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.”
Minimize scratches on sterling silver by storing it in its own compartment in your jewelry box or in a cloth pouch. Sterling silver may also be stored in sealed polyethylene bags.
Handcrafted Venetian and Murano glass is renowned for being colorful, elaborate, and skillfully made. The process of making Murano glass is rather complex and the history is rich. Artisans still use the same time-honored techniques that have been passed down for generations. The handmade process allows the glassmaker to shape uniquely beautiful multi-colored designs.
Murano glass gets its name from the location in which it is made: The island of Murano off the shore of Venice, Italy. The glass has been produced there for centuries, as Murano was a commercial port as far back as the 7th century and a well-known city of trade by the 10th century. Today, Murano remains a destination for tourists and art and jewelry lovers.
It is believed that Murano glass actually originated in Rome in the 9th century. But artists were influenced by the Asian and Muslim cultures that were exposed at the major trading port in Venice. They decided to create the glass in the Venetian Republic for convenience, which was the first main location for the glassmaking before a devastating fire ruined most of the city's wood buildings. This event caused the glassmakers to move to the island of Murano in 1291. To this day, the names for Venetian and Murano glass are used nearly interchangeably.
The glassmakers of Murano were soon the most prominent citizens on the island. Around the 14th century, the talented artisans were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution, and married their daughters into wealthy families. Their success did not come without a price, however. Glassmakers were not allowed to leave the Republic, causing a feeling of unrest. Some craftsmen rebelled and set up business as far away as England and the Netherlands. Despite this, most workers did stay on the island and by the end of the 16th century, 3,000 of Murano's 7,000 people were involved in the glassmaking industry in some way.
Today, Murano artisans are still employing the same age-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art and jewelry to chandeliers and wine stoppers. Murano held a monopoly on quality glassmaking for centuries, creating and refining many technologies including crystalline glass, enameled glass, glass with threads of gold, multicolored glass, milk glass, and imitation gemstones made of glass. If you visit Murano, the island is now home to the Museo Vetrario, or Glass Museum, in the Palazzo Giustinian. It displays the history of glassmaking, as well as glass samples ranging from Egyptian times through present day.
Techniques & Materials
Most Murano glass art is made using the lampworking technique. The glass includes silica which becomes liquid at high temperatures. As the glass passes from a liquid to a solid state, there is a moment when it is slightly soft before it hardens completely. This is when the craftsman can shape the material. The more sodium oxide present in the glass, the slower it solidifies, which is important for hand-working since it allows for more time to shape the material.
The colors, techniques and materials glassmakers may use depend upon the look the artist is trying to achieve. The Millefiori technique involves layering sliced canes of glass, or forming tiny glass beads by cutting the canes into sections when cold then rounding when hot. Sommerso, filigree, incalmo, enamel painting, engraving, gold engraving, lattimo, ribbed glass and submersion are just a few of the other techniques a glassmaker can apply.