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Fellow travelers–

Here’s an obscure, and far-from-earthshaking question: Why is
Sardonyx called that? The word “sardonic”, which means pretty much
what it sounds like (a combination of “sarcastic” and “ironic”),
according to my dictionary, derives from a poisonous herb, sardonnia,
which distorted the face of a person who ate it. Seems unlikely this
has anything to do with the stone–and is certainly not very
appealing. Anybody know how these things get named?

I am sure you will get much more detailed answers than mine from the
extremely knowledgeable people on Orchid, but the derivations here
are sard and onyx, not sardonic (or sardonnia). I think if you look
up these two gem materials you will get a clearer idea about what you
are asking.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Spirer Somes Jewelers
1794 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140

Dear Noel: Strangely enough, sardonyx, the gem is etymologically
unrelated to sardonic, the adjective. The second syllable is
derived from onyx , which has come down pretty much the same from
ancient Greek to Middle English. It is a form of Chalced ony ; and
Sard , according to the dictionary, probably goes back to Sardis… a
city in Asia Minor which was most likely a source for the stone.
Hence, sardonyx…an onyx from Sardis . Hope this answers your


From one traveller to another fellow traveller... 

Sardonyx: Sard is a red, orange or brown variety of chalcedony.
From latin, sarda and the Greek,sardios as a stone from Sardis.

Onyx is a chalcedony with alternating black and white layers. So
sardonyx now becomes self explanatory.

Before the art of dyeing agate for onyx and carnelian was discovered
the black layers were were cut from onyx for onyx jewellery and the
red layers cut from sardonyx for carnelian jewellery.

Hope this removes some of the obscurity.

Regards, Keith Torckler, Cornwallis, New Zealand.

Why is Sardonyx called that? Anybody know how these things get

Dear Noel; I’m answering your question without referring to any
sources but I believe this is correct. Sard is the name given in
ancient times to a dark brown, sometimes reddish, agate (actually
chalcedony). Onyx is classically a black and white banded agate.
Sardonyx, therefore, is a dark brown and white banded agate. I have a
few antique sardonyx cabochons cut in concentric circle patterns so
they look like eyes. They’re quite pretty.


Different roots for sardonic and sardonyx…

From Webster: Sard Etymology: French sarde, from Latin sarda Date:
14th century: a reddish brown variety of chalcedony sometimes
classified as a variety of carnelian

From Encarta, sardonyx 14th century. Via Latin from Greek sardonux ,
from sardios (see sard ) + onux (see onyx ): a variety of onyx with
alternating bands of light orange-brown sard and white chalcedony,
once widely used in making cameos

sardonic, according to Encarta, is "Mid-17th century. Via French
sardonique from, ultimately, Greek sardanios “scornful.” Originally
meaning “Sardinian,” its later meaning derives from the “Sardinian
plant,” which caused facial contortions resembling a scornful grin.]

Great site for free access to multiple dictionaries:

Carol J. Bova @Carol_J_Bova

Hi there I got two piece of ametrine very good quality 25 cts and 28
cts big size if somebody can say approximate price thank you
tommy joseph gemmologist

Hi Noel,

I have always believed that it was in reference to the striped or
layered nature of the stone, and that they thought it consisted of
alternating layers of sard (a stone) and onyx. Probably not an
accurate analysis of the nature of the stone, but convincing enough to
allow them to name it such.

Looking in George Kunz’s The Curious Lore of Precious Gemstones,
originally published in 1913, I find a lot of ancient references, but
nothing that leads to a clear etymology of the word. The is
apparently question about the translation of stones used in the Hebrew
High Priest’s breastplate. “Sardius” is translated to carnelian, and
one translator interprets “odem” to mean sardonyx. Apparently in
Revelations there is a reference to the holy Jerusalem and it’s fifth
foundation was made of sardonyx, and it is a possible birthstone for
August, especially in Polish culture. That’s about all I could find! A
cursory check of other references yielded nothing substantial.

I guess I’ll have to stick with my original interpretation!


Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)

The Greater Oxford Dictionary gives the first appearance of the word
in English as 1382 with its derivation from the Greek as a combination
of sard + onyx. It appears frequently in both Latin and Greek antique
texts. So there’s your answer! You can always do a little more research
on Perseus

Tony Konrath
Gold and Stone