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.
Amethyst, the most precious member of the quartz family, exhibits purple shades ranging from pale lilac to deep purple, sometimes exhibiting reddish or rose overtones. Very deep-colored amethysts are the finest and most highly valued. Some stones are so over-saturated with color they have areas that are blacked out, which can negatively impact their value. Paler shades, sometimes called "Rose of France," were common in Victorian jewelry. Banding—darker and lighter zones of color—is also a common occurrence. Occasionally, amethyst is even found combined with its sister quartz, citrine, into a single stone called ametrine.
The birthstone for February, amethyst is an extremely popular gem for jewelry because of its regal color, variety of sizes and shapes, affordability and wide range of hues. It also is the recommended gem for couples celebrating their 6th and 17th wedding anniversaries. With a hardness of 7.0 on the Mohs Scale , amethyst can occur as long prismatic crystals that have six-sided pyramids at either end, or can form as drusies that are crystalline crusts that only show the pointed terminations.
The ancient Greeks believed that amethyst made one immune to the effects of alcohol. In fact, the name even comes from the Greek word amethystos, which means “not drunken.” Legend has it that the amethyst originated from Bacchus, the god of wine. Bacchus became angry at the mortals and vowed that the next mortal to cross his path would be eaten by tigers. Amethyst, a beautiful young maiden, was on her way to worship the goddess, Diana. Diana turned her into colorless quartz to keep her from being eaten. Bacchus observed the miracle and repented his hasty decision. He poured wine over the young maiden, leaving her feet and legs colorless. This is the reason that amethyst crystals are usually uneven in color and have a colorless base at the bottom. Because amethyst was believed to prevent drunkenness, wine goblets were often carved from it in ancient Greece. Today, the gem still symbolizes sobriety.
Amethyst has been a part of history throughout the ages. Evidence suggests that prehistoric humans used amethysts for decoration as early as 25,000 B.C. Legends suggest that the Egyptian queen Cleopatra wore an amethyst signet ring, as did Saint Valentine, who bared an amethyst engraved with the figure of Cupid. During medieval times, people used the stone as medication to stay awake and alert. Leonardo Da Vinci claimed that amethyst could dissipate evil thoughts and quicken the intelligence. In some legends, the stone represents piety, celibacy and dignity. In the Middle Ages, for instance, the gem was an important ornamentation for the Catholic Church and other religions. It was considered the stone of bishops, and they still often wear amethyst rings. In Tibet, amethyst is considered sacred to Buddha and rosaries are often made from it. Amethyst has also long been a favorite of kings and queens for its royal purple hues that symbolize wisdom, strength and confidence. Amethysts are even featured in the British Crown Jewels and were worn by Catherine the Great.
Amethyst’s availability and magical qualities make it the stone of preference in ancient lore and mysticism. As a meditation stone, it is said to quiet the mind, promote contemplation, sharpen psychic powers and uplift the spirit. It is a stone of deep wisdom. Folklore says it can quicken the wit, calm fears, ward off anger and overcome alcoholism. It has a royal purple essence that is said to lend courage to travelers, scare off thieves and protect travelers from harm, sickness and danger. Placed under the pillow or worn to bed, there are claims it promotes peaceful sleep, pleasant dreams, and the healing of tired joints and muscles. Amethyst can also be worn to supposedly make the wearer gentle, amiable and happy.
The stone is mined in Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia and Argentina, as well as in Zambia, Namibia and other African nations. Very dark amethyst in small sizes also is mined in Australia. But the ideal for fine quality amethyst was set by a Siberian variety, often called Russian or Uralian amethyst, which is now considered a defunct source. Generally, South American amethyst tends to come in larger sizes than African amethyst, but the African variety has a reputation for having deeper color intensity and is therefore considered more valuable. The African version also is harder to come by than amethyst mined from South America. Most of today's amethyst comes out of Brazil.
