How to tell the Difference between Black Onyx, Jet, Apache Tear, Black Tourmaline & Black Obsidian

Hibiscus Moon Crystals, grounding, protection 59 Comments

A common question I get from my students in my Certified Crystal Healer Course is:

How to tell the difference between our many shiny black tumbled stones.

There are several common ones that all polish up pretty shiny, making it almost impossible to tell them apart; both physically & sometimes even energetically.

But there are slight differences & I’m going to tell you what to look for right here. 

I’m going to focus on the 5 most common ones:

  • Jet
  • Obsidian
  • Apache Tear
  • Onyx
  • Black Tourmaline

As most black stones usually are, all 5 of these are considered to generally be energetically grounding, protective & usually resonating well with either the Earth Star Chakra or Root Chakra

Now let’s get into the subtle differences…

difference black obsidian onyx

Non-Mineral Stuffs

I’ve divided the stones into 2 sub-groups of “non-mineral” & “mineral”.

The non-minerals, although usually lumped in with the rest of the crystals, are not technically minerals, b/c they don’t have 1 very important aspect that all minerals must have: a crystalline atomic matrix, a repeating geometric pattern among their atoms.

Jet

Jet is not a crystal/mineral…it lacks a crystalline structure. Why? B/c it originates from a once living thing; a tree.  So it’s organic & not a mineral at all.  It’s actually considered to be coal & forms when pieces of wood from a tree get buried in sediment and get “coalified”. This is a process that took place a looooong time ago; we’re talking literal Jurassic Period here. 

Raw Jet. By Geni (Photo by user:geni) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Raw Jet – By Geni (Photo by user:geni) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Under a microscope you can actually see the old tree’s cell walls! Pretty cool.

B/c of this cell-wall kind of structure it’s very lightweight & that’s one of your clues when comparing it to their black stones. Pick it up & compare its weight in your hands. It almost feels like plastic, it’s so light.

Although it’s usually pretty dull in its raw form, it can be polished up to a high luster & be quite shiny (as you can see in my above picture where its shown compared to other black stones). Another tell-tale clue is that jet can sort of look a bit dark-silvery-metallic (sort of like a really dark hematite).

Energetically, jet is known to be safely grounding + purifying while also being protective…in a gentle, non-forceful way.

Black Obsidian

Obsidian, another non-mineral, is a volcanic glass, born literally of forceful fiery energy.

Birthed in a volcanic eruption when molten lava spews up from a volcano, obsidian flies out & then cools quickly once it touches the cooler land or much cooler water, sometimes forming teeny bubbles within…and cooling much too quickly for its atoms to arrange themselves in the necessary crystalline atomic structure to qualify as a mineral. This makes it a glass & not a crystal. 

obsidian sphere

So your clue here is that all obsidian (not just the black variety) will be very smooth, shiny & glassy-looking.

If you’re looking at a rough natural piece as in my above photo (where I’m comparing all of these black stones), you’ll notice that obsidian usually has a conchoidal fracture: a geeky-geo-term for a curved break off point when the obsidian gets chipped away.

Can you see that conchoidal fracture in the below pic?

By Ji-Elle It feels nice and warm It feels like a ________ (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Rough Obsidian – By Ji-Elle (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re comparing obsidian to onyx (2 that are quite often confused), obsidian will be the lighter weight of the 2 b/c it’s less dense than onyx (due to the lack of crystalline structure & interior air bubbles) and can even be translucent in spots if you hold it up to the light…something really hard to capture in a photo for me…but I tried in the below photo. See how the sunlight can shine through it & you can even see some layering on the bottom right?

obsidian difference black obsidian onyx

Remember that obsidian is volcanic glass so it has a direct fiery energy to it. Perhaps due to how it originates, I feel it’s not gentle in its ways at all. Generally, it’s a pretty powerful stone.

CAUTION: If you feel that you’re very emotionally fragile or vulnerable, I recommend you try another stone choice instead. 

Now this may not be true for everyone, so it’s not a blanket statement.

You really need to work with it yourself to know EXACTLY how it will affect you.

Obsidian is great for quick & powerful grounding, cleansing away deep or stubborn negative feelings & when you need POWERFUL psychic protection. Again, I do caution people to only use it when you need a really powerful punch & not to work with it for too long…unless you already know that you can work with it safely with no adverse effects. 

