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.
Named from the French word for lemon, “citron,” citrine is a variety of quartz available in a range of golden hues from lemon, to straw, to sun yellow, to deep gold, to orange, brown and deep red. Darker colors are more highly valued, including the medium golden-orange and dark-sherry colors, sometimes called Madeira citrine after the color of the wine.
Citrine crystals can form together with amethyst to form ametrine, or with smoky quartz to form bicolored quartz. Citrine is generally less expensive than amethyst, and is also available in a wide range of calibrated sizes and shapes, including very large sizes. Considered an alternative to topaz as the birthstone for November, it is also thought to be the traditional gift for couples celebrating their 13 th and 17 th wedding anniversaries. Citrine ranks a 7.0 on the Mohs Scale, and because of this durability, it is ideal for jewelry wear.
Citrine is found in volcanic rocks and quartz veins and owes its color to the presence of iron. Most citrine is mined in Brazil, but almost all of the Brazilian material is heat-treated amethyst. Supplies are most plentiful in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, particularly from the Serra Mine. The Ira' Mine also produces large quantities of the gem. Citrine can also be found in the Ural Mountains of Russia, in Dauphine, France, and in Madagascar.
In ancient times, citrine was carried as a protection against snake venom and evil thoughts. It was thought to give calmness and mental balance to its wearer. Throughout history, people have confused citrine for topaz. Many citrines were sold as topaz and thus thought to carry the same qualities, such as knowledge and beauty. Today, citrine symbolizes truth and integrity, and is believed to promote creativity and personal clarity. It is also believed to impart happiness and cheer to its wearer while raising self esteem, as well as cleanse, regenerate and attract abundance.
Often referred to as a gift from the sea, pearl's origin has been an object of folklore throughout history. Early Chinese myths told of pearls falling from the sky when dragons fought. Ancient Persian legend said that pearls were tears of the gods. In classical times, it was believed that pearls were formed when moonbeams lit upon shellfish, while Indian mythology suggested pearls were formed when dewdrops fell from the heavens into the sea.
In truth, pearls are lustrous gems with an organic origin. They are formed inside mollusks such as oysters, clams and mussels when an irritant such as a tiny stone, grain of sand or small parasite enters the mollusk's shell. To protect its soft inner body, the mollusk secretes a smooth, lustrous substance called nacre around the foreign object. Layer upon layer of nacre coats the irritant and hardens, ultimately forming a pearl.
This process of building a solid pearl can take up to seven or eight years. Generally, the thicker the nacre becomes, the richer the "glow" of the pearl and greater its value. While pearls that have formed on the inside of the shell (called blister pearls) are usually irregular in shape and have little commercial value, those that are formed within the tissue of the mollusk are either spherical or pear-shaped and are highly sought-after for jewelry. Most pearls on the market measure 7.0-7.5mm in diameter, but can be found as small as 1mm or as large as 20mm.
Although some pearls are found naturally in mollusks (considered the most valuable), the vast majority of pearls are grown, or cultured, on pearl farms. To instigate this culturing process, a small shell bead, or nucleus, is surgically inserted into the mantle of an oyster. Despite the fact that pearls are harvested in great quantities on pearl farms, producing a quality pearl is an extremely rare event. It is estimated that half of all nucleated oysters do not survive and, from those that do, only 20 percent create marketable pearls.
Since nacre is organic, pearls are quite "soft" and rank only a 2.5-4.5 on the Mohs Scale. The gems are very sensitive and special care should be taken when wearing and storing them.
The value of a pearl is judged by several factors and high-quality pearl strands should feature pearls well-matched in these factors: orient, the lustrous iridescence that's produced when light is reflected from the nacre, should glow with a soft brilliance; the nacre's texture should be clean and smooth, absent of spots, bumps or cracks; the shape of a pearl should be symmetrical and generally the rounder a pearl is, the higher its value; and although pearls come in many different colors (depending on the environment and species of mollusk), the most favored are those that have a rose-tinted hue.
Pearls are cultured in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Akoya pearls are the classic round pearls found in most pearl jewelry. They are mainly grown in the waters off Japan and are found in a range of hues, including white, cream, pink and peach. Mabe pearls are grown in Japan, Indonesia, French Polynesia and Australia. They are usually flat-backed and often called blister pearls because they form against the inside shells of oysters rather than within oysters' bodies. Tahitian pearls are grown in French Polynesia and come in a range of colors, including grey and black with green, purple or rose overtones. Because of their large size and unique dark colors, they command very high prices. Also prized for their large size, white South Sea pearls are grown in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and other areas of the South Pacific.
Freshwater pearls come in various colors and are grown in bays, lakes and rivers primarily in Japan, China, Europe and the United States (Mississippi River). They are often irregularly shaped and less lustrous than saltwater cultured pearls, making them substantially less expensive. Types of freshwater pearls include Biwa pearls from Lake Biwa in Japan, irregularly shaped baroque pearls and the exceptionally small seed pearls.
