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All weights pertaining to gemstones, including diamonds, are minimum weights. Additionally, please note that many gemstones are treated to enhance their beauty. View Gemstone Enhancements and Special Care Requirements for important information.
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.
Onyx is a variety of chalcedony quartz that features a fine texture with a smooth black color. Some onyx can display white bands or ribbons against black or brown backgrounds. The bands that move through the stone run parallel and onyx is therefore sometimes known as zebra agate. Mined in Brazil, India, California and Uruguay, most onyx today is color-enhanced to increase its depth of color. It ranks a 6.5 on the Mohs Scale and is an ideal stone for carving. In fact, it is a favorite material of lapidary artists.
Onyx was very popular with the ancient Greeks and Romans. The name comes from the Greek word "onux" which means fingernail. Legend says that one day frisky Cupid cut the divine fingernails of Venus with an arrowhead while she was sleeping. He left the clippings scattered on the sand and the fates turned them into stone so that no part of her heavenly body would ever perish. In Greek times, almost all colors of chalcedony were called onyx. Later, the Romans narrowed the term to refer to only the black and dark brown colors, while the reddish brown and white onyx became known as sardonyx. Highly valued in Rome, sardonyx was especially used for seals because it was said to never stick to the wax. Roman General Publius Cornelius Scipio was famous for wearing sardonyx.
Worn during mourning in the Victorian age, onyx is now traditionally given as a 7th wedding anniversary gift. It is thought to increase happiness, self-control, courage, intuition and instincts. The stone is also believed to cool the yearnings of love and decrease sexual desire.
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.
Amber is fossilized resin from ancient plants, especially coniferous trees. Tens of millions of years ago, if the conditions were right, this sticky resin would become encased in earth and gradually become fossilized. Resin that has not completely fossilized is called copal.
Sometimes leaves, bits of wood, and even the whole bodies of insects would be trapped along with the resin. Pieces of amber with the intact remains of ancient insects or other small organisms are rare and highly valued. More than 1,000 extinct species have been identified in amber.
Jewelry and History
Amber is translucent and range in color from dark brown to a light lemon yellow. It is very soft, with a hardness of 2.5 on the Mohs Scale, and it can be scratched easily. Jewelry with amber cabochons should be worn with care to prevent damage to the stones.
Amber has been used as jewelry for thousands of years. Homer mentions amber jewelry—earrings and a necklace of amber beads—as a princely gift in The Odyssey. Amber can be burned, and this produces a strong aroma the ancient Germans used as incense; they called it bernstein, or “burn stone.” Clear, colorless amber was considered the best material for rosary beads in the Middle Ages due to its smooth, silky feel.
Today, two main sources of amber are the Baltic Sea and the Dominican Republic. Amber from the Baltic states is older, but amber from the Dominican Republic is more likely to have insect inclusions.
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.