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.
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.