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Native American Jewelry: Onyx, Jet, & Apache Tears

Among the popular stones used in Native American jewelry of the Southwest are the black stones Onyx, Jet, and Apache Tear. All these stones polish to a shiny finish, and they are valued as protective, grounding stones.

While these can be difficult to tell apart, they are not the same stone.


This heavy mineral stone has a crystalline structure at the atomic level. It formed underground over millions of years and has a naturally dull finish but can be polished to a glassy finish. It is an opaque stone which may feature some banding or greyish spots.

Black tourmaline is another black crystalline stone which, when raw, looks very different from the other stones mentioned here, but polishes reasonably well.


Contrary to popular belief, Jet is neither a mineral nor a crystal, as it lacks a crystalline structure. It is an organic stone and originates from trees. Considered to be a form of coal, Jet arises when wood was buried in sediment in the Jurassic Period and coalified over time. Microscopically, Jet retains the tree’s cell walls and it is a very lightweight stone.

In its raw form, Jet is very dull but can be lustrous when polished. It may at times resemble dark hematite, due to its metallic, silvery sheen.

Apache Tears

These stones are a type of Obsidian. Obsidian is a volcanic glass which formed when molten lava cooled too quickly for the atoms to rearrange themselves into a crystalline structure. As a glass, not a crystal, obsidian is shiny, smooth, and somewhat translucent if held up to the light. It is heavier than Jet but lighter than Onyx.

While most Obsidian forms on the ground, Apache Tear is a type of Obsidian that formed in the air. In its raw state, is it less glassy than Obsidian; it is composed of quartz, feldspar, biotite and hornblende. This is a gentle and calming stone.

The Apache Tear Legend

In the 1870s, Pinal Apaches raided a white settlement in Arizona and took cattle. The cattle were tracked by the US Cavalry and a band of volunteers to the hiding place of the Apache, and a major battle broke out when the Apache were surprised at dawn by the white men. The band of 75 Apache men fought and almost 50 were killed in the initial attack; thereafter, the rest of the tribe’s men retreated to the edge of the Big Picacho cliff (“Apache Leap”) and leapt to their deaths in preference to dying at the hands of the white man.

The Apache women gathered near the base of the cliff for a month and mourned their dead. According to the Legend, the Great Father embedded the tears of the Apache women into black stones on the ground beneath the cliff. When these black stones were held up to the light, the translucent tears of the Apache women could be seen.

Apache Tears are believed to bring good luck to anyone possessing them; one will never cry again as the Apache women shed their tears in place of them. Many people carry Apache Tears as an amulet for success, protection, psychic power, and meditation.

Black Stones at Indian Traders


Our Native American bracelets and other jewelry contain an array of beautiful authentic stones, including Jet and Onyx. Browse our range today for the perfect gift for yourself or someone you care for.