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.
Mother-of-pearl is found on the shells of mollusks, such as mussels and oysters, and the shells of pseudopods, such as snails. When the young of these creatures come into the world, they create a shell “house” in order to preserve their existence. The walls of this housing are formed with layers their of secretions, ensuring a simultaneous growth of house and creature together.
Depending on the type of animal and the environment in which it lives, secretions create various shapes and colors found on the different types of mother-of-pearl. “White” mother-of-pearl comes from pearl-bearing oysters. It features high reflective properties and is one of the most commonly used types of this material. “ Iridescent” mother-of-pearl is a type in which the colors of pink and green are predominant, while “variegated” mother-of-pearl is a multicolored type. “Stone” mother-of-pearl is white with a low reflective power, while “mat” mother-of-pearl is dull grey and also has a low reflective power.
The shiny quality of mother-of-pearl has attracted attention for thousands of years. The Louvre Museum features mother-of-pearl objects that belonged to the Sumerians and were found in Mesopotamia. In China, a dish with geometric-shaped pieces of mother-of-pearl was found that belonged to the Tang Dynasty in 618-906 A.D. Mother-of-pearl work was also common in ancient Italy, Greece and Cyprus. Today, different types of mother-of-pearl are commonly used in the art world. This type of art is certainly a challenge, for in order for them to be made into works of art, the mother-of-pearl pieces must be thick enough to withstand being worked upon and be of high enough quality to beautifully reflect colors of the rainbow.
Most people think the coral used in jewelry comes from South Pacific coral reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef off Australia. However, these coral reefs are formed by a different species than the coral that is traditionally used in jewelry. Most jewelry coral is found in the Mediterranean Sea or in the Pacific near Japan and Taiwan. It grows in ocean colonies of branches that look like underwater trees, and is found in a range of colors, including pale pink (called angelskin coral), orange, red (called noble coral), white and black. The most valued colors are deep red, black and pink. It is much softer than other gems, with a hardness of only 3.5 on the Mohs Scale. In jewelry-making, coral is often carved into beads or cameos, or can be left and polished in its natural branch-like form.
Among the most ancient of gem materials, coral has been used for adornment since prehistoric times. While coral inlays and ornaments have been found in Celtic tombs from the Iron Age, the gem also has a history of religious significance. It is one of the seven treasures in Buddhist scriptures, and coral rosaries are used by Tibetan Lamas.
Coral was long thought to be a powerful talisman that could stop bleeding, protect from evil spirits, and ward off hurricanes. Because it was believed that coral protected the wearer, it was a traditional gift to children. Coral was also believed to lose its powers once broken. Today, coral is the traditional 35th anniversary gift for married couples.