Apache Tear

Apache Tear is really a sub-group or type of obsidian; essentially the same stone, both made of volcanic glass and black in color. However, Apache Tears are black obsidian that formed by being thrown up into the air giving them a much less glassy & more rough appearance.

By Simon Eugster --Simon 20:06, 14 April 2006 (UTC) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativeco difference between black obsidian onyxmmons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Apache Tear – By Simon Eugster –Simon 20:06, 14 April 2006 (UTC) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Whereas black obsidian is known to be a very powerful stone, Apache Tears are gentler in their energy & good for less forceful emotional cleansing like working through grief… b/c it’s much lighter & gentler in its energy it’s great for emotional clearing while also being grounding & protective.

The Inorganic Stuffs – True Minerals

These next stones are the real-deal minerals. All minerals have a crystalline structure at the atomic level where their atoms are stacked in a precise repeating geometric pattern. So these guys are more stable & can more efficiently influence your energetic field.

Onyx

When you hold a piece of onyx, one thing you’ll note is the density & “weighti-ness” of it. Between 2 similar sized pieces of onyx & obsidian…which can look very similar, the onyx will be heavier b/c it has an actual crystalline structure, whereas obsidian does not…with its random molecules & air bubbles. 

Onyx tends to have a slightly duller finish, but can polish up to be quite glassy! So don’t rely on that alone. Onyx may also have some banding & white-ish or grey-ish spots, but usually no translucency.

By Simon Eugster --Simon 14:41, 11 April 2006 (UTC) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Onyx – By Simon Eugster –Simon 14:41, 11 April 2006 (UTC) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Onyx, being a true mineral, does indeed have that crystalline structure at the atomic level. Why? Well, it had the time to form one, growing slowly underground, as crystals do.

Onyx’ energy for me, while protective is more about grounding & strengthening. It’s also wonderful for boosting your willpower & discipline

Black Tourmaline

Black tourmaline is a fav of mine & 1 of the crystals I use in my sacred grounding trio.

In it’s natural form (as seen below), black tourmaline is hard to confuse with the others I’ve listed here.

black tourmaline difference black obsidian onyx

But when it’s tumbled it can be hard to pick out b/c it polishes up relatively well…but usually not perfectly & that’s how I usually tell it from the others. You’ll often see some divots & possibly some rust from its iron content too.

Energetically, black tourmaline is a go-to negativity neutralizer for me. B/c it has piezoelectric & pyroelectric proprieties it’s able to transduce energy quite effectively! If you’re looking for a great crystal for protection & purification that isn’t too intense…this is the one.

So there you are.

I hope you find this info to a be a helpful resource that you’ll be able to refer back to when needed!

Can you tell the difference now?  Do you have these stones in your crystal collection and now you know how to identify them on the fly? Talk to me in the Comments below! I’d love to hear about your favorite black crystal. 🙂

Crystal Blessings,

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Comments 59

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    2. I second that Brother Bri!!! 🙂
      I haven’t been able to be around for ages but the magnetism of our magnificent mentor, guru & friend, drew me back to my crystal cohort & family!!! 🙂 Yaaaay!!! 🙂
      Love, light, limitless crystal blessings & gratitude to all you crystal hotties!!! XOXOXOXOX

      And especially to my Bro… :-* I miss & love you dearly!!! Hoping to catch up very soon! Know you’re always in my thoughts, prayers, healings & crystal grids! Love you to Gaia’s core & back again a squillion times Bro! 😉 :-* xox Namaste beloved 🙂

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  1. You’re so right to warn emotionally vulnerable people against obsidian. I have bipolar disorder, and black obsidian always drags me down emotionally. I prefer to use onyx and black tourmaline. I appreciate all the distinctions you’ve made. Thank you!

  2. I mostly like to carry black tourmaline as it is subtler than the others. But after reading about Apache Tear, I think I will add it to my mix of stones I carry. Interesting facts on obsidian.

  3. Oh I’m still confused! lol We have these huge chunks of “rock” that we found on the beach which are black and I had thought they must be Obsidian, but they don’t quite fit your description. I don’t see any distinctive conchoidal fracture, but I’m curious if that’s because they’ve been rolling around the ocean for years. And in some areas, there’s a bit of purple rainbow.

