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.
A symbol of strength and intelligence, topaz derives its name from Topazios, an island in the Red Sea that is known today as Zabargad. The Greek word “topazios” means “to seek,” since the island was covered with a thick fog and difficult to find. Gemstones found on the island were called topaz, although the stones were eventually found to actually be peridot. The real gem of topaz is found throughout the world, with different occurrences producing specific colors.
Brown, yellow, orange and red topaz are found in Brazil, Sri Lanka and Siberia. Most brownish topaz is heated to produce a permanent and glamorous pink color. Following the discovery of pink topaz in Russia during the 19th century, Imperial topaz was found. Featuring a sherry red, deep pink or reddish-orange color, the gem was so coveted that its ownership was restricted to the Czar, his family and those who received it as a royal gift. Today, Imperial shades are the most rare and, therefore, the most valuable.
Blue topaz is rarely found in nature and is most often created through a combination of heat treatment and irradiation. It is found in Brazil, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and China. Topaz is often colorless, too, and can be found in the United States, Mexico, Russia and Pakistan. In 1998, a new type of enhanced topaz made its appearance with a greenish-blue or emerald green color. All colors of topaz rank an 8.0 on the Mohs Scale of hardness.
Yellow topaz is November’s birthstone and blue topaz is December’s birthstone. Blue topaz is also the traditional gift for 4th and 19th wedding anniversaries, while Imperial topaz is celebrated as a 23rd anniversary gift. Perhaps the most famous topaz is a large, colorless stone known as the Braganza. It was discovered in Brazil in 1740 and was originally thought to be a priceless diamond. Today, the giant 1,680.00ct stone is set in the Portuguese Crown.
The mystery and allure of topaz goes back thousands of years. To the ancients, it was a symbol of love and affection and was thought to ward off sudden death. The Romans associated topaz with Jupiter, the god of the sun. The Greeks called it the Stone of Strength, believing it had the power to increase strength and make its wearer invisible in times of emergency. The Egyptians said the gem was colored with the golden glow of the sun god, Ra, making topaz a powerful amulet that protected its wearer against harm.
Topaz’s mystical curative powers were believed to wax and wane with the phases of the moon. The gem was said to change color in the presence of poisoned food or drink and falcons were carved on the stones to help earn the goodwill of kings and magnates. During the spread of the Bubonic plague in 1347-1400, the clergy touched topaz to people’s sores. Also in medieval times, the gem was thought to prevent death and heal physical and mental disorders. The stones were ground into powder and added to wine to prevent asthma and insomnia.
Today, topaz is said to be the gem that has the widest range of curative powers. It is believed to dispel enchantment, improve eyesight and protect against negative emotions such as depression, anger, fear, greed and envy. Its properties are supposedly enhanced when the gem is mounted in gold. Because of this association with gold, topaz is used to bring or enhance the wearer’s money-gathering abilities and has long been used in money and wealth rituals.
Wearing topaz is said to improve and deepen relationships, promote patience, ensure fidelity and enhance the ability to love. The gem is also believed to bring friendship, intelligence, long life, beauty and a pleasant disposition.
No other gemstone discovery has made a bigger impact on the jewelry market than the recent newcomer, tanzanite. In 1998 and 1999, it was proclaimed the number one colored stone sold worldwide. Its luscious color, and the fact that the stone is found in only one location throughout the world, makes tanzanite an exceptionally rare, valuable and highly sought-after gem.
Tanzanite’s mesmerizing saturation of color is what has made the stone so popular. It is the blue variety of the mineral zoisite and occurs in a beautiful range of colors. Rarely pure blue, the gem almost always displays signature overtones of purple. In smaller sizes, it tends toward light tones such as lavender, while in larger sizes, the gem typically displays deeper, richer blues and purples. The finest quality tanzanite is usually deep blue or violet, which is extremely spectacular in sizes above ten carats.
Tanzanite is pleochroic, meaning it shows the appearance of several colors in the same stone, depending on perspective. From different angles, the gem can appear blue, purple, yellow, grey or brown. Most rough crystals show a large proportion of brown shades, since tanzanite in its natural form is typically brown with red, orange, yellow or bronze hues.
Gem cutters may change this coloring by heating the stone to 500°C. This heat treatment releases the intense violet-blue colors for which the stone is famous. According to legend, the effect of heat on tanzanite was first discovered when brown zoisite crystals were caught on fire by a lightning strike. Local cattle herders noticed the beautiful blue crystals sparkling in the sun and picked them up, becoming the first tanzanite collectors.
The gem was first discovered near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in the Merelani Hills of east-African Tanzania in 1967. This breathtaking location is the only known mining site on Earth for tanzanite. Right after its discovery, New York jeweler Louis Comfort Tiffany was presented with the first stones. Knowing it was going to be a sensation, he recommended finding a new name for the gem, since the gemological denomination “blue zoisite” reminded him of the word “suicide.” Tiffany suggested the name tanzanite, derived from its place of occurrence, and the new name quickly became established on the market. Tiffany & Co introduced the stone to the public in a spectacular promotional campaign two years after it had been discovered. It was enthusiastically celebrated as the “Gemstone of the 20th Century.”
A noted 122.70ct faceted tanzanite dubbed the “Midnight Blue” is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1996, a 255.00ct tanzanite crystal was discovered near Arusha, but because of its many inclusions, it proved to be of little market value. Tanzanite ranks a hardness of 6.5-7.0 on the Mohs Scale and has become the traditional gift for couples celebrating their 24th anniversaries.
High-quality and larger-size tanzanites can be sold at extremely premium prices. Although demand for this beautiful gem continues to grow, supply shortages in recent years have hampered production and caused price fluctuations. In 1998, the weather phenomenon known as “El Nino” soaked Tanzania with heavy rains during what should have been the drought period. When the monsoons hit, the groundwater swells were high and caused devastating floods. Mines caved in and all hopes of finding additional tanzanite rough were swept away. As a result, shortages have created price hikes at retail throughout the world.
Because it is such a new gemstone, there is little folklore, superstitions or healing properties surrounding tanzanite. Some believe the stone helps people to be more practical, realistic and honest. It is thought to uplift and open the heart while helping one cope with change.