Using Onyx for Countertops and Backsplashes

mystique-of-onyxConsumers and business owners looking for an elegant material for countertops, bar tops and tabletops often overlook the brilliance and magnificence of onyx. Recently, this material was featured by the Natural Stone Promotional Campaign in an article titled The Mystique of Onyx by Karin Kirk. Use Natural Stone, the name of the campaign, is led by a consortium of international stone associations, including MIA+BSI/The Natural Stone Institute, Centrorochas, and Febenat.

Onyx: The Translucent Stone

Fabricators who already carry onyx are often proud to show off the slabs and fragments they have on display when asked for it by name. It has a quality that lends it a fantastical appearance that most people mistake for manmade material. With its fluid waves of amber, white and ivory, it tends to viewed more as a gemstone than just simply a rock.

Even more, onyx is translucent and can be backlit with a number of specialty backlighting systems, which gives it a soft glow that is truly extraordinary. When used in this way, it is sure to take the center stage of any room in which it is installed. It has been said that there is no greater artist than Mother Nature, and the magical mystique of onyx summarizes this sentiment perfectly.

Other Names for Onyx

By and large, fabricators know onyx as a category of stone characterized by layers of translucent and light-colored minerals. Geologists, however, refer to it as banded calcite. A few other names you might run across include Mexican onyx, Egyptian alabaster and onyx marble.

The latter of these names derives from the fact that onyx and marble have the same mineral content. In fact, calcite is the primary mineral in several types of natural stone other than marble and onyx, such as limestone and travertine. Of course, a factor that runs through all of these stones is that they are relatively soft and require special attention to keep them looking their best.

How Onyx Is Formed

Many types of natural stone, including granite, marble and quartzite, were created by geological action deep in the earth’s crust, but onyx is formed on the surface from springwater and groundwater with high calcite content. As this water reaches the surface, the calcite crystalizes and more calcite crystalizes on top of that. Over long periods of time, variations in the mineral content and water flow create differently colored layers.

Most onyx is the color of honey because red iron oxide is commonly mixed into the pure white calcite. However, only minor changes in mineral content will create other colors layer upon layer. When onyx is mined, it is cut into slabs through the layers so that each slab represents thousands of years of calcite deposits.

How Onyx Is Used

Onyx is relatively soft compared to other natural stone, such as granite, and it can easily be scratched and etched, especially in areas of heavy use. For this reason, it is best to install onyx countertops in areas that will not be used for food preparation. It is very common for high-end restaurants and lounges to employ onyx bar tops, backsplashes and bathroom vanities. However, it can also be cut into accent tiles, or fabricated into sinks and even lighting fixtures.

Although onyx is not as versatile as granite and quartz, it does possess universal appeal, and very few people can stop looking at it with a mere glance.