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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.
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.
Named by the Romans, who thought the gems were formed from moonlight, moonstones have a floating light effect called “adularescence.” They often have translucent grounds with silvery white or blue flashes. Moonstone almost seems magical with a ghostly, shimmering glow floating in a crystalline material. With a clarity range of transparent to translucent, the gem’s body color can range from colorless to gray, brown, yellow, orange, green or pink. The best moonstone has a blue sheen, perfect clarity and a colorless body color. One variety called “rainbow moonstone” has a sheen that features a variety of rainbow hues.
Moonstones are usually cut in smooth, domed cabochon shapes to maximize the effects of sheen and adularescence. Fine moonstone is already quite rare and becoming rarer. It is mined in Sri Lanka, India, Australia, Brazil, Canada and Kenya. Rainbow moonstone is also found in Madagascar.
Ancient Romans thought moonstones changed appearances with the phases of the moon. They also believed that an image of Diana, the goddess of the moon, could be seen in each stone. During the Middle Ages, people believed one could gaze into the gem, fall into a deep sleep, and see the future. Today the stone represents serenity, happiness and friendship. It is believed to be a stone of inner strength and is said to arouse passions. In Europe, moonstone is considered the birthstone for June, although in the United States, it shares that distinction with the pearl. It is traditionally given as a 13th wedding anniversary gift.
Labradorite is a beautiful mineral whose charm is not fully noticed and may be overlooked if not viewed from the proper position. Generally a gray to smoky black color, it displays a strong iridescence when cut correctly. In fact, labradorite’s value increases with the skill of the lapidary and strength of the iridescence. Ranking a 6.0-6.5 on Mohs Scale, its name is derived from Labrador, Canada, which is the main source of the stone. Modern folklore says that labradorite brings forth each person's strengths, originality and ability to relate to others.
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.
Tiger’s eye received its name because it has rich yellow and golden brown bands resembling an eye of a tiger. The stone is a common form of brown quartz that has parallel stripes and lustrous colors. It comes in various, luminous shades of light or dark brown due to iron oxides. Tiger’s eye has the property of chatoyancy, meaning that when cut into a cabochon, it can shine with only a small ray of light on its surface, much like the eyes of a cat.
Also called crocidolite cat’s-eye or African cat’s-eye, the gem has a hardness of 7.0 on the Mohs Scale. Its most important deposit is in South Africa, though it is also found in western Australia, Myanmar (formerly Burma), India and California. Tiger’s eye has recently become a modern anniversary gemstone for the 9 th year of marriage.
Roman soldiers wore tiger’s eye for protection in battle and the stone is said to enhance courage and bring physical strength. Tiger’s eye is also believed to offer protection during travel and dispel negative energies. The gem is said to strengthen confidence, willpower and convictions, which in turn help people to accomplish goals, increase wealth and achieve a joyful outlook. Tiger’s eye is thought to help people recognize their inner power, leading them to attain their dreams and bring passion and vitality to their lives.
Perhaps tiger’s eye’s greatest folklore is that it is believed to promote mental clarity and balance. The gem is said to focus the mind and teach people to see with the eye of the tiger, clearly and without illusion. It is believed that tiger’s eye’s soothing vibrations can generate a calming effect that diminishes unclear thinking. The stone’s subtle energies are thought to bring order, stability and discipline to life. Tiger’s eye is closely attuned to Earth energies, but its yellow highlights are linked to the sun. Because it is believed to be a bridge between Earth and sky, it is considered a tool for balance between the physical and the spiritual. As a link between Father Sky and Mother Earth, the stone’s influence is thought to be one of harmony between yin and yang.
The name apatite comes from a Greek word "apatos," meaning deception, which alludes to the mineral's similarity with other more valuable minerals such as olivine, peridot and beryl. It can be transparent to opaque, with color that is typically green but can also be yellow, blue, reddish brown, violet and colorless. This gem exhibits an unusual "partially dissolved" look similar to the look of previously sucked-on hard candy.
Apatite is widely distributed in all rock types, but is usually just found as small grains or fragments. Large and well-formed crystals, though, can be found in certain contact metamorphic rocks; but with a hardness of 5.0 on the Mohs Scale, the softness of apatite prevents wide distribution in the jewelry market. Apatite occurs generally in rather rough prismatic crystals, the largest being 4 inches long and 1 inch in diameter.
In most limestone quarries, careful search shows the presence of small prisms of bright green apatite in the limestone. Notable occurrences include Germany, Brazil, Russia, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Canada, East Africa, Sweden, Spain and Mexico.
Amazonite is a stone mined and worn by all of the great ancient civilizations like Egypt and Rome. It was believed that the leader of the Amazons, Hippolyta, had a belt fashioned from the green stones, hence the name Amazonite. This semi-opaque light green to blue-green stone is relatively limited in occurrence compared to other semi-precious gemstones. It is found in the United States, South America, Africa and Russia. Amazonite is a relatively soft stone, ranging from 5.0-6.0 on the Mohs Scale, and is somewhat mottled, often times containing light striations.
Folklore says that amazonite enhances creative expression, improves self-worth and brings unity with life.
Malachite is a stone that features light and dark green banded areas. Sleek and luxurious in texture, it contains natural black bands that vary from piece to piece, making it special and unique. Ancient Egyptians began mining it as early as 4000 BC! Malachite gems are found naturally combined with other minerals, such as chrysocolla. It's commonly found in Zaire, Russia, Germany, France, Chile, Australia and the southwestern United States. Considered the guardian stone of travelers, malachite is worn to detect danger and is believed to break into pieces when danger is near. Many believe malachite possesses the ability to calm the nerves. It is also known for creating peace, hope and success in business, as it can bring understanding and patience to those in its presence.