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.
One of the most fascinating gemstones throughout history is alexandrite. With a hardness of 8.5 on the Mohs Scale, it is a type of chrysoberyl that appears to be different colors, depending on whether it is viewed in natural or artificial light. Alexandrite appears to be red when seen in incandescent light, while appearing blue to green when seen in fluorescent light or daylight. The more dramatic and complete the shift from red to green, without the bleeding of brown from one color to the next, the more rare and valuable the stone.
Alexandrite has a distinguished and glamorous past. In 1830, it was discovered in an emerald mine in the Ural Mountains of Czarist Russia. Since the stone reflected the old Russian imperial colors of red and green, it was named in honor of Czar Alexander II on his birthday and supposedly brought good luck.
As it was well-loved by the Russian master jewelers, alexandrite can be found in jewels of the period. Master gemologist George Kunz of Tiffany was a fan of the stone and the company produced many rings featuring fine alexandrite in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some Victorian jewelry from England features sets of small alexandrite, as well.
Alexandrite is extremely rare in fine qualities. The original source in Russia's Ural Mountains has long since closed after producing for only a few decades, and only a few stones can be found on the market today. Alexandrite with a certificate of Russian origin is still particularly valued in the trade. Some alexandrite is found in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Brazil, but very little shows a dramatic color change.
For many years, alexandrite was almost impossible to find because there was so little available. Then in 1987, a new find of alexandrite was made in Brazil at a locality called Hematita. The Hematita alexandrite shows a striking and attractive color change from raspberry red to bluish green. Although alexandrite remains extremely rare and expensive, the production of a limited amount of new material means a new generation of jewelers and collectors has been exposed to this beautiful gemstone, creating an upsurge in popularity and demand. It is now even celebrated as the traditional 55th wedding anniversary stone. But because of the rarity of this gemstone, large sizes command very high premiums.
Zircon often suffers for its name’s similarity to “cubic zirconia,” the simulated diamond. The stone zircon, however, is actually a beautiful natural gemstone. It is named from the Persian word “zargun,” meaning “gold-colored.” This is despite the fact that it comes in a wide range of rainbow colors. The majority of zircons are brown or yellow-brown, while pure red and green are the most valuable colors. The yellow-red to reddish-brown variety is called “hyacinth.”
For many years, the most popular type of zircon was the colorless variety. More than any other natural stone, colorless zircons produce a brilliant sparkle similar to diamonds. The most popular color today tends to be the bright pastel blue variety. Sometimes called “starlite,” blue zircon has recently become considered an alternative birthstone for December.
Zircon is one of the heaviest gemstones, meaning that it will look smaller than other varieties of the same weight. It ranks a hardness between 6.5-7.5 on the Mohs Scale and is mined in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar and Australia.
Travelers during the 11th century wore zircon amulets for protection and to encourage welcome greetings on their journeys. In the Middle Ages, the stone was said to bring wisdom and prosperity to its owner. Hindu mythology even mentions the gem when referencing the Kalpa Tree, which was a glowing tree covered with gemstone fruit and leaves of zircon.