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.
Jade reigns as the universal symbol for good luck and has been treasured in China as the royal gemstone for 5,000 years. The Chinese character for jade resembles a capital “I” with a line across the middle. The top of the character represents the heavens, the bottom the Earth and the center section humankind. It has been considered a symbol of love, virtue and status for thousands of years and remains popular today. Jade is traditionally given as a 12th anniversary gift and is believed to strengthen the body and bring longevity to life.
Jade is the term applied to forms of both jadeite and nephrite. The ancient jade carved in China was what we today call nephrite. In the nineteenth century, it was discovered that the material from the new world was not the same mineral as the jade from China. This new and different jade from Central America was called jadeite to distinguish it from the original nephrite. Both are similar in appearance, yet jadeite is considered the true jade and commands higher prices. Though both are quite durable and tough, ranking 6.5-7.0 on Mohs Scale, jadeite is slightly harder than nephrite due to its microcrystalline structure.
Jadeite has a much more vivid green color with finer translucency than nephrite. It is most treasured for its vivid greens, but it also comes in lavender, pink, yellow and white. Nephrite, however, is found in less intense spinach green, white, brown and black colors. While overall color is the most important factor in considering the value of jade, other important criteria are translucency, texture and pattern. Jade is most often sold by the piece rather than per carat. Because of its smooth and even texture, it has long been a preferred material for carving. When placed in jewelry, it is usually cut into smooth dome shapes called cabochons.
Jadeite is primarily mined in Myanmar. Each year, the state-owned Myanmar Gems Enterprise holds the Myanmar Gems, Jade and Pearl Emporium where boulders are sold to top jade dealers from around the world. The dealers take some high-risk gambles with the jade boulders they purchase. Boulders are sold intact, with only a tiny window cut in the side to expose a small section of the interior. The buyer has no idea what lies inside, whether there is valuable green jadeite or only white or brown-stained inexpensive material. Relying on instinct, buyers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for what may turn out to be exquisite gemstones or huge losses.
The most valuable form of jadeite is known as imperial jade. It is a vivid emerald green color and comes from Myanmar. The Emerald Buddha, a sacred image that is enshrined at Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok, Thailand, is actually beautiful green jadeite. A leek green variety called "Russian Jade" is found near Lake Baikal in Russia. In addition to Myanmar, small quantities of jadeite can be found in Mexico and Central and South America, while nephrite is mined in Australia, Canada, Taiwan and the United States.
In ancient China, Jade was thought to preserve the body after death and was placed in emperors' tombs. One tomb contained an entire suit made of jade, thought to assure the physical immortality of its owner. In Central America, the Olmecs, Mayans and Toltecs also treasured jade and used it for carvings and masks. In Europe, although prehistoric axes and blades carved from jade have been found by archeologists, the gemstone was not popular for jewelry use until the sixteenth century when jade objects were imported from China and, later, Central America. The Portuguese brought home jade pieces from their settlement in China and called jade “piedre de ilharga,” which meant “stone of the loins” because they believed it to be strong medicine for kidney ailments. Jade objects brought to Spain were called by the Spanish version of this phrase, “piedra de hijada.” This became the French word “ejade,” which led to the English word jade.
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.
With its uniquely mystical appearance, quartz was the “rock crystal” used in ancient times to make crystal balls. It was believed to attract energy and is still considered to be spiritual today. The gemstone was once believed to be a compact form of ice. In fact, the Greeks originally named quartz “krystallos,” meaning ice, but this terminology soon applied to any type of crystal.
Often identified by its six-sided prism shape, quartz is the most common mineral on Earth, found in nearly every environment throughout the globe. With a ranking of 7.0 on the Mohs Scale, it is a component of almost every rock type and occurs in virtually every color imaginable. Quartz has a great amount varieties that are well-known by other names, including amethyst, citrine, ametrine, rock crystal, agate, druzy, chalcedony, tigers eye and many more. There are also several varieties that hold the name “quartz,” including rose quartz, smokey quartz and rutilated quartz.
The pale pink color of quartz is known as rose quartz, the traditional gift for couples celebrating their 2nd anniversary. It is a delicate powder pink color that ranges from transparent to translucent. Transparent rose quartz is quite rare and is usually so pale that it does not show much color, except in large sizes. The translucent quality of rose quartz is much more common and is used for jewelry and carvings.
