How to Tell if Obsidian is Real or Fake in 6 Easy Ways

Obsidian is not really a gemstone or a crystal. It is a naturally occurring, dark volcanic glass that occupies a special place at the intersection of landscape, cosmology, and myth in human history. Read this article to learn how to tell if an Obsidian is Real or Fake.

For several centuries before metals were discovered and used in tools and jewelry, Obsidian, due to its unique physical properties and the symbolic significance accorded to its sites of occurrence, was a mainstay in the economic, symbolic, and intellectual ecosystem of several Mesoamerican civilizations.

Due to its physical appearance resembling very closely that of synthetically made glass, Obsidian is very rampantly faked using materials such as industrially-produced dyed glass, resin, etc. 

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How to Tell if an Obsidian is Real or Fake?

Observe the Coloration and Iridescence

Observe the Coloration and Iridescence

Obsidian typically occurs in black, gray, and sometimes banded formations with brown streaks. The most rarely occurring types of Obsidian are those with an overwhelming amount of green, blue or red in them. 

Tinted, man-made glass is often marketed as these rare Obsidians. So if you are being sold such a rock at a modest price, it is most likely a fake. 

  • Real Obsidians exhibit some or the other form of iridescence. This is hard to communicate through pictures, but no naturally occurring Obsidian ever looks like a hard mass of plain black glass. 
  • A real Obsidian will always have some gold, silver, blue, violet, green, or a combination of these colors, under its black surface, due to the inclusions of minute bubbles that reflect light.
    Real Obsidian, as you can see, especially the stones that are carved, are never perfectly black.
  • While buying an Obsidian, be sure to hold your piece under the sun and try to locate a spot that shows something more than just black.                                                     
  • You can wet the piece and turn it slowly in all directions so the sunshine will reflect the coloring underneath its black glassy surface.
  • If you are fortunate enough to find more than one color in your Obsidian, you likely have your hands on a rather high-quality piece.

Another frequently searched question is Black Obsidian vs Black Tourmaline, to know click here.

Look for Inclusions

Look for Inclusions

Inclusions refer to any minerals that get trapped inside a mineral as it forms.

A naturally occurring Obsidian always forms in the presence of a bounty of minerals in the earth’s surface and will therefore always have certain traces of other minerals.

Inclusions in a real Obsidian are easily detectable by holding out the rock in your palm and moving it around.  

  • Real Obsidian typically occurs with elongated, torpedo-shaped, round, or teardrop-shaped bubbles. These bubbles can be seen arranged in parallel arrangements under a microscope. 
  • If your Obsidian has several needle-like inclusions, lending it a silvery sheen, you can be assured that it is real. 
  • Protogenic silica minerals crystallizing inside obsidian are white and resemble snowflakes on the surface of the rock. This, in gemological taxonomy, is called a snowflake Obsidian. Snowflake Obsidians have many uses like they are widely used in jewelry, carved as beads and cabochons, as seen in the adjacent photo. 

Another commonly occurring variety of Obsidian used extensively for lapidary purposes is Apache tears. Most Obsidian varieties are dark, brittle, and heat-sensitive, which makes them an unlikely choice for jewelry and faceting.

Apache tears, however, due to their rounded, pebble-like occurrences are great for jewelry and in healing rituals. The earth has an enormous bounty of black pebbles and rocks, which makes Apache Tears extremely prone to imitations.

One easy way to tell real Apache tears apart from common black rocks is that the former always have a vitreous luster even when they appear like a rock.

Most black minerals found in the environment lack the vitreous luster of Obsidian and appear chalky, or matte. A black rock that does not combine colored inclusions with a glassy finish, is a fake Obsidian. 

Do a Hardness Test 

Hardness of Obsidian

In the gemological universe, a hardness test is the most viable and widely accepted way to ascertain the chemical composition of any given mineral and differentiate it from other materials used to replicate it.

Since Obsidian is a naturally forming glass, a standalone hardness test does not say much about its originality.

Obsidian, like synthetically made glass, has a hardness of 5 on the Mohs scale. If you are being assured of the originality of your Obsidian utilizing its place in the Mohs scale, be very wary. 

Observe the Fractures on the Surface

Observe the Fractures on the Surface

You can instead look for other visual, physically distinctive characteristics of the Obsidian. If yours has a rind or film over it, it is a good indication that the glass is naturally formed.

The rind is part of the conchoidal fracturing of real Obsidian. Fracture is the way a mineral breaks other than along its cleavage directions. A conchoidal fracture typically looks like shell-like steps on the face of the glass, marked by concentric curved lines.

Evaluate the Structure and Size

Obsidian’s crystal formation is amorphous. This means that when you observe it with the naked eye, you will not be able to detect any individual crystal surfaces spiking out of the rock.

A real Obsidian mostly has the appearance of smooth, frozen liquid (cooled lava). It is formed when felsic lava, usually ejected as rounded masses from volcanic eruptions, rapidly cools, sometimes as small broken pieces, or as fine, hairlike filaments.

Obsidian fragments typically range from microscopic to many inches across. Larger pieces of Obsidian are rare and therefore highly valued. If you are being sold raw black glass in large cuboidal masses, it is easily a fake. 

Try to Locate the Place of Origin

Try to Locate the Place of Origin

One way to ascertain the originality of Obsidian is to inquire about the origin of the rock being sold to you.

Obsidian is always only found in volcanic sites, and most abundantly in the United States around the volcanic stretches of Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah. For most indigenous societies inhabiting these states pre-colonization, Obsidian played the role of steel in a world where iron and aluminum were yet to be discovered.

Obsidian blades were the agents of death, sacrifice, and health management, as bloodletting tools, due to their physical properties – its tendency to fracture conchoidally and produce sharp prismatic blades from polyhedral cores.

Obsidian’s unmatched utility in a world without metal tools, together with its occurrence only at particular geological locations, has generated an enduring aesthetic and healing practice around this volcanic glass, the history of which is a Mesoamerican reverence and symbolic value of the mineral. 

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Final Thoughts

Obsidian is Real or Fake

Obsidian, as a mineral, is animated by several centuries of Indigenous aesthetic and material practices, which make it valuable biographically and artifactually.

To incorporate Obsidian in your everyday practice is to invite the world as a transformational and multi-sensorial place, where myth, magic, and cosmic possibility mingle with our everyday life.

Picking an Obsidian for yourself or for someone you seek to offer it to is best done as a sensorial immersive exercise.

In this post, we have described several identificatory characteristics that can help you not only orient yourself to this volcanic glass but also meaningfully benefit from the process by avoiding fakes.

The easiest way to spot if an Obsidian is real is to view it under sunlight. The vibrance that its several inclusions lend the black surface of a real Obsidian is unparalleled and irreproducible in a synthetic glass.

Obsidian’s fractures are also unlike any smelted glass produced in a factory. Running your fingers over the surface of a stone riddled with lanes and concentric formations is a good test to identify a real Obsidian.  

The process of digitally buying an Obsidian can intercept the sensorial density that Obsidian may demand.