A common question I get from my students in my Certified Crystal Practitioner 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 and sometimes even energetically.

But there are slight differences and 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 and 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 because they don’t have one very important aspect that all minerals must have: a crystalline atomic matrix, a repeating geometric pattern among their atoms.


Jet is not a crystal/mineral…it lacks a crystalline structure. Why? Because it originates from a once-living thing; a tree.  So it’s organic and not a mineral at all.  It’s considered to be coal and forms when pieces of wood from a tree get buried in sediment and get “coalified.” This process 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 see the old tree’s cell walls! Pretty cool.

Because of this cell-wall kind of structure, it’s very lightweight and that’s one of your clues when comparing it to their black stones. Pick it up and 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 and 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 look a bit dark-silvery-metallic (sort of like 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 and 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 and not a crystal. 

obsidian sphere

So your clue here is that all obsidian (not just the black variety) will be very smooth, shiny and 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 two because it’s less dense than onyx (due to the lack of crystalline structure and 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 and 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. 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 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 and when you need POWERFUL psychic protection. Again, I caution people to only use it when you need a really powerful punch and not to work with it for too long…unless you already know that you can work with it safely with no adverse effects. 

If you want to learn about my Cord Cutting Technique using Black Obsidian + other crystals and energetic tools, click here to read more. PLUS, I’ve created a download of my Black Obsidian ointment – which is great for cutting cords (handily, it’s also an amazing Anti Fungal ointment). Submit your best email below to get the pdf download delivered right to your inbox. This will also sub you to my bi-weekly newsletter. ❤️

Apache Tear

Apache Tear is 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 and 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 and good for less forceful emotional cleansing like working through grief… because it’s much lighter and gentler in its energy, it’s great for emotional clearing while also being grounding and 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 and can more efficiently influence your energetic field.


When you hold a piece of onyx, one thing you’ll note is the density and “weightiness” of it. Between 2 similar-sized pieces of onyx & obsidian…which can look very similar, the onyx will be heavier because 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 and 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, has that crystalline structure at the atomic level. Why? Well, it had the time to form one, growing slowly underground, as crystals do.

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

Black Tourmaline

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

In its 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 perfect, and that’s how I usually tell it from the others. You’ll often see some divots and possibly some rust from its iron content too.

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

So there you are.

I hope you find this information 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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