The backing is an important part of an earring, providing a secure closure and comfortable fit. Keep in mind, some earring styles work better with certain back types. Experiment with the different types to find the best fit for you!
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.
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 6th and 17th wedding anniversaries. With a hardness of 7.0 on the Mohs Scale , amethyst 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, ward off anger and overcome alcoholism. It has a royal purple essence that is said to lend courage to travelers, scare off thieves and protect travelers from harm, sickness and danger. Placed under the pillow or worn to bed, there are claims it promotes peaceful sleep, pleasant dreams, and the healing of tired joints and muscles. 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.
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 citrines 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 13th and 17th wedding anniversaries. Citrine ranks a 7.0 on the Mohs Scale, and because of this durability, it is ideal for jewelry wear.
Almost all citrine on the market is heat-treated amethyst, and generally starts life as either smoky quartz or amethyst geodes. Heat treatments first turn them clear and then give them a permanent color ranging from yellow to brownish-red. In some amethyst deposits, the amethyst has been partially or fully changed to brown citrine by natural means of heating, thereby transforming it into citrine. Natural citrine is pale yellow to orange, and occurs in much lighter hues than the heat-treated material. Citrines whose colors have been produced by artificial means tend to have much more of an orange or reddish caste than those found in nature. Since most citrine was originally amethyst that was heated to turn its color to gold, both citrine and amethyst jewelry should be kept away from prolonged exposure to strong light or heat.
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.
Iolite gets its name from its sensational color, using the Greek words ios (violet) and lithos (stone). The stone, often referred to as water sapphire, cordierite or dichroite, was used by the Vikings as a navigational tool and came to be knows as “Vikings’ Compass.” When Viking explorers ventured far into the Atlantic Ocean, away from any coastline that could help them determine position, they were able to navigate safely by looking through iolite lenses that allowed them to find the exact position of the sun.
The property that made iolite so valuable to the Vikings was the gem’s pleochroic property, which is the display of different colors when viewed from different directions (like a modern-day polarized filter used in sunglasses). A cube cut from iolite will look violet-blue from one side, clear as water from the other and honey yellow from the top.
Pleochroism may have been helpful in navigation, but it makes a gem cutter’s job quite difficult. If iolite is not cut from exactly the right direction, its color will not show to its best advantage. When cut properly, the stone is usually a violet blue and can be obtained in sizes up to 5.00 carats relatively easily. Iolite ranks a 7.0-7.5 on the Mohs Scale and is readily available and affordable. Today, it is mined in Brazil, India, Mozambique, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. The Vikings probably mined iolite from deposits in Norway and Greenland.
Traditionally given as a 21st anniversary gift, iolite is thought to bring harmony to relationships. It is also said to balance the masculine and feminine aspects of one’s own character, bringing harmony and enabling that person to enjoy each moment. Iolite is believed to heighten psychic abilities by aiding and encouraging people along their spiritual paths. It is said to enhance curiosity and achievement, and aid in money management. Iolite is also believed to possess the power to guide lost sailors to the brilliance of the sun, so that they may find their way home.
Peridot features a lively yellow-green color that is transparent with an oily luster. The iron that creates peridot’s color is an integral part of its structure, so the gem is only found in various shades of green. It is most prized in lime hues, but Italian peridot is a rich olive color and popular American peridot is a beautiful light yellow-green. The Romans called peridot “evening emerald” because its exquisite green color was said to glow at night. This is perhaps because the stone exhibits double refraction, meaning that when looking through the stone, objects appear double. So when looking into a faceted peridot, the number of bottom facets appears to be double the actual number, creating a glittering sensation.
Pronounced PEAR-A-DOE, the word “peridot” comes from the French word meaning “gem.” It is the gem variety of the mineral olivine and ranks a 6.5-7.0 on the Mohs Scale.
Born in cauldrons of fire, peridot is considered the “volcanic gem,” since small crystals of it are often found in the rocks created by volcanoes. In fact, Hawaiian legend called peridot the divine tears wept by Pele, goddess of the volcano. The island of Oahu even has beaches made out of olivine grains, but they are much too small to cut into peridot. Samples of the gem also have been discovered in meteorites that have fallen to Earth, many of which are more than a billion years old.
