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.
Hematite gets its name from the Greek word meaning “blood-like” because of the red color of its powder. American Indians used to crush hematite and mix it with animal fat to produce red and brown paint for their artwork and bodies. Interestingly, red hematite is essentially rust. Its reddish brown and orange colors appear when its high iron content comes into contact with water and oxygen. But when the stone is smooth and polished, hematite features a beautiful steel gray color with a metallic and earthy luster. It is this exquisite gray color that is most often used in jewelry.
Although both red and gray hematite is common on Earth, it also occurs everywhere on Mars, making it responsible for the planet's distinctive red color. The reddish landscape of Mars is due to the oxidized iron on its surface, proving that water and oxygen must have been present on the Red Planet at one time. In 2004, NASA's Mars rover Opportunity discovered small spheres believed to be made partly or mostly of hematite, proving that Mars was once a wetter world long ago.
Grey hematite usually forms over long periods of time in the presence of liquid water. It is typically found in layers at the bottom of standing water, such as lakes or mineral hot springs. Hematite can also occur as the result of volcanic activity. While England is the best-known supplier, hematite is also found in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Brazil, New Zealand and the United States.
Hematite is the most important source of iron ore in the world, which leads to the production of steel, and is therefore vital to the economy of major countries. Because of its high iron content, hematite has magnetic attraction. It is often fashioned into carvings, cameos, intaglios and beads and ranks a hardness of 5.0-6.5 on the Mohs Scale.
It was once believed that large deposits of hematite were formed in places where battles had been fought. The subsequent blood that flowed into the ground was thought to turn into the stone. Hematite is a symbol for the Roman god of war and is thought to be a stone of protection, a belief originating from the Roman belief that it could strengthen warriors going into battle. Ancient warriors even used to rub their bodies with hematite believing it would protect them.
Since the silvery-gray stones can be polished to such a high sheen, they were long ago used as mirrors. Because of this reflective quality, it is believed today to help deflect the emotions of others. It is said to deepen the connection between spirit and body while balancing yin/yang energies and emotions. Folklore also says that hematite can transform and dissolve negativity. It is considered an excellent “worry stone” with emotional grounding properties that calm the mind and clear it of stress. Hematite is also thought to be a “lawyer’s stone” that brings positive judgments and helps one remain true to his or her inner self.
Found all over the world, agate has been creatively striped by nature. It is a type of chalcedony quartz that forms in concentric layers of colors and textures. Each individual agate forms by filling a cavity in a host rock. As a result, agate often is found as a round nodule with concentric bands like the rings of a tree trunk. Tiny quartz crystals called druzy (sometimes spelled as drusy) often form within the stone, adding to its beauty and uniqueness. Agate is a hard stone, within the range of 7.0-9.0 on the Mohs Scale.
In 1497, the mining of agate in the Nahe River valley in Germany gave rise to the cutting center of Idar-Oberstein. When the Nahe agate deposit was exhausted in the nineteenth century, Idar cutters started to develop the agate deposits of Brazil, discovering Brazil's rich deposits of many other gemstones. A famous collection of two to four thousand agate bowls, accumulated by Mithradates, King of Pontus, shows the popularity of agate at the time. Agate bowls were also popular in the Byzantine Empire. Collecting agate bowls became common among European royalty during the Renaissance and many museums in Europe, including the Louvre, have spectacular examples.
Although the small town of Idar-Oberstein is still known for the finest agate carving in the world, today Idar imports a huge range of other gem materials from around the world for cutting and carving in Germany. Cameo master carvers, modern lapidary artists and rough dealers flourish there, exporting their latest gem creations. It is an entire industry that grew from the desire for agate products during the Renaissance.
Agate was highly valued as a talisman or amulet in ancient times. It was said to quench thirst and protect from fevers. Persian magicians used agate to divert storms. Today, some believe that agate is a powerful emotional healer and helps people discern the truth.