Rose quartz is probably one of the most prized stones for its mystical properties. Known as the “Heart Stone,” it is believed to have incredible powers to balance emotions and open the heart. Folklore says rose quartz can comfort brokenhearted people, bringing healing and clarity to the heart and allowing the wearer to learn to trust again. The stone is also said to foster happiness and the joy of life by bringing about contentment in love and filling one with optimism, tenderness and gentleness.
In addition to helping with romantic love, rose quartz is believed to enhance all other forms of love as well, including self-love, platonic and maternal. Its loving, nurturing energy is said to take away fears, resentment and anger and replace them with feelings of higher self-esteem and confidence. This soothing stone is also thought to balance emotions and heal emotional wounds. It is said to be especially powerful in times of stress or loss, bringing peace and calm to the wearer.
Ranging in color from nearly black to smoky brown, smoky quartz is transparent and owes its warm earthen hue to exposure to natural radioactivity. Care must be taken since its rich color will fade in the sun. Spelled either “smoky” or “smokey,” this variety of quartz is often incorrectly called “smoky topaz.”
Smoky quartz is believed to help dissolve negative energy, release stress and relieve depression. It is said to be a mild sedative with a relaxing effect that calms, soothes and restores balance and harmony. Folklore says the gem can embrace dark areas with light and love and therefore clear and cleanse the body both physically and emotionally. Smoky quartz is thought to be a warm, friendly and down-to-earth gem.
Rutilated quartz is a type of transparent rock crystal that contains long, fine needles of rutile crystals (titanium dioxide). These highly valued inclusions form a landscape of shining gold needles in an array of patterns that is breathtakingly beautiful. These golden inclusions are also known as Venus hair, Cupid’s darts and fleches d’amour (“arrows of love”). There is a less well-known variety called tourmalinated quartz that, instead of golden rutile, forms black or dark green tourmaline crystals.
Although rutilated quartz is usually cut as a cabochon, it can be a difficult stone to attain a smooth surface without pits. This is because rutile ranks a 6.0 on the Mohs Scale, while quartz ranks 7.0. The difference in hardness between the two materials, and because of the way rutile forms inside, causes problems when cutting. Each final cut piece is unique, with no two being exactly alike. Modern folklore says rutilated quartz brings forth each person's strengths, originality and ability to relate to others.
An ancient Persian legend states the Earth rests on a gigantic sapphire that gives its blue reflection to the sky. The most popular colors for sapphires range from light blue to a blue that appears black. Hence, the name was derived from the Latin form of the Greek word for blue, “sapphirus.” Bright daylight makes most sapphires shine more vividly than the somewhat muted artificial light. So the most highly cherished color for blue sapphires is not the darkest blue, but a deep and satiated blue, which even in dim, artificial light remains to appear blue.
While sapphires are best known for being velvety blue, it was decided long ago to consider all gemstones of the mineral family corundum to be sapphires. Non-blue sapphires are termed “fancy” and can be nearly any color, including yellow, green, white/colorless, pink, orange, brown, purple, golden and even black. Red corundum is the exception, however, and was given the special name of “ruby.” Since pink is really just a light red, the International Colored Gemstone Association has resolved to consider light shades of the red hue to be included in the category ruby, as it is too difficult to legislate where red ends and pink begins. In practice, however, pink shades of corundum are known as either pink ruby or pink sapphire. All sapphires rank a 9.0 on the Mohs Scale, second only to diamonds in hardness.
There are a great number of varieties of sapphire, many of which are quite rare and highly sought-after in the gemstone market. A rare orange-pink variety, known as padparadscha, can be even more valuable than blue sapphire. Pronounced PAD-PA-RAD-SHAH, the name comes from the Sinhalese word for lotus blossom. Endowed with both pink and orange color components, its hues range from pastels to fiery shades. Padparadscha sapphires are usually heat treated to improve and intensify their color, while the color of untreated stones will fade over time. An untreated padparadscha sapphire that has faded will return to its original pinkish-orange color, however, if exposed to sunlight for about an hour.
Another rare variety of sapphire is known as the color-changing sapphire. This stone exhibits different colors in different light. In natural light, color-changing sapphire is blue, but in artificial light, it is violet.
