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.
For thousands of years, ruby has been considered one of the most valuable gemstones on Earth. It is called the “King of Gemstones” and known as the stone of love. The gem is the red variety of the mineral corundum, and while any other color of corundum is denominated as “sapphire,” only red corundum may be called “ruby.” Pure corundum is colorless, but slight traces of elements are responsible for ruby’s purplish bluish-red to orange-red color. In fact, the name “ruby” was derived from the Latin word “rubens,” meaning “red.”
The finest rubies are an intensely saturated pure red with no overtones of brown or blue. They are readily available in sizes up to 2.00ct and have incredible durability, ranking a 9.0 on the Mohs Scale (second only to diamonds in hardness). Rubies may show very different shades of red depending on their origin, and the range of these reds is quite considerable. The gem’s intense color was once thought to come from an undying flame inside the stone, while other legends say each stone is a piece of the planet Mars.
Some rubies distinguish themselves with a wonderful silky shine, called the “silk” of the stone, which is created by fine rutile needles within the gem. The rutile mineral is also involved within very scarce “star” rubies. As can be found in sapphires, there is a translucent variety of ruby that displays a six-point star when cut into a smooth domed cabochon. Rutile is embedded in an asterisk-shape within the ruby, causing a captivating light effect called “asterism.” Six-ray stars appear to magically glide across the surface of the stones as they are moved. Star rubies are expensive rarities and should always display the stars exactly in the center of the gem. The star stone is said to be the home of each person’s angel, who lives there in contentment with the ruby’s spirit.
Rubies are found in many countries throughout the world, each location producing rubies of specific qualities and colors. Gemstone experts agree that the Burmese ruby is the most valuable and luxurious category of the stone. The former country of Burma, now Myanmar, is situated in a mountain valley surrounded by high summits. Rubies that are mined from this “Valley of Rubies” feature an exceptionally vivid red color with a slightly bluish hue. The stones display their unique brilliance in both natural and artificial light.
Rubies from Thailand, another classical supplier of the gem, are often dark red tending towards brown. This “Siam color” is considered almost as beautiful as the Burma color. Rare rubies from Ceylon are mainly light red, like ripe raspberries, while rubies of Vietnamese origin generally display a slightly purplish hue. Rubies are also produced in India, where relatively large ruby crystals have been discovered. These particular rubies, however, have many inclusions, but are excellently suited to be cut as beads or cabochons. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia have also produced occasional top-quality rubies, but the rough terrain in these areas has made mining difficult.
Top-quality rubies are quite rare and are often considered even more valuable than colorless diamonds, particularly in sizes above 5.00ct. High prices tend to reflect their tremendous value. In 1988, a 16.00ct ruby sold at auction for $227,301 at Sotheby's in Geneva, Switzerland. A 27.37ct Burmese ruby ring sold for $4 million at Sotheby's in 1995, which was an astounding $146,145 per carat.
It is possible that no other gemstone has been as prized as the ruby. Celebrated in the Bible and in ancient Sanskrit writings as the most precious of all gemstones, rubies have adorned emperors and kings throughout history. Until improvements in chemical testing in the 1800s, most red gem-quality stones were called rubies. Thus, many of the famous “rubies” in the crown jewels of Europe, including Britain’s “Black Ruby” and the “Timur Ruby,” have since been identified as red spinels or garnets. Today, rubies continue to decorate the insignia of many Royal Houses.
In the 13th century, traveler Marco Polo wrote that Kublai Kahn, the Mongol Emperor of China, once offered an entire city for a ruby the size of a man’s finger. In ancient Hindu writings, the ruby represents the sun power. In China, the stone was given as offerings to Buddha.
Rubies were also given as offerings to Krishna in India. For a long time, India was considered the classical country of rubies. Their literature offers a rich and varied knowledge of the stone that was collected and handed down for over two thousand years. In the Sanskrit language, ruby is called “ratnaraj,” which translates as “king of gemstones.” Whenever a spectacular ruby was found, the emperor would send out his notables to welcome the precious gemstone in an appropriate style fit for a king.
In the Middle Ages, it was believed that a ruby could change color and grow darker to warn its owner that danger or illness was near. Thought to ward off misfortune, it was believed to chase away evil spirits and the spirits of the dead. The deep red color of rubies has been used for centuries as protection and to convey invulnerability. Soldiers wore them into battle to guard against wounds and promote healing if they received a wound. The color of blood, the stone is symbolic of courage and bravery. Warriors were said to have implanted rubies under their skin to bring them valor in battle, make them invincible against enemies and ensure victory.
