image of a onyx gadgetThe Unexpected History of Agate in Technology

Onyx, the semi-precious gemstone known for its deep black or banded black and white appearance, might not be the first material that comes to mind when thinking about technology. However, throughout history, onyx has played a surprisingly significant role in various technological advancements.

image showing technological gadgets
The Unexpected History of Onyx in Technology

Early Uses of Onyx in Technology

The earliest known uses of onyx in technology date back to ancient civilizations. Egyptians, for instance, used onyx to create intricate tools, weapons, and even jewelry for royalty. Onyx was also prized for its ability to hold a sharp edge, making it a valuable material for carving and engraving.

From Ancient Times to the Renaissance

As technology progressed, onyx continued to find its place in various applications. In the Middle Ages, European artisans used onyx to create decorative elements for scientific instruments and devices. For example, the dials of early sundials and astrolabes were often crafted from onyx, adding a touch of elegance and sophistication to these intricate tools.

The Decline of Onyx in Modern Technology

Despite its historical significance, onyx’s use in technology has significantly declined in recent times. This decline is primarily due to the emergence of more practical and functional materials.

Limitations of Onyx

Onyx, while aesthetically pleasing, lacks the specific properties required for modern electronics. It is not electrically conductive, a crucial characteristic for many electronic components. Additionally, while relatively hard, onyx is not as durable as materials like glass or metal, making it susceptible to scratches and cracks, especially under the wear and tear of everyday use.

Cost Considerations

Furthermore, onyx can be a relatively expensive material, especially high-quality varieties. Using it in large-scale gadget production would significantly increase costs compared to readily available and cheaper materials.

Alternatives in Modern Technology

Modern electronics rely on a vast array of materials with specific functionalities like conductivity, heat resistance, and strength. These materials offer superior performance and reliability compared to onyx. For instance, silicon, a semiconductor material, is essential for the production of integrated circuits, the building blocks of modern computers and smartphones.

Onyx in Scientific Instruments

While primarily used for decorative purposes, onyx occasionally found its way into the functional components of early scientific instruments. For example, some early telescopes utilized onyx lenses. They took advantage of its ability to hold a polished surface and transmit light. Additionally, certain scientific scales and measuring tools incorporated onyx into their construction, offering a durable and visually appealing material for precise measurements.

Modern Applications of Onyx in Technology

Despite its limitations in modern electronics, onyx still finds occasional use in specific technological applications. For instance, some high-end luxury electronics, like custom-made smartphones or audio equipment, incorporate onyx accents for their aesthetic appeal. Additionally, certain specialized scientific instruments, particularly those valued for their historical significance, might still utilize onyx components for preservation and authenticity.

The Future of Onyx and Technology

While onyx might not be a major player in the future of mainstream technology, its historical significance and unique properties hold potential. As technology continues to evolve, innovative approaches could unlock new functionalities for onyx. Moreso,  perhaps in areas like nanotechnology or sustainable materials development. Additionally, the inherent beauty and elegance of onyx could continue to inspire designers and artists to incorporate it into future technological creations, blurring the lines between functionality and aesthetics.


While onyx’s use in technology has diminished in recent times, its historical significance remains. This semi-precious gemstone served as a testament to the ingenuity of early civilizations and artisans. It also showed how they incorporated beauty and functionality into their technological advancements. As technology continues to evolve, new materials with even more remarkable properties will undoubtedly emerge, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.

By Luke