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.
Known for its fiery combination of colors, opal is called the “Cupid stone” because it was said to reflect the complexion of the Greek god of love. The ancient Romans believed the gem was the symbol of hope, good luck and purity. Today, it remains a symbol of hope and inspiration. With a name stemming from the Latin word for “precious stone,” opal is considered October’s birthstone and is traditionally given as a 14th anniversary gift.
Opals are luminous and iridescent stones with inclusions of many colors called "fire." It is sometimes called the "queen of gems" because it can flash patterns of color representing every hue of the rainbow. In fact, most stones are usually cut into domed cabochons to enhance the color play. The brilliance and pattern of an opal’s fire determines its value. Opals with strong flashes of red fire are generally the most prized, while stones with blue or green flashes are more common and subsequently less valuable. Stone size also helps determine price, since the gem is very rare in larger sizes.
In order to produce a stone that is less expensive than a solid opal, an opal doublet can be manufactured. It is composed of a thin layer of opal glued on top of another mineral (usually a black onyx or ironstone, which enhances the opal's color). An opal triplet can be made with a thin layer of opal sandwiched between a layer of clear quartz on top and a layer of obsidian or ironstone on the bottom. The clear quartz top layer makes the gem harder and less susceptible to scratches. Since top-quality natural opals are extremely rare and expensive, many are treated with colorless oil, wax or resin to enhance their appearance. Ranking a hardness of 5.5-6.5 on the Mohs Scale, these treatments also fill cracks in the stone to improve durability.
A species of quartz, opal is one of the few gemstones that are sedimentary in origin. Millions of years ago, after ancient seas receded, silica-laden sediment was deposited around shorelines. Erosion made much of this silica into a solution that filled cracks in rocks, clay and fossils. Layers upon layers of silica jell were added to each other over millions of years and became precious opals. The stones still contain 6 to 10 percent water, a remnant of ancient seas. Because they have high water content, opals should be protected from heat and strong light in order to prevent them from drying out and cracking.
Opal is found in a range of hues, including white opal (the most common), black opal (the most valuable), boulder opal (black opal with iron oxide), crystal or water opal (which is transparent), and fire opal (which features a bright solid color). Prices can vary from a few dollars per carat for white opal to more than $1,000 per carat for fine black opal.
White opals tend to have more diffused fire due to their light background color. Rare black opals have a black to dark gray body color that allows for the fire to be the most noticeable, making them the most valuable type of opal. Boulder opals are cut with the natural host rock left on the back. They are found with interesting hills and valleys on the surface and inclusions in the foreground, forming odd shapes that make them a designer’s delight. Crystal opal is transparent with flashes of rainbow colors, while fire opal only occasionally has this play of color.
Fire opal’s backdrop color is the main attraction. It has recently become very popular as jewelry designers are growing to appreciate its bold presence and bright color. With hot yellows, fiery oranges and juicy reds, the fire opal is a bright gemstone that is usually faceted to add sparkle and enhance the fabulous color.
The relatively rare Peruvian blue opal comes from the Andes Mountains in Peru and was cherished by the Incas. It features the translucent turquoise-blue color of tropical oceans and has soft, relaxing energies said to be good for quieting the mind during meditation. It is thought to relieve stress and bring about a tranquil, healing nature. Peruvian blue opal is also believed to increase clear thinking, spark creativity and aid in sleep.
The vast majority of the world's opal supply comes from Australia, first discovered there by gold panners in 1863. In addition to the small quantity of opal produced in Kenya and Canada, white opal is mined in Brazil, black opal is found only at Lightning Ridge in Australia, and crystal and fire opal can be found in the United States and Mexico.
Opals have been treasured for thousands of years throughout the world. A beautiful opal called the “orphanus” was featured in the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor and was said to guard the regal honor. The Aztecs mined opal in South and Central America and Archaeologist Louis Leakey found 6,000-year-old opal artifacts in a cave in Kenya. Napoleon gave Josephine a beautiful opal with brilliant red flashes called “The Burning of Troy,” making her his Helen. To this day, opals are still set in the crown jewels of France.
Shakespeare regarded opal as a symbol of shifting inconstancy, comparing its play of color to play of mind. In “Twelfth Night” he wrote, “Now the melancholy God protect thee, and the tailor make thy garments of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is opal.” In the 19th century, Sir Walter Scott caused a reputation that opals were unlucky. The heroine of his popular novel had her life force caught in the opal she wore in her hair and died when its fire was extinguished.
For thousands of years, opals have been revered for their supposed mystical powers. Romans thought the stone kept the wearer safe from disease and wore it near the heart to ward off evil and protect travelers. Ancient Arabs believed that opals fell from heaven in flashes of lightning, which explained their fiery colors. During the Middle Ages, opal was called “ophthalmios,” meaning “eye stone,” due to a widespread belief that it was beneficial to eyesight. Some thought its effect on sight could render the wearer invisible, and the stone was even recommended for thieves. In medieval Scandinavia, blonde women wore opals in their hair to prevent it from going gray.
Today, opals are still believed to hold magical powers. White opals, when used in rituals on a full moon night, are said to bring the moon goddess’ powers into full effect within the practitioner. A fire opal surrounded with 10 or 12 diamonds and worn on a gold necklace is said to have excellent money-drawing power.
Opals have been said to bring good luck, grant vigor and ideally protect travelers. The stones have long been believed to develop and increase mental capacities and open the unused powers of the mind. The colorful fire in opals is said to develop a more creative imagination and help recall past lives. It is believed that the most magically powerful opals come from Lightning Ridge in Australia and that the gem loses its power once its owner dies.
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.
Earring Back Types
The backing is an important part of an earring, providing a secure closure and comfortable fit. Keep in mind, some earring styles work better with certain back types. Experiment with the different types to find the best fit for you!
Butterfly Back: A double looped piece resembling a butterfly that fits over a post. Variations on this design are called push back clasps. The basic post and butterfly back are usually used for stud earrings and lighter weight drop earrings.
Hinged Snap Backs: This clasp features a hinged post that snaps into a groove on the back of the earring. It is commonly found on hoops. Sometimes the hinged post is curved to provide more room to fit around the ear, sometimes called a saddleback.
Hook Backs: This earring backing is simply a long, bent post that fits through the piercing. Hooks have several variations, most notably the shepherd's hook and the French hook. While thin wire hooks reduce the weight of long earrings, making them more comfortable, they aren't as secure as other clasp styles.
Lever Back: A hinged lever snaps shut against the curved post to form a closed loop around the ear lobe. This clasp is very secure and good for large or medium sized styles that drop just below the ear.
Omega: Also called French clips, this clasp has a straight post and a looped lever. The hinged lever closes around the post and is held against the ear with pressure. The omega clasp is the most secure clasp, especially for the larger, heavier earrings.
Screw back: This backing is a slight variation of the standard post and butterfly nut back. Instead of pushing on the back, the nut twists onto the threaded post. A screw back post design is often preferred for expensive diamond stud earrings that require increased security.