Rubies have also been historically thought to bestow wisdom, wealth and love. In China and Europe during the 10th century, dragons and snakes were carved in the gems’ surfaces to increase the flow of money and power to their owners. A common belief was that dreaming of rubies meant the coming of success in business and money matters. Rubies were also used to capture a mate and light the passion of romance. The gem was believed to have the magical powers of sexual fire and success in love. It has also been said by ancient lore to be capable of reconciling lovers’ quarrels.
When combined with gold and worn on the body, it is said that rubies can cause the body to rejuvenate and absorb energy from the sun to heal all types of body sickness and skin afflictions. It is believed that it should be worn with gold to banish sadness and bring joy.
Given as a symbol of success, devotion and integrity, the ruby is July’s birthstone and the traditional gift for 15th and 40th wedding anniversaries. Rubies have symbolized passion and romance for centuries, so when placed in engagement rings, they express unbridled love and promise of the heart.
A symbol of strength and intelligence, topaz derives its name from Topazios, an island in the Red Sea that is known today as Zabargad. The Greek word “topazios” means “to seek,” since the island was covered with a thick fog and difficult to find. Gemstones found on the island were called topaz, although the stones were eventually found to actually be peridot. The real gem of topaz is found throughout the world, with different occurrences producing specific colors.
Brown, yellow, orange and red topaz are found in Brazil, Sri Lanka and Siberia. Most brownish topaz is heated to produce a permanent and glamorous pink color. Following the discovery of pink topaz in Russia during the 19th century, Imperial topaz was found. Featuring a sherry red, deep pink or reddish-orange color, the gem was so coveted that its ownership was restricted to the Czar, his family and those who received it as a royal gift. Today, Imperial shades are the most rare and, therefore, the most valuable.
Blue topaz is rarely found in nature and is most often created through a combination of heat treatment and irradiation. It is found in Brazil, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and China. Topaz is often colorless, too, and can be found in the United States, Mexico, Russia and Pakistan. In 1998, a new type of enhanced topaz made its appearance with a greenish-blue or emerald green color. All colors of topaz rank an 8.0 on the Mohs Scale of hardness.
Yellow topaz is November’s birthstone and blue topaz is December’s birthstone. Blue topaz is also the traditional gift for 4th and 19th wedding anniversaries, while Imperial topaz is celebrated as a 23rd anniversary gift. Perhaps the most famous topaz is a large, colorless stone known as the Braganza. It was discovered in Brazil in 1740 and was originally thought to be a priceless diamond. Today, the giant 1,680.00ct stone is set in the Portuguese Crown.
The mystery and allure of topaz goes back thousands of years. To the ancients, it was a symbol of love and affection and was thought to ward off sudden death. The Romans associated topaz with Jupiter, the god of the sun. The Greeks called it the Stone of Strength, believing it had the power to increase strength and make its wearer invisible in times of emergency. The Egyptians said the gem was colored with the golden glow of the sun god, Ra, making topaz a powerful amulet that protected its wearer against harm.
Topaz’s mystical curative powers were believed to wax and wane with the phases of the moon. The gem was said to change color in the presence of poisoned food or drink and falcons were carved on the stones to help earn the goodwill of kings and magnates. During the spread of the Bubonic plague in 1347-1400, the clergy touched topaz to people’s sores. Also in medieval times, the gem was thought to prevent death and heal physical and mental disorders. The stones were ground into powder and added to wine to prevent asthma and insomnia.
Today, topaz is said to be the gem that has the widest range of curative powers. It is believed to dispel enchantment, improve eyesight and protect against negative emotions such as depression, anger, fear, greed and envy. Its properties are supposedly enhanced when the gem is mounted in gold. Because of this association with gold, topaz is used to bring or enhance the wearer’s money-gathering abilities and has long been used in money and wealth rituals.
Wearing topaz is said to improve and deepen relationships, promote patience, ensure fidelity and enhance the ability to love. The gem is also believed to bring friendship, intelligence, long life, beauty and a pleasant disposition.
Garnet comes in a vast rainbow of naturally exquisite hues, occurring in every color except blue. It is the family of minerals that displays the greatest variety of colors than any other mineral. The eight major types of garnets include almandine, pyrope, demantoid, grossularite, tsavorite, hessonite, rhodolite and spessartite.
Named after the ancient gemstone city of Alabanda in Asia Minor, the most common type of garnet is almandine (also called almandite). It is a dark red to brownish red stone that is only slightly different from the chemical structure of its sister stone, called pyrope. While nature only grows pyropes in small sizes, it allows for almandine crystals to form in larger dimensions.
