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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 6 th and 17 th wedding anniversaries. With a hardness of 7.0 on the Mohs Scale , a methyst 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 and ward off anger. It has a royal purple essence that is said to lend courage to travelers, scare off thieves and protect travelers from harm. Placed under the pillow or worn to bed, there are claims it promotes peaceful sleep and pleasant dreams. 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.
Lune de France is a very special variety of amethyst that rarely comes to market. From the northwest state of Amazon in Brazil, this gemstone comes from the Maraba mine. This lovely lilac gemstone features a unique velvet-like quality that at first observation can be confused for an opal or moonstone. The gemstone's internal structure contains natural, cloud-like veils of microscopic inclusions that are extremely minute, even under high power magnification. These inclusions cause the incoming light to scatter and reflect, thus creating an opalescent effect. While a similar inclusion structure can be expected in rose quartz, it almost never occurs in an amethyst. Lune de France features a natural lilac color and retains excellent transparency allowing it to be faceted for maximum light play.
A symbol of strength and intelligence, topaz derives its name from Topazios, an island in the Red Sea that is known today as Zabargad. The Greek word “topazios” means “to seek,” since the island was covered with a thick fog and difficult to find. Gemstones found on the island were called topaz, although the stones were eventually found to actually be peridot. The real gem of topaz is found throughout the world, with different occurrences producing specific colors.
Brown, yellow, orange and red topaz are found in Brazil, Sri Lanka and Siberia. Most brownish topaz is heated to produce a permanent and glamorous pink color. Following the discovery of pink topaz in Russia during the 19th century, Imperial topaz was found. Featuring a sherry red, deep pink or reddish-orange color, the gem was so coveted that its ownership was restricted to the Czar, his family and those who received it as a royal gift. Today, Imperial shades are the most rare and, therefore, the most valuable.
Blue topaz is rarely found in nature and is most often created through a combination of heat treatment and irradiation. It is found in Brazil, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and China. Topaz is often colorless, too, and can be found in the United States, Mexico, Russia and Pakistan. In 1998, a new type of enhanced topaz made its appearance with a greenish-blue or emerald green color. All colors of topaz rank an 8.0 on the Mohs Scale of hardness.
Yellow topaz is November’s birthstone and blue topaz is December’s birthstone. Blue topaz is also the traditional gift for 4th and 19th wedding anniversaries, while Imperial topaz is celebrated as a 23rd anniversary gift. Perhaps the most famous topaz is a large, colorless stone known as the Braganza. It was discovered in Brazil in 1740 and was originally thought to be a priceless diamond. Today, the giant 1,680.00ct stone is set in the Portuguese Crown.
The mystery and allure of topaz goes back thousands of years. To the ancients, it was a symbol of love and affection and was thought to ward off sudden death. The Romans associated topaz with Jupiter, the god of the sun. The Greeks called it the Stone of Strength, believing it had the power to increase strength and make its wearer invisible in times of emergency. The Egyptians said the gem was colored with the golden glow of the sun god, Ra, making topaz a powerful amulet that protected its wearer against harm.
Topaz' mystical curative powers were believed to wax and wane with the phases of the moon. The gem was said to change color in the presence of poisoned food or drink and falcons were carved on the stones to help earn the goodwill of kings and magnates.
Today, topaz is said to be the gem that has the widest range of curative powers. It is believed to dispel enchantment and protect against negative emotions such as anger, fear, greed and envy. Its properties are supposedly enhanced when the gem is mounted in gold. Because of this association with gold, topaz is used to bring or enhance the wearer's money-gathering abilities and has long been used in money and wealth rituals.
Wearing topaz is said to improve and deepen relationships, promote patience, ensure fidelity and enhance the ability to love. The gem is also believed to bring friendship, intelligence, long life, beauty and a pleasant disposition.
Garnet comes in a vast rainbow of naturally exquisite hues, occurring in every color except blue. It is the family of minerals that displays the greatest variety of colors than any other mineral. The eight major types of garnets include almandine, pyrope, demantoid, grossularite, tsavorite, hessonite, rhodolite and spessartite.
Named after the ancient gemstone city of Alabanda in Asia Minor, the most common type of garnet is almandine (also called almandite). It is a dark red to brownish red stone that is only slightly different from the chemical structure of its sister stone, called pyrope. While nature only grows pyropes in small sizes, it allows for almandine crystals to form in larger dimensions.
Pyrope is a high-quality garnet that can be purplish red, blood red, orange-red or crimson. It is often called the Bohemian garnet since its fierce and often slightly bronze color was highly popular in the 18th and 19th century when it came from the north-eastern part of the former Kingdom of Bohemia. In Europe during the Victorian times, pyrope garnets frequently decorated jewelry with many of these small stones tightly arranged along each other like the seeds of a pomegranate. In fact, the name “garnet” most likely was derived from the pomegranate, a fruit whose deep, red-purple color resembles some varieties of the gem. Many ancient pieces of garnet jewelry are also studded with the tiny red gems.
