Graphitic cherts are interbedded within terrigenous sediments in the Cadomian orogenic belt of end-Proterozoic age. In the Armorican Massif (NW France), the graphitic cherts are of two types: massive cherts essentially composed of quartz (SiO2 > 96%) and with rare sedimentary structures; laminated cherts containing up to 3·4% Al2O3 and 92–98% SiO2. Sedimentary structures observed in the laminated cherts are indicative of a restricted hypersaline tidal or supratidal environment. The origins of both types of chert are to be found in the diagenetic processes of silification of terrigenous and mixed terrigenous-evaporitic facies. These processes, which could be mediated by the presence of organic matter, were controlled by the migration of the freshwater/saltwater mixing zone during periods of relative sea-level change. The proposed diagenetic origin for the cherts places a number of constraints on their use in the establishment of stratigraphic correlations.