Obsidian is considered a semiprecious gem in spite of the fact that it is actually glass that forms during the rapid cooling of volcanic lava. The stone is most often black in color, however, it has also been found in clear form as well as in the colors of mahogany brown, silver gray, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. These colors form when hematite deposits are present within the gem.
Obsidian can also come variegated with several different colors. Sometimes grayish-white inclusions are found within black obsidian, which is then called snowflake obsidian. Other times small gas bubbles form within the gem, giving it an unusual golden sheen. This is often referred to as sheen obsidian. Another rare form of the stone is called rainbow obsidian. It occurs when both hematite and gas bubbles are present to give the gem a multi-colored hue.
As is often the case with gemstones, obsidian is named after the region where it was originally found – – Obsius in Ethopia. Today deposits are also found in Armenia, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Java, Mexico, Scotland, Turkey, and the United States. In the U.S., the stone is mined in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
Thanks to archaeology, obsidian has been traced back thousands of years, to the Stone Age where it was often broken off to make crude blades. The ancient Aztecs and Egyptians used it in much the same way, although those cultures were better able to fashion it into even more valuable tools.
The Aztecs also used obsidian for making carvings of their gods, as well as in several of their ceremonial practices. Many believe that it was also used it in making the very first mirrors because the stone could be polished to an extremely high sheen.
Pre-Colombians and Native Americans also used obsidian, but primarily for the development of weaponry like arrowheads and blades. Native Americans often traded obsidian throughout most of North America.
The stone is still used today, oddly enough, for cardiac surgery. Scalpels made from this obsidian have a cutting edge that is much sharper than even the highest quality steel. Studies also indicate that patient scars resulting from surgery with obsidian tools heal quicker and have fewer infections and inflammations.
However, the gem is still primarily used as an ornamental stone and in making jewelry. Oddly, obsidian is rather fragile in nature, rating only a five on the Mohs scale of hardness. That means it is a bit soft and can be easily cracked or broken.
Because obsidian is so soft, it is rarely faceted for jewelry. Instead it is cut into cabochons or beads. Its softness makes it easy to carve. Therefore, it is often used for making interesting carved jewelry as well as for figurines. Sometimes it is highly polished, while other times it remains in natural form.
Obsidian is best-worn in necklace, pendant, or earring form because of its fragility. When it is used in rings and bracelets, it is often capped with a clear coat of resin material in order to protect it from getting damaged.
The gem must be handled carefully. It should never be immersed into harsh chemicals. To clean it, simply wipe it with a slightly damp cloth. Never put the stone into an ultrasonic cleaner.Obsidian jewelry should be stored apart from other jewelry items that might damage it or pouched in velvet or cloth before stored.
Like other gemstones, obsidian has metaphysical properties. Psychics believe it can help to improve psychic and spiritual, as well as physical vision. Some believe that it can help its wearer see more clearly into the very essence of their being. They also believe that it helps to balance both the emotional and mental aspects of its wearer in order to ensure a more harmonious life.
The gem is also believed to benefit the digestive tract and the intestines. It is the gemstone of the astrological sign Scorpio.