Sterling silver, also called fine silver, is a beautifully lustrous cool-toned precious metal favored in fine jewelry among other products. The most reflective of all metals (excluding mercury), sterling silver looks stunning by itself and brings out the best hues in an array of colorful gemstones.
Sterling silver can be polished to a higher sheen than platinum. In fact, Ag, the chemical symbol for silver, comes from a word that means “white and shining.” The surface of silver can boast that shiny, polished appearance, or can be brushed, satin, matte, sandblasted, antiqued or oxidized (chemically blackened).
In order to be called sterling silver, a metal must be made up of a minimum of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% alloy (meaning other metals), including but not limited to copper and nickel. The alloy is added to pure silver to make the metal more durable, tougher and harder. Sterling silver is designated a fineness of “925.” Pieces with sterling silver may be marked “sterling.”
Minimize scratches on sterling silver by storing it in its own compartment in your jewelry box or in a cloth pouch. Sterling silver may also be stored in sealed polyethylene bags.
Mother-of-pearl is found on the shells of mollusks, such as mussels and oysters, and the shells of pseudopods, such as snails. When the young of these creatures come into the world, they create a shell “house” in order to preserve their existence. The walls of this housing are formed with layers their of secretions, ensuring a simultaneous growth of house and creature together.
Depending on the type of animal and the environment in which it lives, secretions create various shapes and colors found on the different types of mother-of-pearl. “White” mother-of-pearl comes from pearl-bearing oysters. It features high reflective properties and is one of the most commonly used types of this material. “ Iridescent” mother-of-pearl is a type in which the colors of pink and green are predominant, while “variegated” mother-of-pearl is a multicolored type. “Stone” mother-of-pearl is white with a low reflective power, while “mat” mother-of-pearl is dull grey and also has a low reflective power.
The shiny quality of mother-of-pearl has attracted attention for thousands of years. The Louvre Museum features mother-of-pearl objects that belonged to the Sumerians and were found in Mesopotamia. In China, a dish with geometric-shaped pieces of mother-of-pearl was found that belonged to the Tang Dynasty in 618-906 A.D. Mother-of-pearl work was also common in ancient Italy, Greece and Cyprus. Today, different types of mother-of-pearl are commonly used in the art world. This type of art is certainly a challenge, for in order for them to be made into works of art, the mother-of-pearl pieces must be thick enough to withstand being worked upon and be of high enough quality to beautifully reflect colors of the rainbow.
Most people think the coral used in jewelry comes from South Pacific coral reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef off Australia. However, these coral reefs are formed by a different species than the coral that is traditionally used in jewelry. Most jewelry coral is found in the Mediterranean Sea or in the Pacific near Japan and Taiwan. It grows in ocean colonies of branches that look like underwater trees, and is found in a range of colors, including pale pink (called angelskin coral), orange, red (called noble coral), white and black. The most valued colors are deep red, black and pink. It is much softer than other gems, with a hardness of only 3.5 on the Mohs Scale. In jewelry-making, coral is often carved into beads or cameos, or can be left and polished in its natural branch-like form.
Among the most ancient of gem materials, coral has been used for adornment since prehistoric times. While coral inlays and ornaments have been found in Celtic tombs from the Iron Age, the gem also has a history of religious significance. It is one of the seven treasures in Buddhist scriptures, and coral rosaries are used by Tibetan Lamas.
Coral was long thought to be a powerful talisman that could stop bleeding, protect from evil spirits, and ward off hurricanes. Because it was believed that coral protected the wearer, it was a traditional gift to children. Coral was also believed to lose its powers once broken. Today, coral is the traditional 35th anniversary gift for married couples.
One of the oldest known gems, turquoise has been prized for thousands of years. The Egyptians believed it had powerful mystical properties, and turquoise jewelry has been found interred with 7,500-year-old mummies. Ancient manuscripts from Persia, India, Afghanistan and Arabia say that the health of a person wearing turquoise could be assessed by variations in the color of the stone. Montezuma’s treasure, now displayed in the British Museum, includes a carved serpent covered by a mosaic of turquoise.
Turquoise was especially revered by the Native American culture, an association that dates back to the Aztec empire more than 700 years ago. For the Aztecs, turquoise was reserved for the gods and mere mortals were forbidden to wear it. They believed it to be a gem of good fortune and a commodity more valuable than gold. Native Americans believed turquoise protected people from demons and they even placed turquoise in tombs to guard the dead. The stone’s colors were thought to be symbolically blue for the heavens and green for the earth. Often warriors tied turquoise to their bows to ensure accurate shots.
