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.
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.
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.
No other gemstone discovery has made a bigger impact on the jewelry market than the recent newcomer, tanzanite. In 1998 and 1999, it was proclaimed the number one colored stone sold worldwide. Its luscious color, and the fact that the stone is found in only one location throughout the world, makes tanzanite an exceptionally rare, valuable and highly sought-after gem.
Tanzanite’s mesmerizing saturation of color is what has made the stone so popular. It is the blue variety of the mineral zoisite and occurs in a beautiful range of colors. Rarely pure blue, the gem almost always displays signature overtones of purple. In smaller sizes, it tends toward light tones such as lavender, while in larger sizes, the gem typically displays deeper, richer blues and purples. The finest quality tanzanite is usually deep blue or violet, which is extremely spectacular in sizes above ten carats.
Tanzanite is pleochroic, meaning it shows the appearance of several colors in the same stone, depending on perspective. From different angles, the gem can appear blue, purple, yellow, grey or brown. Most rough crystals show a large proportion of brown shades, since tanzanite in its natural form is typically brown with red, orange, yellow or bronze hues.
Gem cutters may change this coloring by heating the stone to 500°C. This heat treatment releases the intense violet-blue colors for which the stone is famous. According to legend, the effect of heat on tanzanite was first discovered when brown zoisite crystals were caught on fire by a lightning strike. Local cattle herders noticed the beautiful blue crystals sparkling in the sun and picked them up, becoming the first tanzanite collectors.
The gem was first discovered near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in the Merelani Hills of east-African Tanzania in 1967. This breathtaking location is the only known mining site on Earth for tanzanite. Right after its discovery, New York jeweler Louis Comfort Tiffany was presented with the first stones. Knowing it was going to be a sensation, he recommended finding a new name for the gem, since the gemological denomination “blue zoisite” reminded him of the word “suicide.” Tiffany suggested the name tanzanite, derived from its place of occurrence, and the new name quickly became established on the market. Tiffany & Co introduced the stone to the public in a spectacular promotional campaign two years after it had been discovered. It was enthusiastically celebrated as the “Gemstone of the 20th Century.”
A noted 122.70ct faceted tanzanite dubbed the “Midnight Blue” is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1996, a 255.00ct tanzanite crystal was discovered near Arusha, but because of its many inclusions, it proved to be of little market value. Tanzanite ranks a hardness of 6.5-7.0 on the Mohs Scale and has become the traditional gift for couples celebrating their 24th anniversaries.
High-quality and larger-size tanzanites can be sold at extremely premium prices. Although demand for this beautiful gem continues to grow, supply shortages in recent years have hampered production and caused price fluctuations. In 1998, the weather phenomenon known as “El Nino” soaked Tanzania with heavy rains during what should have been the drought period. When the monsoons hit, the groundwater swells were high and caused devastating floods. Mines caved in and all hopes of finding additional tanzanite rough were swept away. As a result, shortages have created price hikes at retail throughout the world.
Because it is such a new gemstone, there is little folklore, superstitions or healing properties surrounding tanzanite. Some believe the stone helps people to be more practical, realistic and honest. It is thought to uplift and open the heart while helping one cope with change.