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.”
Finishes on Sterling Silver
Rhodium Plating: Rhodium plating is a complex and laborious process that enhances the luster and beauty and extends the life of silver. A member of the platinum metal group, rhodium is often used as a finishing touch on silver jewelry. It's a shiny silvery metal with a very white and reflective appearance, much like mercury. It's also very hard, so it withstands much wear and tear, resists natural tarnishing and wonderfully mimics the brilliant finish of freshly polished silver.
Finishing, or plating, is a common treatment with sterling silver. Popular types of plating are rhodium plating, gold plating and anti-tarnish plating. Plating is used to extend the life and sheen of the jewelry. After sizing or buffing a piece of jewelry with a machine, it must be re-plated to restore the finish.
Caring for Sterling Silver
Avoid exposing sterling silver to direct sunlight and harsh chemicals, including chlorine, ammonia, hair products, perfumes, cosmetics, perspiration and strong jewelry cleaning solutions.
Periodically wash sterling silver with mild dish soap and warm water. Rinse well and dry completely with a soft cloth before storing because moisture can cause tarnish.
Lightly polish sterling silver frequently with a soft silver-polishing cloth, avoiding abrasive cloths completely.
Tarnish is easy to remove when it first forms as a yellowish tint, but becomes more difficult to remove when it becomes brown and black. Remove tarnish with a silver polish cream, avoiding immersing pieces with gemstones in tarnish-removal solutions.
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.
Sterling silver becomes tarnished as the result of a natural chemical process that occurs when sterling silver is exposed to chemicals in the air, rubber, wool and latex. Humidity also plays a role in accelerating tarnishing. It's easy to keep your sterling silver sparkling, though, by taking a few steps to prevent tarnish and other wear and tear.
The value of a diamond is determined by the Four Cs: Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat weight.
The cut of a diamond (the depth, width and uniformity of the facets) determines the stone’s brilliance and sparkle. Even if a diamond has perfect color and clarity, a poor cut can make it look dull. A diamond’s proportions determine how well the light will reflect and refract within the stone, with symmetry of the cut being extremely important.
Acting as a prism, a diamond can divide light into a spectrum of colors, reflecting light as colorful flashes called fire. Color within a diamond diminishes the brilliance of the stone by diminishing the spectrum of colors that are emitted. A colorless diamond disperses light throughout the entire stone. Therefore, the less color that is in a diamond, the more colorful its fire, the better its color grade, and the greater its value (and priced accordingly).
Diamond color is graded using an alphabetical range from D-Z (D being totally colorless). Diamonds graded better than J are colorless or near-colorless, with color that is typically undetectable to the unaided eye. Color K-Z is especially noticeable when set in platinum or white gold.
FL (Flawless): No internal or external flaws
VVS1-VVS2 (Very Very Slightly Included): Very difficult to see inclusions under 10X magnification
VS1-VS2 (Very Slightly Included): Inclusions are seen under 10X magnification, but not typically visible to the unaided eye
SI1-SI2 (Slightly Included): Inclusions are highly visible under 10X magnification and may be visible to the unaided eye
I1-I2-I3 (Imperfect): Inclusions visible to the unaided eye
Most diamonds naturally have small internal flaws called inclusions, which interfere with the passage of light through the stone. Diamonds free of inclusions are very rare, highly valued and the most expensive. The size, number, position and color of these imperfections determine a stone’s clarity grade.
Carat is the standard unit of measurement used to determine a diamond’s weight. One carat consists of 100 points, so a 50-point diamond equals a half carat, or 0.50ct. It is important to remember that although two diamonds may have the same carat weight, their color and clarity may be different, thus determining each individual stone’s value. Additionally, since larger diamonds are more rare than smaller diamonds, diamond value tends to rise exponentially with carat weight. A 2.00ct diamond is more valuable than two 1.00ct diamonds.
More About Diamonds
The most precious of all gems, diamonds have an incredible rarity factor. It takes a minimum of one million diamonds to be mined in order to find a 1.00ct gem-quality diamond, so each 1.00ct quality diamond is literally one in a million. Making them even more incredible, the mining of diamonds requires moving and sifting 250 tons of the Earth’s crust to find just one diamond. Mining companies literally move mountains to find diamonds.
Diamonds have the longest endurance of any substance known on Earth. Carbon dating has established that diamonds, on the average, are 3.4 billion years of age. They consist of pure carbon and there is no chemical difference between them and carbon powder (the lead pencil center). Obviously, however, the physical difference between carbon powder and a diamond is fascinating. Diamonds are created from a basketball-sized piece of pure carbon that becomes white-hot. It is squeezed to the size of a small pearl, turning from black to clear in the process and becoming the hardest material known to humans, ranking a 10.0 on the Mohs Scale . Because they are so hard, diamonds can only be ground and polished by using diamond dust that has been ground from other diamonds.
Diamonds are found in a rainbow of colors. The value of a fancy-colored stone depends largely on the rarity of its color (reds and greens are rarer than yellows and browns), the saturation of the color (from faint to vivid), and the purity of the color (whether it is bright and clear or clouded by other underlying colors). Probably the most famous colored diamond is the Hope, which features a deep-blue color and weighs an amazing 45.52ct. It can be seen at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
With diamonds found all over the world, America has a couple small producing diamonds mines, but it only produces industrial grades with non-gem grade material. These black and brown industrial-grade diamonds are widely used as cutting and grinding tools in various industries, such as oil drilling and stone carving.
Diamonds have come to symbolize the ultimate gift of love and romance and, in the United States, are traditionally used in engagement and wedding rings. The tradition of the diamond solitaire engagement ring may have started in 1477, when the Archduke of Austria gave a large solitaire diamond to Mary of Burgundy for her hand in marriage. Amidst this tradition of romance, the diamond is also the birthstone for April and given as 10th, 30th, 60th and 75th anniversary gifts.
Diamonds have been the pride of empires throughout time. Ancient Hindu followers believed diamonds were created by thunderbolts striking the ground. Ancient Greeks believed that diamonds were teardrops of the gods and splinters of stars that had fallen to Earth. The stones were believed to possess magical qualities and have powers far beyond the understanding of common man. Even the name stems from “adamas,” the Greek word for “unconquerable” and “indestructible.”
The diamond is considered the most magical of all gems. When worn, it promotes spirituality, even ecstasy, and is often utilized in meditation. The diamond promotes self-confidence in relations with the opposite sex and is often worn to conquer infertility. The diamond is the stone of love and is worn to ensure fidelity. Owing to its sparkling and flashing nature, it has long been regarded as a stone of protection and peace. It can be worn today for courage and strength, and represents fearlessness and invincibility.
Since only diamonds can scratch other diamonds, it is important to wrap and store your diamond jewelry pieces separately so they do not touch one another. To clean jewelry at home, soak diamonds in warm, sudsy water made with any mild liquid detergent. Brush with a soft toothbrush and rinse and pat dry with a soft, lint-free cloth. Other effective cleaning methods include soaking diamonds in household ammonia, brand-name liquid jewelry cleaners, or even a glass of vodka.