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.
For thousands of years, ruby has been considered one of the most valuable gemstones on Earth. It is called the “King of Gemstones” and known as the stone of love. The gem is the red variety of the mineral corundum, and while any other color of corundum is denominated as “sapphire,” only red corundum may be called “ruby.” Pure corundum is colorless, but slight traces of elements are responsible for ruby’s purplish bluish-red to orange-red color. In fact, the name “ruby” was derived from the Latin word “rubens,” meaning “red.”
The finest rubies are an intensely saturated pure red with no overtones of brown or blue. They are readily available in sizes up to 2.00ct and have incredible durability, ranking a 9.0 on the Mohs Scale (second only to diamonds in hardness). Rubies may show very different shades of red depending on their origin, and the range of these reds is quite considerable. The gem’s intense color was once thought to come from an undying flame inside the stone, while other legends say each stone is a piece of the planet Mars.
Some rubies distinguish themselves with a wonderful silky shine, called the “silk” of the stone, which is created by fine rutile needles within the gem. The rutile mineral is also involved within very scarce “star” rubies. As can be found in sapphires, there is a translucent variety of ruby that displays a six-point star when cut into a smooth domed cabochon. Rutile is embedded in an asterisk-shape within the ruby, causing a captivating light effect called “asterism.” Six-ray stars appear to magically glide across the surface of the stones as they are moved. Star rubies are expensive rarities and should always display the stars exactly in the center of the gem. The star stone is said to be the home of each person’s angel, who lives there in contentment with the ruby’s spirit.
Rubies are found in many countries throughout the world, each location producing rubies of specific qualities and colors. Gemstone experts agree that the Burmese ruby is the most valuable and luxurious category of the stone. The former country of Burma, now Myanmar, is situated in a mountain valley surrounded by high summits. Rubies that are mined from this “Valley of Rubies” feature an exceptionally vivid red color with a slightly bluish hue. The stones display their unique brilliance in both natural and artificial light.
Rubies from Thailand, another classical supplier of the gem, are often dark red tending towards brown. This “Siam color” is considered almost as beautiful as the Burma color. Rare rubies from Ceylon are mainly light red, like ripe raspberries, while rubies of Vietnamese origin generally display a slightly purplish hue. Rubies are also produced in India, where relatively large ruby crystals have been discovered. These particular rubies, however, have many inclusions, but are excellently suited to be cut as beads or cabochons. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia have also produced occasional top-quality rubies, but the rough terrain in these areas has made mining difficult.
Top-quality rubies are quite rare and are often considered even more valuable than colorless diamonds, particularly in sizes above 5.00ct. High prices tend to reflect their tremendous value. In 1988, a 16.00ct ruby sold at auction for $227,301 at Sotheby's in Geneva, Switzerland. A 27.37ct Burmese ruby ring sold for $4 million at Sotheby's in 1995, which was an astounding $146,145 per carat.
It is possible that no other gemstone has been as prized as the ruby. Celebrated in the Bible and in ancient Sanskrit writings as the most precious of all gemstones, rubies have adorned emperors and kings throughout history. Until improvements in chemical testing in the 1800s, most red gem-quality stones were called rubies. Thus, many of the famous “rubies” in the crown jewels of Europe, including Britain’s “Black Ruby” and the “Timur Ruby,” have since been identified as red spinels or garnets. Today, rubies continue to decorate the insignia of many Royal Houses.
In the 13th century, traveler Marco Polo wrote that Kublai Kahn, the Mongol Emperor of China, once offered an entire city for a ruby the size of a man’s finger. In ancient Hindu writings, the ruby represents the sun power. In China, the stone was given as offerings to Buddha.
Rubies were also given as offerings to Krishna in India. For a long time, India was considered the classical country of rubies. Their literature offers a rich and varied knowledge of the stone that was collected and handed down for over two thousand years. In the Sanskrit language, ruby is called “ratnaraj,” which translates as “king of gemstones.” Whenever a spectacular ruby was found, the emperor would send out his notables to welcome the precious gemstone in an appropriate style fit for a king.
