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.
Often referred to as a gift from the sea, pearl’s origin has been an object of folklore throughout history. Early Chinese myths told of pearls falling from the sky when dragons fought. Ancient Persian legend said that pearls were tears of the gods. In classical times, it was believed that pearls were formed when moonbeams lit upon shellfish, while Indian mythology suggested pearls were formed when dewdrops fell from the heavens into the sea.
In truth, pearls are lustrous gems with an organic origin. They are formed inside mollusks such as oysters, clams and mussels when an irritant such as a tiny stone, grain of sand or small parasite enters the mollusk's shell. To protect its soft inner body, the mollusk secretes a smooth, lustrous substance called nacre around the foreign object. Layer upon layer of nacre coats the irritant and hardens, ultimately forming a pearl.
This process of building a solid pearl can take up to seven or eight years. Generally, the thicker the nacre becomes, the richer the “glow” of the pearl and greater its value. While pearls that have formed on the inside of the shell (called blister pearls) are usually irregular in shape and have little commercial value, those that are formed within the tissue of the mollusk are either spherical or pear-shaped and are highly sought-after for jewelry. Most pearls on the market measure 7.0-7.5mm in diameter, but can be found as small as 1mm or as large as 20mm.
Although some pearls are found naturally in mollusks (considered the most valuable), the vast majority of pearls are grown, or cultured, on pearl farms. To instigate this culturing process, a small shell bead, or nucleus, is surgically inserted into the mantle of an oyster. Despite the fact that pearls are harvested in great quantities on pearl farms, producing a quality pearl is an extremely rare event. It is estimated that half of all nucleated oysters do not survive and, from those that do, only 20 percent create marketable pearls.
Cultured and natural pearls can be distinguished from imitation pearls by rubbing them gently against the edge of a tooth. Cultured and natural pearls will feel slightly rough, like fine sandpaper, because of the texture of natural nacre. Imitations will feel quite smooth because their surfaces are merely molded or painted on smooth beads. Since nacre is organic, pearls are quite “soft” and rank only a 2.5-4.5 on the Mohs Scale. The gems are very sensitive and special care should be taken when wearing and storing them.
The value of a pearl is judged by several factors, and high-quality pearl strands should feature pearls well-matched in these factors: “orient,” the lustrous iridescence that’s produced when light is reflected from the nacre, should glow with a soft brilliance; the nacre’s texture should be clean and smooth, absent of spots, bumps or cracks; the shape of a pearl should be symmetrical and generally the rounder a pearl is, the higher its value; and although pearls come in many different colors (depending on the environment and species of mollusk), the most favored are those that have a rose-tinted hue.
Pearls are cultured in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Akoya pearls are the classic round pearls found in most pearl jewelry. They are mainly grown in the waters off Japan and are found in a range of hues, including white, cream, pink and peach. Mabe pearls are grown in Japan, Indonesia, French Polynesia and Australia. They are usually flat-backed and often called blister pearls because they form against the inside shells of oysters rather than within oysters’ bodies. Tahitian pearls are grown in French Polynesia and come in a range of colors, including gray and black with green, purple or rose overtones. Because of their large size and unique dark colors, they command very high prices. Also prized for their large size, white South Sea pearls are grown in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and other areas of the South Pacific.
Freshwater pearls come in various colors and are grown in bays, lakes and rivers primarily in Japan, China, Europe and the United States (Mississippi River). They are often irregularly shaped and less lustrous than saltwater cultured pearls, making them substantially less expensive.
Pearls have been treasured throughout ancient folklore and history. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, considered pearls to be sacred. The Greeks prized the gems for their beauty and believed that wearing pearls would promote marital bliss and prevent newlywed women from crying. In ancient Rome, pearls were considered the ultimate symbol of wealth and status. The ancient Egyptians were buried with them and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra favored pearls immensely. It is said that while dining with Mark Anthony, she purposely dropped a pearl into her drink to demonstrate the wealth of her rule.
As early as 2000 B.C., pearls have been used as medicine in China, where it was believed to represent wealth, power and longevity. Even today, low-grade pearls are ground for use as medicine in the Orient. Arabs and Persians also believed it was a cure for various kinds of diseases, as well as insanity.
Long ago, when pearls were not cultured and thousands of oysters had to be searched for only one pearl, the gems were important financial assets, comparable in price to real estate. Some European countries even banned all but nobility from the right to wear them. Medieval knights wore them in battle as a talisman against injury, while warriors in India encrusted pearls into their sword handles to symbolize the tears that swords can bring.
Today, the pearl is a universal symbol of innocence and purity. It is the birthstone for June and is considered the traditional gift for couples celebrating their 3rd and 30th wedding anniversaries. Many believe the gem gives wisdom through experience, quickens the laws of karma and cements engagements and love relationships. It is also considered to offer the powers of wealth, protection and luck.
The largest pearl in the world is approximately 3” long and 2” wide, weighing one-third of a pound. Called the Pearl of Asia, it was a gift from India’s Shah Jahan to his favorite wife, for whom he also built the Taj Mahal. Another famous pearl is called “La Peregrina,” or “the Wanderer,” and is considered by experts to be the most beautiful pearl in the world. Pear-shaped and measuring 1-1/2” in length, it is said that 400 years ago the pearl was found by a slave in Panama, who gave it up in return for his freedom. In 1570, the conquistadors sent the pearl to King Philip II of Spain. The pearl was passed to Mary I of England, who gave it to Prince Louis Napoleon of France, who sold it to the British Marquis of Abercon. After disappearing for a century, the pearl turned up once again in 1969 at a New York auction house. It was purchased by actor Richard Burton for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.