Found all over the world, agate has been creatively striped by nature. It is a type of chalcedony quartz that forms in concentric layers of colors and textures. Each individual agate forms by filling a cavity in a host rock. As a result, agate often is found as a round nodule with concentric bands like the rings of a tree trunk. Tiny quartz crystals called druzy (sometimes spelled as drusy) often form within the stone, adding to its beauty and uniqueness. Agate is a hard stone, within the range of 7.0-9.0 on the Mohs Scale.
In 1497, the mining of agate in the Nahe River valley in Germany gave rise to the cutting center of Idar-Oberstein. When the Nahe agate deposit was exhausted in the nineteenth century, Idar cutters started to develop the agate deposits of Brazil, discovering Brazil's rich deposits of many other gemstones. A famous collection of two to four thousand agate bowls, accumulated by Mithradates, King of Pontus, shows the popularity of agate at the time. Agate bowls were also popular in the Byzantine Empire. Collecting agate bowls became common among European royalty during the Renaissance and many museums in Europe, including the Louvre, have spectacular examples.
Although the small town of Idar-Oberstein is still known for the finest agate carving in the world, today Idar imports a huge range of other gem materials from around the world for cutting and carving in Germany. Cameo master carvers, modern lapidary artists and rough dealers flourish there, exporting their latest gem creations. It is an entire industry that grew from the desire for agate products during the Renaissance.
Agate was highly valued as a talisman or amulet in ancient times. It was said to quench thirst and protect from fevers. Persian magicians used agate to divert storms. Today, some believe that agate is a powerful emotional healer and helps people discern the truth.
Carnelian, also spelled cornelian, ranges in color from light brownish-red, to dark reddish-orange, to deep transparent red, to bright orange. The rich color is due to the iron content and can be placed in the sun to change brown tints to red. A translucent to opaque stone, carnelian is moderately hard with a hardness of 6.5-7.0 on the Mohs Scale. This relatively inexpensive gem features great warmth and beauty and is often found as engraved cameos in antique jewelry. It is the stone of happiness and harmony in love.
Some of the oldest examples of jewelry contain carnelian and it has been featured in nearly every great civilization. The greatest myths surrounding the stone come from the Egyptian culture. At an excavation site in Ur, archaeologists uncovered the tomb of Pu-Abi, a Sumerian Queen from the third millennium, B.C. She wore a robe that contained carnelian, along with other precious and semi-precious materials. Ancient Egyptian tombs are full of examples of carnelian jewels because of the Egyptians’ belief in the stone’s power in the afterlife. According to their system, the Egyptian goddess Isis used amulets of carnelian to ensure a soul’s safe passage into the next world. The Egyptians so revered the power of the stone that it was one of three used most often in their jewelry, along with turquoise and lapis lazuli. Carnelian was a symbol of life in Pharaonic Egypt, and adorns the precious funerary pectoral of Tutankhamon.
Because carnelian has been revered for its healing, spiritual and creative qualities, Buddhists in China and India created amulets inlaid with carnelian and other semi-precious stones, ascribing to them powers of protection and utilizing them for many rituals. To this day, Buddhists in China, India and Tibet believe in the protective powers of carnelian and often follow the Egyptian practice of setting the stone with turquoise and lapis lazuli for enhanced power. The stone also appears in the Bible as one of the stones included on Aaron’s breastplate.
Carnelian has been recommended as an aid for anyone having a weak voice or being reluctant to speak. The belief was that carrying or wearing carnelian would give the person courage both to speak boldly and loudly. In fact, Napoleon is recorded to have carried one he found in Egypt and to have had faith in it as a talisman. Perhaps he followed the belief reported by Merrill: “The wearing of carnelian insured victory in all contests save those of love.”
Carnelian is a form of chalcedony, which is the microcrystalline form of quartz. Because quartz is the most common crystal on Earth, deposits of carnelian are found throughout the world. The most famous sites are in India, Brazil, Uruguay and Japan. The deposits are usually found in the lower temperature and lower pressure zones near the Earth’s surface, but the best carnelian is found in India.