In the Middle Ages, it was believed that a ruby could change color and grow darker to warn its owner that danger or illness was near. Thought to ward off misfortune, it was believed to chase away evil spirits and the spirits of the dead. The deep red color of rubies has been used for centuries as protection and to convey invulnerability. Soldiers wore them into battle to guard against wounds and promote healing if they received a wound. The color of blood, the stone is symbolic of courage and bravery. Warriors were said to have implanted rubies under their skin to bring them valor in battle, make them invincible against enemies and ensure victory.
Rubies have also been historically thought to bestow wisdom, wealth and love. In China and Europe during the 10th century, dragons and snakes were carved in the gems’ surfaces to increase the flow of money and power to their owners. A common belief was that dreaming of rubies meant the coming of success in business and money matters. Rubies were also used to capture a mate and light the passion of romance. The gem was believed to have the magical powers of sexual fire and success in love. It has also been said by ancient lore to be capable of reconciling lovers’ quarrels.
When combined with gold and worn on the body, it is said that rubies can cause the body to rejuvenate and absorb energy from the sun to heal all types of body sickness and skin afflictions. It is believed that it should be worn with gold to banish sadness and bring joy.
Given as a symbol of success, devotion and integrity, the ruby is July’s birthstone and the traditional gift for 15th and 40th wedding anniversaries. Rubies have symbolized passion and romance for centuries, so when placed in engagement rings, they express unbridled love and promise of the heart.
An ancient Persian legend states the Earth rests on a gigantic sapphire that gives its blue reflection to the sky. The most popular colors for sapphires range from light blue to a blue that appears black. Hence, the name was derived from the Latin form of the Greek word for blue, “sapphirus.” Bright daylight makes most sapphires shine more vividly than the somewhat muted artificial light. So the most highly cherished color for blue sapphires is not the darkest blue, but a deep and satiated blue, which even in dim, artificial light remains to appear blue.
While sapphires are best known for being velvety blue, it was decided long ago to consider all gemstones of the mineral family corundum to be sapphires. Non-blue sapphires are termed “fancy” and can be nearly any color, including yellow, green, white/colorless, pink, orange, brown, purple, golden and even black. Red corundum is the exception, however, and was given the special name of “ruby.” Since pink is really just a light red, the International Colored Gemstone Association has resolved to consider light shades of the red hue to be included in the category ruby, as it is too difficult to legislate where red ends and pink begins. In practice, however, pink shades of corundum are known as either pink ruby or pink sapphire. All sapphires rank a 9.0 on the Mohs Scale, second only to diamonds in hardness.
There are a great number of varieties of sapphire, many of which are quite rare and highly sought-after in the gemstone market. A rare orange-pink variety, known as padparadscha, can be even more valuable than blue sapphire. Pronounced PAD-PA-RAD-SHAH, the name comes from the Sinhalese word for lotus blossom. Endowed with both pink and orange color components, its hues range from pastels to fiery shades. Padparadscha sapphires are usually heat treated to improve and intensify their color, while the color of untreated stones will fade over time. An untreated padparadscha sapphire that has faded will return to its original pinkish-orange color, however, if exposed to sunlight for about an hour.
Another rare variety of sapphire is known as the color-changing sapphire. This stone exhibits different colors in different light. In natural light, color-changing sapphire is blue, but in artificial light, it is violet.
For experts and connoisseurs, the Kashmir-color is considered the most beautiful and valuable shade. It features a pure and intensive blue, which is enhanced by a fine, silky gloss. Its color does not change in artificial light, but remains intense with a deep, velvety sheen. Setting the standard for the color of top-quality sapphires, Kashmir sapphires were found in 1880 after an avalanche. They were intensely mined for only eight years until the source was depleted. The Burma-color is also considered especially valuable, ranging from rich royal blue to deep cornflower blue. Ceylon sapphires are prized as well for the luminosity and brilliance of their light to medium blue color.