Pearls that develop within the soft tissue of mollusks encounter little resistance and therefore grow to be round or "regular" in shape. However, pearls that become lodged in the muscular tissue of shellfish experience resistance, so they free-form into irregular, unusual shapes. These "Baroque" pearls are asymmetrical and are world-renowned for their naturally unique beauty. Baroque pearls were especially prized by jewelers during the Renaissance.
In China, cultured pearls come mainly from freshwater rivers and ponds, whereas Japan is famous for culturing pearls along their saltwater coasts. Black pearls can be found in the Gulf of Mexico and in waters off some islands in the Pacific Ocean. In the warmer waters of the South Pacific, larger oysters produce South Sea cultured pearls and Tahitian black cultured pearls. Cultured pearl industries are also carried out in Australia and equatorial islands of the Pacific. For thousands of years, natural pearls have been harvested from the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the coasts of India and Sri Lanka. Natural saltwater pearls are also found in the waters off Indonesia, the Gulf of California and the Pacific coast of Mexico.
Pearls have been treasured throughout ancient folklore and history. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, considered pearls to be sacred. The Greeks prized the gems for their beauty and believed wearing pearls would promote marital bliss and prevent newlywed women from crying. In ancient Rome, pearls were considered the ultimate symbol of wealth and status. The ancient Egyptians were buried with them and Cleopatra favored pearls immensely. It is said that while dining with Mark Anthony, she purposely dropped a pearl into her drink to demonstrate the wealth of her rule.
Today, the pearl is a universal symbol of innocence and purity. It is the birthstone for June and is considered the traditional gift for couples celebrating their 3rd and 30th wedding anniversaries. Many believe the gem gives wisdom through experience, quickens the laws of karma and cements engagements and love relationships. It is also considered to offer the powers of wealth, protection and luck.
The largest pearl in the world is approximately 3" x 2", weighing one-third of a pound. Called the Pearl of Asia, it was a gift from India's Shah Jahan to his favorite wife, for whom he also built the Taj Mahal. Another famous pearl is called "La Peregrina," or "The Wanderer," and is considered to be the most beautiful pearl in the world. Pear-shaped and 1-1/2" in length, it is said that 400 years ago the pearl was found by a slave in Panama, who gave it up in return for his freedom. The pearl turned up in 1969 at a New York auction house. It was purchased by actor Richard Burton for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.
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 2 nd 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 and release stress. 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.
Tourmalinated quartz is a clear form of quartz with silver-tone filaments and threads of black tourmaline running through it. Because tourmalinated quartz is a combination of quartz and tourmaline, it has influences and characteristics of both these gems.
All quartz rock that is absent of color is deemed rock crystal. This category of quartz has the clarity of pure water, without as much as a hint of pigment. While this colorless quartz is too common to be considered a precious gemstone, it is still beautiful, as well as affordable. Rock crystal is commonly used in decorative carvings, figurines and chandeliers. It is also easy to cut, making it well suited in the creation of eye-catching jewelry.
Phantom quartz is a variety of quartz which, over the course of millions of years, forms over existing rock crystals. It takes its name from the particular structure of the trigonal crystals that form within its shape, known as the phantom. Found mostly in Austria, Brazil, Madagascar, Switzerland and the United States, phantom quartz can also be found in smoky quartz, citrines and amethysts. These phantoms, or the inner crystals, are usually composed of other minerals such as chlorite, goethite, hematite or even other kinds of quartz like the smoky and milky quartz.
Mention of phantom quartz is found in 2000-year-old texts where it was believed to have formed on ice hidden in dark caverns for millions of years. This ice, when exposed to extreme cold, got encased with the quartz, thus trapping the phantom within. Perhaps because of their elusive beginnings, phantom quartz are sometimes referred to as ghost crystals, specter crystals or even shadow crystals.
Earring Back Types
Butterfly Back: A double looped piece resembling a butterfly that fits over a post. Variations on this design are called push back clasps. The basic post and butterfly back are usually used for stud earrings and lighter weight drop earrings.
Hinged Snap Backs: This clasp features a hinged post that snaps into a groove on the back of the earring. It is commonly found on hoops. Sometimes the hinged post is curved to provide more room to fit around the ear, sometimes called a saddleback.
Hook Backs: This earring backing is simply a long, bent post that fits through the piercing. Hooks have several variations, most notably the shepherd's hook and the French hook. While thin wire hooks reduce the weight of long earrings, making them more comfortable, they aren't as secure as other clasp styles.
Lever Back: A hinged lever snaps shut against the curved post to form a closed loop around the ear lobe. This clasp is very secure and good for large or medium sized styles that drop just below the ear.
Omega: Also called French clips, this clasp has a straight post and a looped lever. The hinged lever closes around the post and is held against the ear with pressure. The omega clasp is the most secure clasp, especially for the larger, heavier earrings.
Screw back: This backing is a slight variation of the standard post and butterfly nut back. Instead of pushing on the back, the nut twists onto the threaded post. A screw back post design is often preferred for expensive diamond stud earrings that require increased security.