  4. Along with everyone else I say:

    Thank you.

    Have been in the process of increasing my grounding stones, having only my intuition and a basic understand of the black and shiny.

    I added mostly tourmaline as I feel comfortable with this mineral.

    To which I have ordered 4 black obsidian arrow heads – am aware that I need some extra protection and intend placing these stones onto a small grid. I suffer depression/anxiety/fibromyalgia – will handle with care after reading your article.

    Have also done the basics, such as smudging my home, playing my Tibetan bowl and cymbals. My home felt better immediately while smudging – I don’t care if it’s just my imagination, my home is feeling like home again.

    Would love to have more information on the most (for me) beguiling of the black stones: Nuummite

    Cheers

    Dianna

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  5. Thank you Hibiscus! I love my black tourmaline also. I have been drawn to biotite black mica for awhile now. Not sure why. I love your posts. You are a breath of fresh air!
    Blessings,
    Linda

  6. yay! i have wondered how to tell them apart, and was guessing for the most part. i went through all my black coloured stones after reading your descriptions. i don’t have any jet or apache tear, but was able to quickly and definitively identify the other three. i started purchasing black tourmaline in the rough form to make it easier, the tumbled pieces i have do contain some divots that are not polished. the ones i ‘thought’ were onyx have some grey or white-ish blotches, so they are.
    thank you!

  7. Hello Sister I saw your analyse of black stone very interesthing but I found other one very power full and try to prouve its really this so its black jasper (lydienne jasper) I collect in lava or near lava near the sea very black only no white very hard around 7.5 This stone was cristal clear and melted whit lava but not mix because density differente follow the flow whit lava and carbon change the cristal black,40years collect stone specially jasper but first time found black for me is the most of powerful stone for protection Love and Light God bless you Shamannanda

  8. Hibiscus Moon, I think you brought clarity to the black stone differences. I did not know Apache Tear was Obsidian also. My favorite is: Black Tourmalene. Also, I consider my Smokey Quartz a black stone and great healer, but I guess it’s lighter than the ones mentioned. . Keep teaching and sharing, I teach folks about stones when they come to my home and look at my collection.

  9. Nice to see all that info grouped together.. Now maybe I’ll remember it!! Awesome job!! I’ve always known about Onyx and Tourmaline but over the last 30 years have forgotten the facts about the the others!! Most I could remember was that I used them for grounding… Hahaha. Thanks great article

  10. VERY helpful!!! I’ve always been confused by this and wondered when buying these stones if I was really getting what I thought I was buying, especially since people don’t always put things back where they got them. 🙂 Thank you!

  11. So helpful, thank you! Don’t remember where I stumbled across your site but glad I did. Love your easy to understand explanations & wit. What a fun place to be! <3

  12. very informative, im relatively new to this in a way. does the obsidian come in only black? i have this pink rock?, stone? that looks like glass, yet has rock formation.

  13. Thank you so much for that info.

    One thing that wasn’t mentioned in your article, though. When you consider buying black tourmaline, hold the piece up to a bright light. Sometimes it will actually be green tourmaline, but it’s hard to tell the difference. True black tourmaline will remain black, and usually opaque.

    Again, thanks for the info. Now I can tell the difference between black onyx and obsidian.

  14. I love them, thank you for making it a bit clearer to pick them apart. I am wearing Onyx the most right now. Just right for what I need going on. Love your work. xx.

  15. Thank you for this great information. It is helpful. Yet, I still don’t know what this crystal that I am so attracted to is. Any chance you can help me decipher what it is? I have a good picture, but I don’t know how to get it to you. Doesn’t seem to let me add a photo here. Thank you.

  16. Very interesting piece. I think I have either a very large obsidian or Apache Tear, although it does have a green tinge to it. We found it on the beach in Wales when I was 4, I am now 44 and I still have it.

  17. Very informative article!! Thank you. Do you think black tourmaline will also be the best one for electromagnetic polution, or will you reccomend a completly differnt crystal to help with electromagnetic sensitivity?

  18. This is SO helpful! Now I can identify a few of my black stones I’ve had for a while that haven’t been out in a while. Yay!