There is a translucent variety of sapphire, called star sapphire, which displays a six-point star when cut into a smooth domed cabochon. The mineral rutile is embedded in an asterisk-shape within the stone, causing light to reflect in a phenomenon called “asterism.” Six- or twelve-ray stars appear to magically glide across the surface of the stones as they are moved. Star sapphires and rubies are expensive rarities and should always display the stars exactly in the center of the gem. Value is influenced by the intensity of the body color and the strength and sharpness of the star. The star stone is said to be the home of each person’s angel, who lives there in contentment with the sapphire’s spirit.
The stone is mined in many parts of the world. The oldest sapphire mines are situated in Ceylon, today called Sri Lanka, where gemstones were mined in ancient times. Most blue sapphires today come from Thailand or Australia, but sapphires from Kashmir and Myanmar (formerly Burma) are considered the most rare and highly prized. Sapphires are readily available in sizes of up to 2.00ct, but gems weighing 5.00-10.00ct are not unusual. The cushion-cut Logan Sapphire from Sri Lanka weighs an astounding 423.00ct and can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. There is also a 258.00ct stone set in the Russian crown, which is kept in the Diamond Fund in Moscow.
Because the gem has long symbolized sincere love and enduring faithfulness, blue sapphires are often given in engagement rings to express commitment and loyalty. Many women throughout the world decide on the blue stone for their engagement rings, as the gem also represents truth, friendship, harmony and consistency. Sapphire blue has become a color related to anything permanent and reliable, making it an ideal stone to symbolize the promise of marriage.
Often referred to as “Gem of the Heavens,” sapphire also symbolizes a noble soul. It is September’s birthstone and is traditionally given as 5th and 45th wedding anniversary gifts. Star sapphires are given for the 65th anniversary. The color sapphire-blue is known for representing clarity and competence. In fact, the first computer to ever declare victory over a chess grandmaster and world champion was named “Deep Blue.”
Sapphires have been associated with magical powers throughout the ages. The Greeks identified white sapphires with Apollo and the oracles at Delphi used them to tap into the subconscious and super conscious. During the Middle Ages, sapphires symbolized the tranquility of the heavens and wearing them was thought to bring peace, happiness and purity of the soul. The color blue became the symbol of the union between a priest and the heavens, so sapphires came to be adorned on the rings of bishops. Soldiers wore them to prevent capture by enemies and kings wore the gemstone to defend against harm and put themselves in divine favor. This supposed “divine favor” is why sapphires were often the gemstone of choice for high priests and royalty throughout history. In fact, the British Crown Jewels contain a number of notable sapphires.
Today, sapphires are still believed to hold special powers. The stone is said to provide healing properties for mental illness and depression. It can be considered an aid to psycho kinesis, telepathy and clairvoyance, while providing spiritual enlightenment and inner peace. White sapphires, like diamonds, are considered the guardians of love, enhancing it and ensuring fidelity in marriage. The most powerful type of the gem is said to be the star sapphire. They are believed to protect against negative energy and have a calming effect that allows the mind to experience tranquility, joy and clear thinking.
Zircon often suffers for its name’s similarity to “cubic zirconia,” the simulated diamond. The stone zircon, however, is actually a beautiful natural gemstone. It is named from the Persian word “zargun,” meaning “gold-colored.” This is despite the fact that it comes in a wide range of rainbow colors. The majority of zircons are brown or yellow-brown, while pure red and green are the most valuable colors. The yellow-red to reddish-brown variety is called “hyacinth.”
For many years, the most popular type of zircon was the colorless variety. More than any other natural stone, colorless zircons produce a brilliant sparkle similar to diamonds. The most popular color today tends to be the bright pastel blue variety. Sometimes called “starlite,” blue zircon has recently become considered an alternative birthstone for December.
Zircon is one of the heaviest gemstones, meaning that it will look smaller than other varieties of the same weight. It ranks a hardness between 6.5-7.5 on the Mohs Scale and is mined in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar and Australia.
Travelers during the 11th century wore zircon amulets for protection and to encourage welcome greetings on their journeys. In the Middle Ages, the stone was said to bring wisdom and prosperity to its owner. Hindu mythology even mentions the gem when referencing the Kalpa Tree, which was a glowing tree covered with gemstone fruit and leaves of zircon.