Onyx is widely used for cutting cameos and intaglio. A cameo is a gemstone whose background is cut away, creating a representation from the higher part. An intaglio is a gemstone in which a representation is carved, which is therefore visible in the lower layers of the stone. Both engraving techniques are best when a stone with multiple layers of color is used, because then the details of the scene stand out. This has made onyx the most popular material for carving cameos and intaglio for centuries.
Onyx is found in many places in the earth and is therefore a widely used mineral. Especially in the 19th century, the century in which mourning jewelry became extremely popular, the stone was used extensively. Even before the 19th century it was quite common to wear jewelery in memory of deceased loved ones, but Queen Victoria of England (r. 1837 – 1901) was a trendsetter in many areas, especially in clothing and jewellery. When her beloved husband Prince Albert died unexpectedly in 1861, Victoria plunged into complete mourning; From then until the day of her death, more than forty years later, she wore only black clothes and black jewelry. She unintentionally created a new trend with this, and it was fashionable for years to wear black or other dark clothes. Large, black jewelry was worn for this; necklaces with black beads, large oval medallions, cross pendants and large earrings were common. Onyx was widely used for this, but jet, glass and black enamel were also popular.
Another era in which a striking amount of onyx jewelry was made is the Art Deco period. This style was inspired by modernism and cubism, which is why jewelry designers created jewelry with clean, geometric shapes in contrasting color combinations.
One reason for the predilection for onyx in Art Deco jewelry was the rise of the metal platinum. Platinum is a white-colored metal, which is more difficult to work with than gold. When technical innovations made it easier to use platinum in the 1920s, this innovation was immediately widely used. The white platinum and black onyx gave a beautiful color contrast, making onyx a popular material in Art Deco jewelry.
It is like the false azure blue of the sea: although many people know onyx as a deep black material, this variant does not occur in nature. The blackest natural onyx that occurs in nature is actually a deep dark brown. The black variety is created when brown onyx is treated with a sugar solution and then heated. The variant that subsequently emerged with a sharp color contrast between the white and black bands is the most sought-after.
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