For experts and connoisseurs, the Kashmir-color is considered the most beautiful and valuable shade. It features a pure and intensive blue, which is enhanced by a fine, silky gloss. Its color does not change in artificial light, but remains intense with a deep, velvety sheen. Setting the standard for the color of top-quality sapphires, Kashmir sapphires were found in 1880 after an avalanche. They were intensely mined for only eight years until the source was depleted. The Burma-color is also considered especially valuable, ranging from rich royal blue to deep cornflower blue. Ceylon sapphires are prized as well for the luminosity and brilliance of their light to medium blue color.
There is a translucent variety of sapphire, called star sapphire, which displays a six-point star when cut into a smooth domed cabochon. The mineral rutile is embedded in an asterisk-shape within the stone, causing light to reflect in a phenomenon called “asterism.” Six- or twelve-ray stars appear to magically glide across the surface of the stones as they are moved. Star sapphires and rubies are expensive rarities and should always display the stars exactly in the center of the gem. Value is influenced by the intensity of the body color and the strength and sharpness of the star. The star stone is said to be the home of each person’s angel, who lives there in contentment with the sapphire’s spirit.
The stone is mined in many parts of the world. The oldest sapphire mines are situated in Ceylon, today called Sri Lanka, where gemstones were mined in ancient times. Most blue sapphires today come from Thailand or Australia, but sapphires from Kashmir and Myanmar (formerly Burma) are considered the most rare and highly prized. Sapphires are readily available in sizes of up to 2.00ct, but gems weighing 5.00-10.00ct are not unusual. The cushion-cut Logan Sapphire from Sri Lanka weighs an astounding 423.00ct and can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. There is also a 258.00ct stone set in the Russian crown, which is kept in the Diamond Fund in Moscow.
Because the gem has long symbolized sincere love and enduring faithfulness, blue sapphires are often given in engagement rings to express commitment and loyalty. Many women throughout the world decide on the blue stone for their engagement rings, as the gem also represents truth, friendship, harmony and consistency. Sapphire blue has become a color related to anything permanent and reliable, making it an ideal stone to symbolize the promise of marriage.
Often referred to as “Gem of the Heavens,” sapphire also symbolizes a noble soul. It is September’s birthstone and is traditionally given as 5th and 45th wedding anniversary gifts. Star sapphires are given for the 65th anniversary. The color sapphire-blue is known for representing clarity and competence. In fact, the first computer to ever declare victory over a chess grandmaster and world champion was named “Deep Blue.”
Sapphires have been associated with magical powers throughout the ages. The Greeks identified white sapphires with Apollo and the oracles at Delphi used them to tap into the subconscious and super conscious. During the Middle Ages, sapphires symbolized the tranquility of the heavens and wearing them was thought to bring peace, happiness and purity of the soul. The color blue became the symbol of the union between a priest and the heavens, so sapphires came to be adorned on the rings of bishops. Soldiers wore them to prevent capture by enemies and kings wore the gemstone to defend against harm and put themselves in divine favor. This supposed “divine favor” is why sapphires were often the gemstone of choice for high priests and royalty throughout history. In fact, the British Crown Jewels contain a number of notable sapphires.
Today, sapphires are still believed to hold special powers. The stone is said to provide healing properties for mental illness and depression. It can be considered an aid to psycho kinesis, telepathy and clairvoyance, while providing spiritual enlightenment and inner peace. White sapphires, like diamonds, are considered the guardians of love, enhancing it and ensuring fidelity in marriage. The most powerful type of the gem is said to be the star sapphire. They are believed to protect against negative energy and have a calming effect that allows the mind to experience tranquility, joy and clear thinking.
Chrome diopside, also called Russian diopside, offers an intense forest green color. Because it is the most affordable gemstone with a pure, rich green color, many jewelry designers predict chrome diopside will be the world’s leading emerald substitute by the end of the decade. It is mostly available in smaller sizes, with the rare larger sizes becoming much more expensive and too dark. A 26.17ct oval cut chrome diopside may be the largest known example of the faceted stone, but there is also a 25.33ct stone that is brighter and more intense in color.
Chrome diopside is relatively soft, with a hardness of 5.5 on the Mohs Scale. Mostly mined in Yakutia and Siberia, the liberalization of the economy of the former Soviet Union has made chrome diopside more available, and more popular, than ever before.