chalcedony. It can be differentiated from agate because the bands in onyx are parallel whereas in agate they are curved. Onyx is cool to the touch, quite heavy and has a highly polished and glossy finish.  For this reason, it can sometimes be confused with French Jet. 

The demand for pure black onyx has traditionally outstripped the supply so most all black onyx is dyed.  This is why most black onyx has such an even finish. A trained eye can tell the difference between dyed and natural onyx under a loupe by looking for uneven surface colour.

Victorian Era

Black onyx was particularly revered by the Victorians, especially during the Grand Era 1861-1880. The Victorians of this era loved all black materials and the fashion of wearing mourning styles went far beyond that which was necessary.  They created a wide variety of jewellery items from all black onyx, including lockets, pendants, brooches and earrings. They also mixed it with coral, turquoise, seed pearls and rubies.

Victorian onyx and rose gold earrings. Elder and Bloom.

Victorian onyx and rose gold earrings. Elder and Bloom.

Art Deco Era

Black onyx was also especially beloved in the Art Deco era as the stone lent itself to the bold and stark minimalism of the Machine Aesthetic. Jewellery designers used contrasting materials such as coral, jade or diamonds to further accentuate the beauty of the black.

[caption id="attachment_5829" align="aligncenter" width="564"] Art Deco Diamond, Jade, Platinum and Onyx earrings. 1stdibs[/caption]

Theodor Fahrner was a well known Art Deco designer who used onyx in many designs.

Cameo

Onyx is also one of the most popular materials for cameo as the bands are ideal for creating contrasting relief images. Sardonyx is the name for the brown and white banded variety of onyx that is often used for cameo and intaglio.

Sardonyx cameo portrait of the Emperor Augustus. British Museum.

Sardonyx cameo portrait of the Emperor Augustus. British Museum.

© Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder and Bloom LLC, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder and Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sources / further reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onyx

http://www.langantiques.com/university/Onyx

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/fine-jewelry/onyx