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.
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.
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.