Pyrope is a high-quality garnet that can be purplish red, blood red, orange-red or crimson. It is often called the Bohemian garnet since its fierce and often slightly bronze color was highly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries when it came from the north-eastern part of the former Kingdom of Bohemia. In Europe during the Victorian times, pyrope garnets frequently decorated jewelry with many of these small stones tightly arranged along each other like the seeds of a pomegranate. In fact, the name “garnet” most likely was derived from the pomegranate, a fruit whose deep, red-purple color resembles some varieties of the gem. Many ancient pieces of garnet jewelry are also studded with the tiny red gems.
Demantoid is a rich green variety of garnet primarily found in the Ural Mountains of Russia. Russia’s leading court jeweler, Carl Fabergé, loved this brilliant garnet more than any other stone and used it in many of his creations that were lavishly adorned by the Tsars of Russia. Today, demantoid is appearing more often in the gemstone market because of new finds in Namibia. However, these particular garnets from Namibia lack "horsetail-inclusions,” the fine bushy-shaped inclusions that are characteristic of the sought-after Russian demantoids. The gem is quite rare and can cost several thousand dollars per carat depending on size and quality. The larger, brighter demantoids are exceedingly scarce and have been known to show exceptional brilliance, even higher than diamonds.
Grossularite, available in pinks, browns, greens and yellows, is especially cherished because of its many in-between shades and earth colors. In the last year of the 20th century, large grossularite occurrences were discovered in Mali. Charming because of their high brilliance, the Mali garnets make even the brown color attractive and vivid.
Tsavorite is the trade name for a fine green grossularite. It ranges from vivid light green to velvety deep green and, like all other garnets, features a strikingly high brilliance. Tsavorite was discovered in 1967 by British geologist Campbell R. Bridges, and was re-named by Tiffany’s in New York after its occurrence near the famous game park Tsavo-National Park. Mined in Tanzania and Kenya, this particular stone is quite rare and can cost several thousand dollars per carat depending on size and quality. Larger tsavorites are exceedingly scarce.
Hessonite is the variety name for a fine orange, cinnamon brown or pinkish variety of grossularite. It most commonly occurs in golds, oranges and browns.
Rhodolite is a pyrope-almandine garnet that features a velvety red color with a fine purple or raspberry colored undertone. One of the most popular varieties, it is mined in East Africa, India and Sri Lanka and was originally discovered in the United States.
Spessartite garnet can be red or blackish brown, but is most commonly available in golds, oranges and warmer browns. Originally named after its occurrence in the German Spessart Mountains, there was a surprising discovery of the bright orange-red stone in Nigeria and Namibia. Until then, spessartites had existed as mere collector’s items or rarities and were hardly ever used for jewelry because they were so rare. But the new location discovery changed the world of jewelry gemstones and spessartites made their way into jewelry fashion. The most popular type of spessartite is the mandarin garnet, a gem that features a bright orange hue.
Traditionally given as 2nd wedding anniversary gifts, garnets are celebrated as January’s birthstone. They are found all over the world, including Africa, Australia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North America, South and Central America, and Southeast Asia. The garnet ranges from 7.0-7.5 on the Mohs Scale and has been given many different names throughout the gemstone trade, including Arizona Ruby, Arizona Spinel, Montana Ruby or New Mexico Ruby. The stone features a high refraction of light that creates an amazing brilliance and luminosity. In fact, Noah used a garnet lantern to illuminate the darkness and navigate the Ark through 40 days and nights of torrential rain.
Throughout history, garnets have been widely known and prized for their rich hues and supposed mystical properties. Adored by the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis, the gem symbolized faith, truth and friendship and was a favorite of Egyptian jewelry artisans. Garnets were taken into the tombs with the dead as payment to the gods for safe passage through the nether world. It is said that King Solomon wore a large red garnet along with eleven other magical gems in his breastplate (representing the 12 steps of Jacob's Ladder) to help him win battles. Nineteenth-century Asiatic warriors even used the hard stones as bullets. In the 13th century, medieval travelers wore garnets as popular talismans and protective stones, many of which were carved with lions. The gems were thought to repel evil spirits, bad dreams and people with evil intent.
Today, garnets are thought to have protective powers and can be carried by travelers to protect against accidents. The stone is said to light up the night and protect its owner from nightmares. It is also believed to strengthen the body and mind by sparking creativity, dispelling anger and curing depression. People may use the stone to increase the power of their energy fields and gather good vibes. Current superstitions say that the stone symbolizes loyalty and can be exchanged between friends to symbolize affection and ensure they meet again. When used as a healing stone, it is said to relieve skin inflammations and regulate blood flow.