Obsidian Gemstone Information
About Obsidian - History and Introduction
Obsidian is naturally occurring volcanic glass which has been used as a gemstone since antiquity. Obsidian was named after Obsius, a Roman who discovered a similar stone. Obsidian forms when lava cools and whilst it is mineral-like, it is not considered to be a true mineral because its composition is too complex and it does not have a crystalline structure. In addition to its decorative use, obsidian has a practical use. Due to its lack of cleavage, conchoidal fracture and acute edges when broken, it has been used to make smooth and sharp surgical scalpel blades. Obsidian has been used to make arrow heads and blades, as well as ornaments for thousands of years by people such as the pre-Columbian Mesoamericans and the ancient Egyptians.
In its pure form, obsidian has a dark body color due to the presence of iron and magnesium. Obsidian can be classified into varieties according to several characteristics. However, some basic types of obsidian include the following: Mottled (snowflake and peanut obsidian), banded or veined (mahogany, midnight lace and pumpkin obsidian), pebbles or small nodules (Apache tears) and sheen (sheen obsidian, cat's eye, rainbow and fire/flame obsidian).
Identifying Obsidian Back to Top
Obsidian can be identified by its glassy luster and single refraction.
Obsidian; Origin and Gemstone Sources Back to Top
Obsidian is found in places that have experienced volcanic eruptions. Such places include Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Canada, Chile, Georgia, Greece, El Salvador, Guatemala, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Scotland, Turkey and the United States.
Buying Obsidian and Determining Obsidian Gemstone Value Back to Top
Obsidian Gemological Properties: Back to Top
Please refer to our Gemstone Glossary for details of gemmology-related terms.
Obsidian: Related or Similar Gemstones Back to Top
Obsidian has some similarities to quartz, due to its silicon dioxide content. However, quartz is a harder material than obsidian, at 7 on the Mohs scale, whereas obsidian has a hardness of 5 to 5.5. Additionally, obsidian has a lower density and refractive index than quartz. Also, obsidian is singly refractive whereas quartz is doubly refractive. Obsidian can appear similar to hematite, aegirine-augite, gadolinite, pyrolusite and wolframite, which all have a higher density than obsidian. Jet can also appear similar to obsidian, but it is a softer substance.
Obsidian Gemstone Mythology, Metaphysical and Alternative Crystal Healing Powers Back to Top
Obsidian is thought to be a powerful stone that can offer protection against negativity. It is sometimes called "the stone of truth" because it encourages the surfacing of secrets and hidden emotions. Additionally, obsidian is also thought to be a balancing and grounding stone. Traditional Indian belief systems associate obsidian with the root chakra, which governs sexuality and stability. Centuries ago, black obsidian mirrors were used to contact the spirit world, and it is thought to be useful in resolving issues related to past lives. Obsidian is also considered to be particularly useful for those suffering from depression or addiction.
Obsidian Gemstone and Jewelry Design Ideas Back to Top
Obsidian's beautiful natural dark, glossy color makes it fashionable for both young and old, male and female. Obsidian gemstones make for a dramatic, high-fashion look. They can be fashioned into vintage, gothic, Celtic and punk-inspired designs, or modern, edgy pieces.
Obsidian is often set in silver, which provides an attractive contrast to its dark color. The versatility of obsidian allows it to be fashioned into a wide variety of jewelry, such as beads for bracelets and necklaces, cabochons for pendants and rings, or carved pieces that are used for pendants and other items. The shiny glassy luster of black obsidian means that it looks good both faceted and as smooth cabochons. Obsidian arrowheads are also made into striking tribal-style rings or necklace and earring pendants, which have a dramatic look when set in gold.
Note: Buy colored gemstones by size and not by carat weight. Colored stones vary in size-to-weight ratio. Some stones are larger and others are smaller than diamonds by weight in comparison.
Famous Obsidian Gemstones Back to Top
Dr Dee's mirror is a highly polished piece of obsidian which was used as an occult research tool by Elizabethan mathematician, astrologer and magician, John Dee (1527 - 1608/9). It was originally an Aztec cult object and is on display at The British Museum.
Some of the pupils of the eyes of the "Moai" (statues of human figures) on Easter Island that were carved between 1250 and 1500, were made from obsidian.
The Necklace of Renisenib; a gold and obsidian necklace, dated at around 1810 - 1700 BC, was excavated from the Nile Valley by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in 1910 and is now displayed at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Brooklyn Museum, USA, displays various pieces of obsidian in its exhibition of Ancient Egyptian Fragments and Amulets, such as the eye from a coffin and a two finger amulet that would have been placed on a mummy to protect the deceased.
Obsidian Gemstone Jewelry Care and Cleaning Back to Top
Although obsidian has a hardness of 5 - 5.5 on the Mohs scale, which is softer than quartz, it is a durable material. To clean your obsidian, simply use soapy water and a soft cloth. Be sure to rinse well to remove soapy residue. As with most gemstones, ultrasonic cleaners and steamers are not recommended. Always remove any jewelry or gemstones before exercising, cleaning or engaging in harsh physical activities such as sports. Obsidian can be easily scratched by harder substances, so it should be stored away from other gemstones. It is best to wrap gemstones in soft cloth or place them inside a fabric-lined jewelry box.
- First Published: February-28-2014
- Last Updated: July-27-2017
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