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.”
Finishes on Sterling Silver
Finishing, or plating, is a common treatment with sterling silver. Popular types of plating are rhodium plating, gold plating and anti-tarnish plating. Plating is used to extend the life and sheen of the jewelry. After sizing or buffing a piece of jewelry with a machine, it must be re-plated to restore the finish.
Caring for Sterling Silver
Sterling silver becomes tarnished as the result of a natural chemical process that occurs when sterling silver is exposed to chemicals in the air, rubber, wool and latex. Humidity also plays a role in accelerating tarnishing. It's easy to keep your sterling silver sparkling, though, by taking a few steps to prevent tarnish and other wear and tear.
Gold's softness and malleability make it a wonderful metal to work with when creating virtually any design in jewelry. But this softness can be a drawback as well. To make it stronger and more durable, gold is usually alloyed, or mixed, with other metals such as copper or silver. The higher a metal's percentage of gold content, the softer and more yellow the jewelry piece. The karat weight system used to measure gold in a piece is the same for all hues, including white and yellow gold.
The word “carat” is Arabic, meaning “bean seed.” This is because historically seeds were used to measure weights of gold and precious stones. In the United States, “karat” with a “k” is used to measure gold's purity, while “carat” with a “c” is used in measuring a gemstone's size. The karat mark of gold represents the percentage of pure gold to alloy.
In order to determine the karat weight of a specific item, simply look for the quality mark. Jewelry items will bear the stamp of their karatage based upon the United States or European system of marking. The United States system designates pieces by their karats—24K, 18K, 14K, 10K, etc. The European system designates pieces by their percentage of gold content. For instance, 10K gold is marked “417,” denoting 41.7% gold; 14K is marked “585,” denoting 58.5% gold; and 18K is marked “750,” denoting 75% gold; etc.
By far the most common color of gold used in jewelry, yellow gold is gold in its natural shade. Yellow gold is usually alloyed with copper and silver to increase the strength of the metal. How yellow the metal is depends upon the content of gold. A 14-karat piece of jewelry will have a brighter yellow hue than a 10-karat piece. Likewise, an 18-karat piece of jewelry will have a deeper yellow than 14-karat gold, and so on.
Rose or Pink Gold
Although gold is most often thought of as having a soft, yellow glow, the metal is available in an entire spectrum of different hues. The different colors of gold depend upon with which metals the gold is alloyed, or mixed.
Rose or pink-colored gold can be created by alloying copper with yellow gold. This hue of gold tends to have a pink, bluish tint that complements many skin tones.Cubic zirconia is the most readily available, inexpensive and brilliant simulated diamond on the market today. Cubic zirconia does occur naturally in small quantities, but all of the cubic zirconia on the market is produced in a laboratory.
On the Mohs Scale, which measures the hardness of minerals, cubic zirconia is an 8.0 to 8.5. It is important to understand that hardness is not necessarily related to durability. Even though diamond is the hardest mineral (10.0 on the Mohs Scale), it can still be chipped or broken.
The only ways to tell the difference between cubic zirconia and diamond are by use of a thermal probe, by weighing the loose stone or by microscopic examination of surface features and inclusions. Cubic zirconia weighs approximately 65% more than diamond. Therefore, while a 6.25 mm round diamond weighs about 1.00 carat, the same size cubic zirconia weighs about 1.65 carats. If you know the weight of a cubic zirconia, you can figure out the diamond weight equivalent by multiplying the cubic zirconia weight by 0.6, or 60%.
Few natural diamonds on the market today are perfectly cut, and those that are cost much more than the usual diamond. Unleashing the fire, beauty and brilliance of a stone depends on its precise cut. Simulated diamonds are an excellent balance between quality, beauty and price.
Brilliance: The white light leaving a jewel, traveling upward, which is visible to the eye. Brilliance is sometimes referred to as “sparkle.”
Dispersion: Flashes of rainbow colors. Also called “fire.”
Hardness: Resistance to scratching. The higher the number, the more resistant.
Luster: The shininess of a jewel.
Toughness: Resistance to breakage.