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.
Amethyst, the most precious member of the quartz family, exhibits purple shades ranging from pale lilac to deep purple, sometimes exhibiting reddish or rose overtones. Very deep-colored amethysts are the finest and most highly valued. Some stones are so over-saturated with color they have areas that are blacked out, which can negatively impact their value. Paler shades, sometimes called "Rose of France," were common in Victorian jewelry. Banding—darker and lighter zones of color—is also a common occurrence. Occasionally, amethyst is even found combined with its sister quartz, citrine, into a single stone called ametrine.
The birthstone for February, amethyst is an extremely popular gem for jewelry because of its regal color, variety of sizes and shapes, affordability and wide range of hues. It also is the recommended gem for couples celebrating their 6th and 17th wedding anniversaries. With a hardness of 7.0 on the Mohs Scale , amethyst can occur as long prismatic crystals that have six-sided pyramids at either end, or can form as drusies that are crystalline crusts that only show the pointed terminations.
The ancient Greeks believed that amethyst made one immune to the effects of alcohol. In fact, the name even comes from the Greek word amethystos, which means “not drunken.” Legend has it that the amethyst originated from Bacchus, the god of wine. Bacchus became angry at the mortals and vowed that the next mortal to cross his path would be eaten by tigers. Amethyst, a beautiful young maiden, was on her way to worship the goddess, Diana. Diana turned her into colorless quartz to keep her from being eaten. Bacchus observed the miracle and repented his hasty decision. He poured wine over the young maiden, leaving her feet and legs colorless. This is the reason that amethyst crystals are usually uneven in color and have a colorless base at the bottom. Because amethyst was believed to prevent drunkenness, wine goblets were often carved from it in ancient Greece. Today, the gem still symbolizes sobriety.
Amethyst has been a part of history throughout the ages. Evidence suggests that prehistoric humans used amethysts for decoration as early as 25,000 B.C. Legends suggest that the Egyptian queen Cleopatra wore an amethyst signet ring, as did Saint Valentine, who bared an amethyst engraved with the figure of Cupid. During medieval times, people used the stone as medication to stay awake and alert. Leonardo Da Vinci claimed that amethyst could dissipate evil thoughts and quicken the intelligence. In some legends, the stone represents piety, celibacy and dignity. In the Middle Ages, for instance, the gem was an important ornamentation for the Catholic Church and other religions. It was considered the stone of bishops, and they still often wear amethyst rings. In Tibet, amethyst is considered sacred to Buddha and rosaries are often made from it. Amethyst has also long been a favorite of kings and queens for its royal purple hues that symbolize wisdom, strength and confidence. Amethysts are even featured in the British Crown Jewels and were worn by Catherine the Great.
Amethyst’s availability and magical qualities make it the stone of preference in ancient lore and mysticism. As a meditation stone, it is said to quiet the mind, promote contemplation, sharpen psychic powers and uplift the spirit. It is a stone of deep wisdom. Folklore says it can quicken the wit, calm fears, ward off anger and overcome alcoholism. It has a royal purple essence that is said to lend courage to travelers, scare off thieves and protect travelers from harm, sickness and danger. Placed under the pillow or worn to bed, there are claims it promotes peaceful sleep, pleasant dreams, and the healing of tired joints and muscles. Amethyst can also be worn to supposedly make the wearer gentle, amiable and happy.
The stone is mined in Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia and Argentina, as well as in Zambia, Namibia and other African nations. Very dark amethyst in small sizes also is mined in Australia. But the ideal for fine quality amethyst was set by a Siberian variety, often called Russian or Uralian amethyst, which is now considered a defunct source. Generally, South American amethyst tends to come in larger sizes than African amethyst, but the African variety has a reputation for having deeper color intensity and is therefore considered more valuable. The African version also is harder to come by than amethyst mined from South America. Most of today's amethyst comes out of Brazil.
With its uniquely mystical appearance, quartz was the “rock crystal” used in ancient times to make crystal balls. It was believed to attract energy and is still considered to be spiritual today. The gemstone was once believed to be a compact form of ice. In fact, the Greeks originally named quartz “krystallos,” meaning ice, but this terminology soon applied to any type of crystal.
Often identified by its six-sided prism shape, quartz is the most common mineral on Earth, found in nearly every environment throughout the globe. With a ranking of 7.0 on the Mohs Scale, it is a component of almost every rock type and occurs in virtually every color imaginable. Quartz has a great amount varieties that are well-known by other names, including amethyst, citrine, ametrine, rock crystal, agate, druzy, chalcedony, tigers eye and many more. There are also several varieties that hold the name “quartz,” including rose quartz, smokey quartz and rutilated quartz.
The pale pink color of quartz is known as rose quartz, the traditional gift for couples celebrating their 2nd anniversary. It is a delicate powder pink color that ranges from transparent to translucent. Transparent rose quartz is quite rare and is usually so pale that it does not show much color, except in large sizes. The translucent quality of rose quartz is much more common and is used for jewelry and carvings.
Rose quartz is probably one of the most prized stones for its mystical properties. Known as the “Heart Stone,” it is believed to have incredible powers to balance emotions and open the heart. Folklore says rose quartz can comfort brokenhearted people, bringing healing and clarity to the heart and allowing the wearer to learn to trust again. The stone is also said to foster happiness and the joy of life by bringing about contentment in love and filling one with optimism, tenderness and gentleness.
