History of Sardonyx

The history of Sardonyx can be difficult to trace, as there is quite a bit of confusion about what this gemstone actually looks like! According to some modern sources it is Sard (Also called Orange Agate or Carnelian) with white bands. Other sources unite Sard with Onyx (also called Black Agate). Still others attribute a wide variety of colors to it, blending together every shade of Agate. Regardless of which colors are included, part of what makes Sardonyx such a fascinating stone is that the different color layers lend themselves well to carving. Some of the most wonderful cameo pieces ever created are Sardonyx or banded Agate stones.

For example, the Great Cameo of France was created in the 1st century.  There are two different dates and interpretations of the cameo.  But based on the women’s hairstyle, it seems most likely that this cameo shows the Emperor Tiberius and his designated heirs Caligula, Claudius and Nero.  The women are Livia, Tiberias’ wife, and Agrippina the young, the mother of Nero.  Above them, flies the previous emperor, the newly-defied Augustus.

The oldest known reference to Sardonyx is an 11th century lapidary, a text which describes gemstones and their powers. According to its author, Marbod:

“The Sard and Onyx in one name unite,

And from the union spring three colors bright.

O’er jetty black the brilliant white is spread

and o’er the white diffused a fiery red:

If clear the colors, if distinct the line,

Where still unmixed the various layers join,

Such we for beauty and value prize.

Rarest of all that teeming earth supplies.”

Cameo

The Great Cameo of France

Despite its beauty, Marbode then states that the stone has no powers, besides the ability to neutralize negative emotions. This continued to be the general consensus for the stone for some time, until Camillus Leonardus wrote his lapidary in the 16th century. While he agreed that Sardonyx calmed negative emotions, he took it a step further and said that it also “makes men merry and agreeable.”

Today, Sardonyx is one of the birthstones for the month of August and is also believed to be one of the twelve Biblical Foundation Stones listed in Revelations XXI. Each of these stones is carved with the name of one of the Apostles. Sardonyx has been proposed as a stone for both James and Bartholomew.