The enchanting verdant tones of the peridot have long been recognized as the eighth month’s birthstone. But little do people know that the alluring green gem shares its limelight with a darker, more mysterious counterpart–the sardonyx.
A form of onyx from the mineral family of chalcedony, sardonyx differs in appearance from its more famous jet-black cousin. Since ancient times, sardonyx has enchanted with its reddish brown coloring caressed with delicate white bands. The smooth face of the gem has made it a popular choice for cameo jewelry. In fact, Greeks and Romans were so taken with it, that they used sardonyx as talismans. Warriors carved the raised, cameo style emblems of godly heroes like Mars and Hercules in the stones, believing these tokens would protect them, and give them an advantage in battle.
Queen Victoria’s devotion to the style revived the cameo’s popularity in the 19th century, leading sardonyx to become a relatively common gem. As people copied the trends donned by the stylish queen, cameos became mass-produced towards the turn of the century, which in turn has created a plethora of sardonyx antiques today.
Sardonyx is relatively unknown in the gem world, in lieu of more sparkling or dramatic stones. But the polished sleekness of the sardonyx has a subtle charm, and thus is still mined in locales such as India, Brazil and Germany. Whether crafted into a heart shaped pendant or an old-fashioned brooch that would have looked at home gracing the likes of Queen Victoria, the sardonyx should be elevated and celebrated, along with the peridot, as one of August’s beautiful birthstones.