Today, turquoise is still believed to provide protection and bring luck. It is said to also promote prosperity, love, healing, courage and friendship. The stone is thought to relax the mind and ease mental tension.
The gem’s opaque turquoise color varies from shades of greenish blue to deep cobalt to sky blue. Some varieties display white or brown matrixes, which are streaks of the mother stone from which they came, while others have veins of color called “spiderwebs” running through them. Generally, the bluer the blue, the more highly valued the stone. A clear, even texture without mottling or veins is also preferred. The most rare and valuable color is an intense azure, but the most common is the mild to medium sky blue. Sometimes imitated by minerals such as chrysocolla, turquoise stones are often dyed or colored with coatings of various resins.
In the 13th century, turquoise was mistakenly believed to have come from the country of Turkey. Hence, its name came from the French word for Turkey, “Turquie.” The stone was actually brought to Europe from Persia (now Iran), via Turkey. It is a mineral usually found in association with copper deposits and is sometimes mined as a by-product of copper mining.
Although turquoise is found in desert regions worldwide, the finest and most valuable comes from Iran. Iranian turquoise is a pure robin’s egg blue that is free of green overtones, matrix or black veins. Perhaps the most famous turquoise today, however, comes from the southwestern United States. The occurrence in Arizona and New Mexico produces greener shades of the stone with matrix streaks of various colors.
While only ranking between 5.0 and 6.0 on the Mohs Scale of hardness, turquoise remains quite popular for jewelry. In Europe, turquoise rings are given as forget-me-not gifts, while in the United States, the stone is given as traditional 5th and 11th wedding anniversary gifts. It has even become a modern consideration for the December birthstone. When wearing turquoise over the years, the stone will absorb oil from a person’s skin, causing a slight change to the color of turquoise.
Turquoise is commonly treated in various fashions to ensure its durability and visual appeal, especially when set in jewelry. If a stone has been treated, the type of process will be noted. Stabilized turquoise is enhanced through a process of coating the genuine gemstone with colorless acrylics or resin to fill porous gaps, harden the stone and maintain the stone’s color. Reconstituted turquoise is enhanced through a process in which genuine gemstone fragments are powdered and bonded with resin to reinforce the stone. Impregnated turquoise is enhanced through a process in which the genuine gemstone is infused with oil, wax or resin to reinforce the stone.
Paua Shell (Abalone):
Paua shell features vibrant color variations of blue, green, silver, pink, purple and mother-of-pearl. Although its rough exterior is black, paua’s interior is the most colorful type of abalone shell in the world. Its iridescent patterns even change color when viewed from different angles. Because color range and patterns vary from shell to shell, each piece of paua is unique and one-of-a-kind.
Paua is a species of abalone that is found only in the seas around New Zealand. It has larger cousins located around the world, such as in California and Japan, but those species aren’t as colorful. Paua’s unique coloring is produced from the rich volcanic sediments found within the unpolluted southern New Zealand waters. They are marine mollusks that eat seaweed and cling to rocks at depths of one to ten meters. The holes in the shells are for breathing and reproduction. Starfish are paua’s main predator and can suffocate the shellfish by putting their tentacles over the breathing holes, forcing it to let go of the rock.
Used for food since ancient times, paua meat is considered a delicacy. The exquisite shells used for ornamentation are simply natural by-products. The New Zealand government strictly controls the harvesting of abalone to ensure the sustainability of this natural resource. It has enforced a quota system for the gathering of paua by both commercial and individual fishermen. Paua fishers must free-dive to pry the mollusks from the rocks, as no compressed air diving is allowed. Moreover, all paua that is gathered must be no smaller than five inches in size. There are stiff penalties for those caught removing undersize shells.
In many cultures, abalone shell is used in herbal remedies and is considered a treatment for vertigo, dizziness, blurred vision and headaches. Pacific Rim cultures have considered it a symbol of good fortune and believe it to have powers as an aphrodisiac. Some believe that wearing paua shell aids in creativity and calming. Folklore identifies paua with beauty, physical strength and power. It is believed to improve self-image and increase personal strength and endurance.