Peridot traces its jewelry roots to 3,500 years ago. The stone was first mined by the ancient Egyptians on the volcanic island of Zebargad in the Red Sea. Known as the “serpent isle,” it was infested with poisonous snakes that interfered with mining activity until one Pharaoh had them all driven into the sea. Today, Native Americans mine most peridot on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. Interestingly, almost all peridot sold in Hawaii is from Arizona, despite the fact that peridot is produced by Hawaii's volcanoes. The gemstone is also found in Norway, Brazil, China, Egypt, Italy, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. An exciting new deposit was discovered in Pakistan in 1994, yielding some of the finest peridot ever seen, including one stone that weighed more than 300.00ct.
Peridot is among the oldest known stones and has been mined as a gem for thousands of years. As early as 1575 to 1350 B.C., the ancient Egyptians used peridot beads in their ceremonial jewelry. In fact, it is believed the stone was one of the favorite gems of Cleopatra and that some of the “emeralds” she wore were actually peridot.
Ancient Egyptians also carved small drinking vessels out of large chunks of peridot. Priests would drink soma from them in rituals, believing the soma would put them in touch with the nature goddess, Isis. Legend has it that King Soloman traded cedar trees from Lebanon for 12 soma drinking cups and 144 liters of soma. The Egyptians made this trade for ramp logs to build their pyramids at Gisa, while King Soloman was said to have been enlightened by drinking soma from the peridot cups. Today, Mexican hill tribes still drink soma from green glazed cups to put them in touch with nature and their ancestors’ spirits. Additionally, some Native American Indians in Arizona use tea made from peyote ground with peridot crystals in their rituals.
Peridot has also been important to other cultures throughout history. Late in the Ottoman Empire (1300 to 1900), peridot was a highly prized gem and Turkish Sultans amassed some of the world’s largest collections of the gemstone. It is mentioned in the Bible under the name of “chrysolite,” and was used to decorate medieval churches with samples that were most likely carried back to Europe by the Crusaders. Large stones weighing more than 200.00ct adorn the Shrine of the Three Magi at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.
Throughout the ages, peridot has been believed to hold mystical powers of protection and healing. The ancients regarded the stone as a symbol of the sun and wore it in amulets to prevent nightmares and drive away evil spirits. It was even favored by pirates to protect them against evil. Peridot was said to be useful for calming raging angers, curing nervous afflictions and promoting quiet sleep. It was also used as a medical remedy to treat asthma and ward off fevers. Peridot was also believed to strengthen any medicine drunk from goblets carved from the stone. South American Shamans use peridot to ward off snakebites and the evil spirits who have taken the form of mosquitoes who bring the sleeping sickness. They also say the heating of magic mushroom tea by peridot takes them on trips to the ancestor heavens.
Today, peridot is believed to bring the wearer success, peace and good luck. To be most powerful, it is said that the stone should be mounted in gold and surrounded with small diamonds. With powers that are thought to bring protection and health, modern folklore also says it can be used to attract love and calm anger while soothing nerves and dispelling negative emotions. The gem is believed to protect the wearer from bad dreams when set in gold.
Peridot is considered the birthstone of August. Given as a symbol of fame, dignity and protection, this gem is also traditionally given to couples celebrating their 16th wedding anniversaries.
Often referred to as the “Queen of Garnets,” rhodolite is the violet-red variety of the garnet family. Its most prized color is a beautiful raspberry, but the gem can also be found in shades of pink, red and wine. The name is derived from the Greek words “rhodon” and “lithos,” meaning rose-stone, which connects the gemstone today with the raspberry-pink flower known as the rhododendron.
Rhodolite is a combination of almandine and pyrope garnets. Although it is occasionally found in volcanic rock, the stone is most often found in alluvial deposits in the form of water-worn pebbles. For this reason, large solitaires weighing 5.00ct or more are seldom seen at retail. Most rhodolite is mined in Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It ranks a 7.5 on the Mohs Scale and is ideal for jewelry.