Tourmaline occurs in virtually every color of the spectrum, with an unlimited range of solid and mixed colors in all imaginable shades. According to an ancient Egyptian legend, this is the result of the gemstone traveling along a rainbow from the Earth’s heart, up to the sun. On its journey, the legend says that tourmaline collected all the colors of the rainbow, which is why nowadays it is called the “Rainbow Gemstone.”
Tourmalines displaying just one color are quite rare since one crystal usually shows two or more shades or colors. In fact, the name “tourmaline” has been derived from the Singhalese expression “tura mali,” which translates to “stone of mixed colors.” Even two stones cut from the same rough mother crystal will often show different colors, a characteristic that makes tourmalines so attractive and sought-after.
Tourmaline crystals come from a mineral group that usually forms in various combinations of elements. The slightest changes in composition will result in completely different colors. Thus, it is possible that in one naturally grown crystal, there will appear completely different colors. Some will show only slightly shaded color fields, while others will display contrasting colors and defined color zoning. Tourmalines rank a hardness of 7.0-7.5 on the Mohs Scale and may be as small as a knitting needle or as thick as a thigh. They are easily available in sizes of up to 5.00ct.
Different shades of colored tourmalines have been assigned specific names. Bi-colored and multi-colored tourmalines have several names for the common combinations of colors. Crystals with red or pink cores and green borders are called watermelon-tourmalines. Stones with colorless crystals and black tips are called Maur’s Head or Moor’s Head, while colorless crystals with red tips are called Turk’s Head. If the color zones are arranged one on top of the other, the stone is considered a rainbow tourmaline.
The red variety of tourmaline changes its name based on the coloring in different types of lighting. Deep red tourmaline named rubellite shows the same fine ruby-red shade in daylight and in artificial light. Should the color change when the source of light changes, the stone is simply called a pink tourmaline. With its exquisitely intense coloring, rubellite was once the victim of misidentification for rubies in the Russian crown jewels.
A recognizable variety of the gem is simply called, green tourmaline. It comes in a variety of green shades, including leek-green, intense yellow-green, olive-green and brownish-green. Chromium-tourmaline is the trade name for the emerald-green variety. The most rare and highly coveted green hues are the blue-green stones often called African tourmalines and the bottle-green gems referred to as Brazilian tourmalines.
Perhaps the most beautiful variety is the Paraiba tourmaline. It ranges in color from electric blue to neon blue-green to sizzling turquoise. Discovered in the Brazilian state of Paraiba, its spectacular color is due to the presence of a small amount of copper. A study by the German Foundation for Gemstone Research recently also discovered a surprisingly high content of gold in the stones. While the average gold content of the Earth’s crust is 0.007 parts per million, Paraiba tourmalines contain a remarkable 8.6 parts per million. So if they were not so breathtaking, the gems might be in danger of being crushed to acquire their gold.
Paraiba tourmalines are mined near a village called Sao Jose de Batalha. In 1989, the miners discovered a new vein of gem-quality stones with extraordinarily bright shades of blue and green. Hand-excavated shafts and tunnels are up to 60 meters deep and the tourmaline is found only in pencil-thin veins. Because of the difficulty in mining, supply will always be limited and Pariaba tourmalines will always be rare and expensive. Dealers all over the world are competing for the Paraiba tourmaline, which means that it can command retail prices more than $20,000 per carat.
In the year 2000, electric yellow tourmalines were found in Malawi in East Africa. With a clear and pure color, they were deemed “canary tourmalines”. Only 10 percent of all the mined yellow stones are gem-quality and when cut, more than 95 percent of the harvest will weigh less than 1.00ct. Yellow tourmalines are considered to be the only gemstones that have a fine scent. This is because their crystals are often embedded into black material that must be removed before the stones are cut. An owner of a Malawi gemstone mine discovered the black matter was easily removed when the rough crystals were boiled in water and lemon juice. Ever since then, yellow tourmalines from Malawi not only resemble fresh lemons in color, but also in their scent before they are cut.
Other tourmalines are called “indigolith” if they are blue and “dravite” if they are golden to dark brown. Black tourmalines are known as “schorls” and are mainly used for engraving. Although they were used as mourning jewelry, ancients believed black tourmalines to be stones that protected against negativity and strengthened the heart.
Tourmalines are piezoelectric, meaning they can generate electrical charges when heated, compressed or vibrated. They then become polarized crystalline magnets and can attract light objects. The Dutch, who originally brought the stone to Europe, knew about this effect and used heated tourmalines to extract ashes from their pipes. The stones were even favorite toys of Dutch children before their gem quality was established. Because the gem’s electrical charges attract dust and small materials, some believe that wearing pink tourmalines will attract love and green ones will attract success.
Tourmaline has often been called the “muses’ stone” because it is believed that its imaginative colors contain inspirational powers that grant enlightenment, enable creativity and express an artist’s mood. Due to the stones’ energetic conductivity and vast array of elements, they are thought to have powerful healing abilities and protect against many dangers. Tourmaline is supposed to be an especially powerful influence on love and friendship, fostering compassion and cool headedness. It is considered the traditional gift to give couples celebrating their 8th wedding anniversary.
Ever since the ancient days, the gem has been attributed with magical powers. Today, specific colors of tourmaline are thought to hold individualized powers. Black is believed to strengthen the immune system and bring luck and happiness when rubbed. Green tourmaline is said to encourage communication and bring success, while blue is a balancer that stimulates other tourmalines’ effectiveness. Watermelon tourmaline is believed to increase perception and creativity, while balancing passivity and aggressiveness. Pink is thought to promote peace, increase spiritual understanding and bring forth love and friendship.