  19. I love me some dark grounding stones! This is a great post, thank you! I’ve always been drawn to tourmaline: the way its crystals grow in layers next to or upon each other makes me feel like I can hold the weight of what is brought upon me. Love your posts! Blessings.

  20. Have you ever worked with Tibetan Black Quartz? I bought a beautiful piece not too long ago. It sang to me and I love it. It seems to be a very powerful crystal for healing. I’ve had it verified by 2 different people in the field and would love your thoughts on this one. I too am fairly new (2+ years now) to the Craft, but get me near crystals or rocks and I go crazy!

  21. Great article! Very helpful.
    What about Black Agate and Kyanite. Hemitite can be dark too. Not sure if it has brown in it.

  22. I had wondered how I could be certain the black stone I was contemplating bringing into my collection was indeed what the label said it was…. people tend to pick things up and put them down [wherever] without much thought whether it is the right place or not.

    Obsidian and Apache tears are stones that are personally very important to me and my work. I find it interesting how I was always drawn to these from very early in my life. I also use tourmaline, and now that I know it USA piezoelectric energy, I will be using it for more applications. I use onyx to a lesser degree.

  23. Thank you for sharing another informative post.

    I find obsidian difficult to be around sometimes . . . I used to be with a large chunk of it weekly (when volunteering at the “rock cart” at our local museum) but maybe some of the discomfort of the frequency of our visits was due to it being from a supervolcano. Perhaps obsidian from a different source would be less intense and easier to be around. I have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of black tourmaline in the past few months and we seem to get along well. 😉 (Seems I’m starting this journey by embracing the value of grounding minerals.)

  24. Thanks for the information. But, I have this black sphere in my me for years and don’t know what is it? I thought it is a black obsidian. Seems shiny but there are couple of stratches..color is white. I can see one tiny blue color on the black area. I wish i can send the photo to you for advice. I hope this is not fake.

  25. Maria, there is such a thing as “rainbow obsidian” that displays blues and purples in certain lights. I have a piece of it that shows sort of oil slick colors in certain lights, and I got it from a reputable dealer. Hope this helps.

  26. Wow, this was very helpful indeed. I’m still a little confused about one crystal that I bought today which at the time I was told the name but somehow thinking I would easily recall later, I have now forgotten. I went online to see if I could figure it out and happily found your site. It has helped me a great deal, since I actually have Tourmaline and other crystals – so your tutorial does help. But, I still can’t seem to figure out what this name escaping crystal is!
    I thought based on descriptions and looks that it was Obsidian, but now I’m not so sure.
    It has silvery scratches which I can see despite it being tumbled. It has a look to it which makes me think of hematite on it’s one side (it has an irregular shaped stone look) – in the light it has a silvery shimmer. It seems a little transulcent (on that one hematitle looking side). It’s pretty weighty, for it’s size of about 2 inches. The silvery scratches which run throughout it, don’t only run one way. They seem to run both vertically and horizontally. In the dark, it looks black. In the light, you can see it has very silvery shimmery lines. It’s interesting though, on only the one side, it has a full on “Hematite look”. But, none of the other sides have that Hematite look.
    Can you or anyone tell me what you think it could be? And also, if I can show a picture of it? Not sure it will help, since I realize that it’s hard to capture the transluency or silver shimmer in a photo.

  27. Thank you and very informative. I’m still not quite sure. I have a black turtle with an abalone shell that I bought from a Native Reservation. I thought it was obsidian but it is very heavy…..thinking it may be tourmaline.

  28. Thank you very much : very useful!

    As a chemist I’d like to say that if Obsidian is not crystalline it is nevertheless mineral (silica) and not at all organic. I love Obsidians, immediately warm in my hands and I stand up for
    them! This is just to make you smile…

  29. You should edit this to include shungite. It’s one of my absolute favorite of the darker variety. ❤️⭐️ Shungite has so many great properties. I use it more than black tourlimine in my daily practice.

  30. I always thought apache tear had red “tears” in it. Something about the tears of blood the apache shed. I’m probably mixing up my stories so if you can shed some light……..thank you,Hibiscus❤

  31. I’m still having trouble deciding what this ring that was a gift from my daddy, who passed last year is. I think he said it was onxy… Would love to find out. Please💔

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