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 oldest known gems, turquoise has been prized for thousands of years. The Egyptians believed it had powerful mystical properties, and turquoise jewelry has been found interred with 7,500-year-old mummies. Ancient manuscripts from Persia, India, Afghanistan and Arabia say that the health of a person wearing turquoise could be assessed by variations in the color of the stone. Montezuma’s treasure, now displayed in the British Museum, includes a carved serpent covered by a mosaic of turquoise.
Turquoise was especially revered by the Native American culture, an association that dates back to the Aztec empire more than 700 years ago. For the Aztecs, turquoise was reserved for the gods and mere mortals were forbidden to wear it. They believed it to be a gem of good fortune and a commodity more valuable than gold. Native Americans believed turquoise protected people from demons and they even placed turquoise in tombs to guard the dead. The stone’s colors were thought to be symbolically blue for the heavens and green for the earth. Often warriors tied turquoise to their bows to ensure accurate shots.
Today, turquoise is still believed to provide protection and bring luck. It is said to also promote prosperity, love, healing, courage and friendship. The stone is thought to relax the mind and ease mental tension.
The gem’s opaque turquoise color varies from shades of greenish blue to deep cobalt to sky blue. Some varieties display white or brown matrixes, which are streaks of the mother stone from which they came, while others have veins of color called “spiderwebs” running through them. Generally, the bluer the blue, the more highly valued the stone. A clear, even texture without mottling or veins is also preferred. The most rare and valuable color is an intense azure, but the most common is the mild to medium sky blue. Sometimes imitated by minerals such as chrysocolla, turquoise stones are often dyed or colored with coatings of various resins.
In the 13th century, turquoise was mistakenly believed to have come from the country of Turkey. Hence, its name came from the French word for Turkey, “Turquie.” The stone was actually brought to Europe from Persia (now Iran), via Turkey. It is a mineral usually found in association with copper deposits and is sometimes mined as a by-product of copper mining.
Although turquoise is found in desert regions worldwide, the finest and most valuable comes from Iran. Iranian turquoise is a pure robin’s egg blue that is free of green overtones, matrix or black veins. Perhaps the most famous turquoise today, however, comes from the southwestern United States. The occurrence in Arizona and New Mexico produces greener shades of the stone with matrix streaks of various colors.
While only ranking between 5.0 and 6.0 on the Mohs Scale of hardness, turquoise remains quite popular for jewelry. In Europe, turquoise rings are given as forget-me-not gifts, while in the United States, the stone is given as traditional 5th and 11th wedding anniversary gifts. It has even become a modern consideration for the December birthstone. When wearing turquoise over the years, the stone will absorb oil from a person’s skin, causing a slight change to the color of turquoise.
Turquoise is commonly treated in various fashions to ensure its durability and visual appeal, especially when set in jewelry. If a stone has been treated, the type of process will be noted. Stabilized turquoise is enhanced through a process of coating the genuine gemstone with colorless acrylics or resin to fill porous gaps, harden the stone and maintain the stone’s color. Reconstituted turquoise is enhanced through a process in which genuine gemstone fragments are powdered and bonded with resin to reinforce the stone. Impregnated turquoise is enhanced through a process in which the genuine gemstone is infused with oil, wax or resin to reinforce the stone.
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.