Demantoid is a rich green variety of garnet primarily found in the Ural Mountains of Russia. Russia’s leading court jeweler, Carl Fabergé, loved this brilliant garnet more than any other stone and used it in many of his creations that were lavishly adorned by the Tsars of Russia. Today, demantoid is appearing more often in the gemstone market because of new finds in Namibia. However, these particular garnets from Namibia lack "horsetail-inclusions,” the fine bushy-shaped inclusions that are characteristic of the sought-after Russian demantoids. The gem is quite rare and can cost several thousand dollars per carat depending on size and quality. The larger, brighter demantoid s are exceedingly scarce and have been known to show exceptional brilliance, even higher than diamonds.
Grossularite, available in pinks, browns, greens and yellows, is especially cherished because of its many in-between shades and earth colors. In the last year of the 20th century, large grossularite occurrences were discovered in Mali. Charming because of their high brilliance, the Mali garnets make even the brown color attractive and vivid.
Tsavorite is the trade name for a fine green grossularite. It ranges from vivid light green to velvety deep green and, like all other garnets, features a strikingly high brilliance. Tsavorite was discovered in 1967 by British geologist Campbell R. Bridges, and was re-named by Tiffany’s in New York after its occurrence near the famous game park Tsavo-National Park. Mined in Tanzania and Kenya, this particular stone is quite rare and can cost several thousand dollars per carat depending on size and quality. Larger tsavorites are exceedingly scarce.
Hessonite is the variety name for a fine orange, cinnamon brown or pinkish variety of grossularite. It most commonly occurs in golds, oranges and browns.
Rhodolite is a pyrope-almandine garnet that features a velvety red color with a fine purple or raspberry colored undertone. One of the most popular varieties, it is mined in East Africa, India and Sri Lanka and was originally discovered in the United States.
Spessartite garnet can be red or blackish brown, but is most commonly available in golds, oranges and warmer browns. Originally named after its occurrence in the German Spessart Mountains, there was a surprising discovery of the bright orange-red stone in Nigeria and Namibia. Until then, spessartites had existed as mere collector’s items or rarities and were hardly ever used for jewelry because they were so rare. But the new location discovery changed the world of jewelry gemstones and spessartites made their way into jewelry fashion. The most popular type of spessartite is the mandarin garnet, a gem that features a bright orange hue.
Traditionally given as 2nd wedding anniversary gifts, garnets are celebrated as January’s birthstone. They are found all over the world, including Africa, Australia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North America, South and Central America, and Southeast Asia. The garnet ranges from 7.0-7.5 on the Mohs Scale and has been given many different names throughout the gemstone trade, including Arizona Ruby, Arizona Spinel, Montana Ruby or New Mexico Ruby. The stone features a high refraction of light that creates an amazing brilliance and luminosity. In fact, Noah used a garnet lantern to illuminate the darkness and navigate the Ark through 40 days and nights of torrential rain.
Throughout history, garnets have been widely known and prized for their rich hues and supposed mystical properties. Adored by the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis, the gem symbolized faith, truth and friendship and was a favorite of Egyptian jewelry artisans. Garnets were taken into the tombs with the dead as payment to the gods for safe passage through the nether world. It is said that King Solomon wore a large red garnet along with eleven other magical gems in his breastplate (representing the 12 steps of Jacob's Ladder) to help him win battles. Nineteenth-century Asiatic warriors even used the hard stones as bullets. In the 13th century, medieval travelers wore garnets as popular talismans and protective stones, many of which were carved with lions. The gems were thought to repel evil spirits, bad dreams and people with evil intent.
Today, garnets are thought to have protective powers and can be carried by travelers to protect against accidents. The stone is said to light up the night and protect its owner from nightmares. It is also believed to strengthen the body and mind by sparking creativity and dispelling anger. People may use the stone to increase the power of their energy fields and gather good vibes. Current superstitions say that the stone symbolizes loyalty and can be exchanged between friends to symbolize affection and ensure they meet again.
Pronounced "vermay," vermeil is an electroplating process in which 14K gold or higher is coated over sterling silver. Officially designated by the jewelry industry, items may only be sold as vermeil if they have a minimum thickness of 100 millionths of an inch (2.5 microns) of gold over the silver. Regular gold plating is less than 2.5 microns.
The "vermeil" technique of plating sterling silver with gold originated in France in the 1750s. It differs from "gold filled" or "gold plated" in terms of the thickness or thinness of the microns over sterling silver. "Gold filled" pieces have a much thicker layer, between 15 and 45 microns, which is mechanically bonded to the base metal with heat and pressure. Vermeil is a more expensive version of "gold plated". It does not wear off as quickly as gold plating does. However, over time, vermeil wears off and therefore will require re-plating.
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