In addition to helping with romantic love, rose quartz is believed to enhance all other forms of love as well, including self-love, platonic and maternal. Its loving, nurturing energy is said to take away fears, resentment and anger and replace them with feelings of higher self-esteem and confidence. This soothing stone is also thought to balance emotions and heal emotional wounds. It is said to be especially powerful in times of stress or loss, bringing peace and calm to the wearer.
Ranging in color from nearly black to smoky brown, smoky quartz is transparent and owes its warm earthen hue to exposure to natural radioactivity. Care must be taken since its rich color will fade in the sun. Spelled either “smoky” or “smokey,” this variety of quartz is often incorrectly called “smoky topaz.”
Smoky quartz is believed to help dissolve negative energy, release stress and relieve depression. It is said to be a mild sedative with a relaxing effect that calms, soothes and restores balance and harmony. Folklore says the gem can embrace dark areas with light and love and therefore clear and cleanse the body both physically and emotionally. Smoky quartz is thought to be a warm, friendly and down-to-earth gem.
Rutilated quartz is a type of transparent rock crystal that contains long, fine needles of rutile crystals (titanium dioxide). These highly valued inclusions form a landscape of shining gold needles in an array of patterns that is breathtakingly beautiful. These golden inclusions are also known as Venus hair, Cupid’s darts and fleches d’amour (“arrows of love”). There is a less well-known variety called tourmalinated quartz that, instead of golden rutile, forms black or dark green tourmaline crystals.
Although rutilated quartz is usually cut as a cabochon, it can be a difficult stone to attain a smooth surface without pits. This is because rutile ranks a 6.0 on the Mohs Scale, while quartz ranks 7.0. The difference in hardness between the two materials, and because of the way rutile forms inside, causes problems when cutting. Each final cut piece is unique, with no two being exactly alike. Modern folklore says rutilated quartz brings forth each person's strengths, originality and ability to relate to others.
Lapis is a strong blue microcrystalline rock composed primarily of the mineral lazurite. Its value decreases with the presence of white patches called calcite, while small veins of golden pyrite inclusions are often prized. Top quality lapis lazuli comes from Afghanistan, but small quantities are also found in Siberia, Chile, the United States, Pakistan and Canada. It is one of the most valuable semi-opaque stones and is a relatively soft gem, ranking 5.0-5.5 on the Mohs Scale .
First mined in Afghanistan in 6000 B.C., lapis lazuli was used to heal eye maladies and was thought to help one acquire wisdom and serenity. The Romans believed it was a powerful aphrodisiac, while the Egyptians used lapis for cosmetic purposes and often carved it into vases and figurines. The ancient city of Ur had a thriving trade in lapis lazuli as early as the fourth millennium B.C. The name comes from the Latin word “lapis,” meaning stone, and from the Arabic word “azul,” meaning blue.
In the Middle Ages, lapis was thought to free the soul from error, envy and fear. Used by artists during the Renaissance, ground lapis created a beautiful blue pigment for paintings. The stone was inlaid in the columns of St. Issac's Cathedral and the panels of the Pushkin Palace, both in Petersburg. Today, lapis lazuli is traditionally given as a 9th wedding anniversary gift. It is believed to free the wearer of melancholy and strengthen total awareness, creativity and ESP.
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.
Carnelian, also spelled cornelian, ranges in color from light brownish-red, to dark reddish-orange, to deep transparent red, to bright orange. The rich color is due to the iron content and can be placed in the sun to change brown tints to red. A translucent to opaque stone, carnelian is moderately hard with a hardness of 6.5-7.0 on the Mohs Scale. This relatively inexpensive gem features great warmth and beauty and is often found as engraved cameos in antique jewelry. It is the stone of happiness and harmony in love.
Some of the oldest examples of jewelry contain carnelian and it has been featured in nearly every great civilization. The greatest myths surrounding the stone come from the Egyptian culture. At an excavation site in Ur, archaeologists uncovered the tomb of Pu-Abi, a Sumerian Queen from the third millennium, B.C. She wore a robe that contained carnelian, along with other precious and semi-precious materials. Ancient Egyptian tombs are full of examples of carnelian jewels because of the Egyptians’ belief in the stone’s power in the afterlife. According to their system, the Egyptian goddess Isis used amulets of carnelian to ensure a soul’s safe passage into the next world. The Egyptians so revered the power of the stone that it was one of three used most often in their jewelry, along with turquoise and lapis lazuli. Carnelian was a symbol of life in Pharaonic Egypt, and adorns the precious funerary pectoral of Tutankhamon.
Because carnelian has been revered for its healing, spiritual and creative qualities, Buddhists in China and India created amulets inlaid with carnelian and other semi-precious stones, ascribing to them powers of protection and utilizing them for many rituals. To this day, Buddhists in China, India and Tibet believe in the protective powers of carnelian and often follow the Egyptian practice of setting the stone with turquoise and lapis lazuli for enhanced power. The stone also appears in the Bible as one of the stones included on Aaron’s breastplate.
Carnelian has been recommended as an aid for anyone having a weak voice or being reluctant to speak. The belief was that carrying or wearing carnelian would give the person courage both to speak boldly and loudly. In fact, Napoleon is recorded to have carried one he found in Egypt and to have had faith in it as a talisman. Perhaps he followed the belief reported by Merrill: “The wearing of carnelian insured victory in all contests save those of love.”
Carnelian is a form of chalcedony, which is the microcrystalline form of quartz. Because quartz is the most common crystal on Earth, deposits of carnelian are found throughout the world. The most famous sites are in India, Brazil, Uruguay and Japan. The deposits are usually found in the lower temperature and lower pressure zones near the Earth’s surface, but the best carnelian is found in India.