The ancients wore rhodolites as amulets for protection from injury or death in battles. Modern folklore says rhodolite can help one understand dreams, as well as bring about love and devotion when given as a gift.
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’s 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. During the spread of the Bubonic plague in 1347-1400, the clergy touched topaz to people’s sores. Also in medieval times, the gem was thought to prevent death and heal physical and mental disorders. The stones were ground into powder and added to wine to prevent asthma and insomnia.
Today, topaz is said to be the gem that has the widest range of curative powers. It is believed to dispel enchantment, improve eyesight and protect against negative emotions such as depression, 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.
No other gemstone discovery has made a bigger impact on the jewelry market than the recent newcomer, tanzanite. In 1998 and 1999, it was proclaimed the number one colored stone sold worldwide. Its luscious color, and the fact that the stone is found in only one location throughout the world, makes tanzanite an exceptionally rare, valuable and highly sought-after gem.
Tanzanite’s mesmerizing saturation of color is what has made the stone so popular. It is the blue variety of the mineral zoisite and occurs in a beautiful range of colors. Rarely pure blue, the gem almost always displays signature overtones of purple. In smaller sizes, it tends toward light tones such as lavender, while in larger sizes, the gem typically displays deeper, richer blues and purples. The finest quality tanzanite is usually deep blue or violet, which is extremely spectacular in sizes above ten carats.
Tanzanite is pleochroic, meaning it shows the appearance of several colors in the same stone, depending on perspective. From different angles, the gem can appear blue, purple, yellow, grey or brown. Most rough crystals show a large proportion of brown shades, since tanzanite in its natural form is typically brown with red, orange, yellow or bronze hues.
Gem cutters may change this coloring by heating the stone to 500°C. This heat treatment releases the intense violet-blue colors for which the stone is famous. According to legend, the effect of heat on tanzanite was first discovered when brown zoisite crystals were caught on fire by a lightning strike. Local cattle herders noticed the beautiful blue crystals sparkling in the sun and picked them up, becoming the first tanzanite collectors.
The gem was first discovered near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in the Merelani Hills of east-African Tanzania in 1967. This breathtaking location is the only known mining site on Earth for tanzanite. Right after its discovery, New York jeweler Louis Comfort Tiffany was presented with the first stones. Knowing it was going to be a sensation, he recommended finding a new name for the gem, since the gemological denomination “blue zoisite” reminded him of the word “suicide.” Tiffany suggested the name tanzanite, derived from its place of occurrence, and the new name quickly became established on the market. Tiffany & Co introduced the stone to the public in a spectacular promotional campaign two years after it had been discovered. It was enthusiastically celebrated as the “Gemstone of the 20th Century.”
A noted 122.70ct faceted tanzanite dubbed the “Midnight Blue” is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1996, a 255.00ct tanzanite crystal was discovered near Arusha, but because of its many inclusions, it proved to be of little market value. Tanzanite ranks a hardness of 6.5-7.0 on the Mohs Scale and has become the traditional gift for couples celebrating their 24th anniversaries.
High-quality and larger-size tanzanites can be sold at extremely premium prices. Although demand for this beautiful gem continues to grow, supply shortages in recent years have hampered production and caused price fluctuations. In 1998, the weather phenomenon known as “El Nino” soaked Tanzania with heavy rains during what should have been the drought period. When the monsoons hit, the groundwater swells were high and caused devastating floods. Mines caved in and all hopes of finding additional tanzanite rough were swept away. As a result, shortages have created price hikes at retail throughout the world.
Because it is such a new gemstone, there is little folklore, superstitions or healing properties surrounding tanzanite. Some believe the stone helps people to be more practical, realistic and honest. It is thought to uplift and open the heart while helping one cope with change.
Earring Back Types
The backing is an important part of an earring, providing a secure closure and comfortable fit. Keep in mind, some earring styles work better with certain back types. Experiment with the different types to find the best fit for you!
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.