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.
Iolite gets its name from its sensational color, using the Greek words ios (violet) and lithos (stone). The stone, often referred to as water sapphire, cordierite or dichroite, was used by the Vikings as a navigational tool and came to be knows as “Vikings’ Compass.” When Viking explorers ventured far into the Atlantic Ocean, away from any coastline that could help them determine position, they were able to navigate safely by looking through iolite lenses that allowed them to find the exact position of the sun.
The property that made iolite so valuable to the Vikings was the gem’s pleochroic property, which is the display of different colors when viewed from different directions (like a modern-day polarized filter used in sunglasses). A cube cut from iolite will look violet-blue from one side, clear as water from the other and honey yellow from the top.
Pleochroism may have been helpful in navigation, but it makes a gem cutter’s job quite difficult. If iolite is not cut from exactly the right direction, its color will not show to its best advantage. When cut properly, the stone is usually a violet blue and can be obtained in sizes up to 5.00 carats relatively easily. Iolite ranks a 7.0-7.5 on the Mohs Scale and is readily available and affordable. Today, it is mined in Brazil, India, Mozambique, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. The Vikings probably mined iolite from deposits in Norway and Greenland.
Traditionally given as a 21st anniversary gift, iolite is thought to bring harmony to relationships. It is also said to balance the masculine and feminine aspects of one’s own character, bringing harmony and enabling that person to enjoy each moment. Iolite is believed to heighten psychic abilities by aiding and encouraging people along their spiritual paths. It is said to enhance curiosity and achievement, and aid in money management. Iolite is also believed to possess the power to guide lost sailors to the brilliance of the sun, so that they may find their way home.
An ancient Persian legend states the Earth rests on a gigantic sapphire that gives its blue reflection to the sky. The most popular colors for sapphires range from light blue to a blue that appears black. Hence, the name was derived from the Latin form of the Greek word for blue, “sapphirus.” Bright daylight makes most sapphires shine more vividly than the somewhat muted artificial light. So the most highly cherished color for blue sapphires is not the darkest blue, but a deep and satiated blue, which even in dim, artificial light remains to appear blue.
While sapphires are best known for being velvety blue, it was decided long ago to consider all gemstones of the mineral family corundum to be sapphires. Non-blue sapphires are termed “fancy” and can be nearly any color, including yellow, green, white/colorless, pink, orange, brown, purple, golden and even black. Red corundum is the exception, however, and was given the special name of “ruby.” Since pink is really just a light red, the International Colored Gemstone Association has resolved to consider light shades of the red hue to be included in the category ruby, as it is too difficult to legislate where red ends and pink begins. In practice, however, pink shades of corundum are known as either pink ruby or pink sapphire. All sapphires rank a 9.0 on the Mohs Scale, second only to diamonds in hardness.
There are a great number of varieties of sapphire, many of which are quite rare and highly sought-after in the gemstone market. A rare orange-pink variety, known as padparadscha, can be even more valuable than blue sapphire. Pronounced PAD-PA-RAD-SHAH, the name comes from the Sinhalese word for lotus blossom. Endowed with both pink and orange color components, its hues range from pastels to fiery shades. Padparadscha sapphires are usually heat treated to improve and intensify their color, while the color of untreated stones will fade over time. An untreated padparadscha sapphire that has faded will return to its original pinkish-orange color, however, if exposed to sunlight for about an hour.
Another rare variety of sapphire is known as the color-changing sapphire. This stone exhibits different colors in different light. In natural light, color-changing sapphire is blue, but in artificial light, it is violet.
For experts and connoisseurs, the Kashmir-color is considered the most beautiful and valuable shade. It features a pure and intensive blue, which is enhanced by a fine, silky gloss. Its color does not change in artificial light, but remains intense with a deep, velvety sheen. Setting the standard for the color of top-quality sapphires, Kashmir sapphires were found in 1880 after an avalanche. They were intensely mined for only eight years until the source was depleted. The Burma-color is also considered especially valuable, ranging from rich royal blue to deep cornflower blue. Ceylon sapphires are prized as well for the luminosity and brilliance of their light to medium blue color.
There is a translucent variety of sapphire, called star sapphire, which displays a six-point star when cut into a smooth domed cabochon. The mineral rutile is embedded in an asterisk-shape within the stone, causing light to reflect in a phenomenon called “asterism.” Six- or twelve-ray stars appear to magically glide across the surface of the stones as they are moved. Star sapphires and rubies are expensive rarities and should always display the stars exactly in the center of the gem. Value is influenced by the intensity of the body color and the strength and sharpness of the star. The star stone is said to be the home of each person’s angel, who lives there in contentment with the sapphire’s spirit.
The stone is mined in many parts of the world. The oldest sapphire mines are situated in Ceylon, today called Sri Lanka, where gemstones were mined in ancient times. Most blue sapphires today come from Thailand or Australia, but sapphires from Kashmir and Myanmar (formerly Burma) are considered the most rare and highly prized. Sapphires are readily available in sizes of up to 2.00ct, but gems weighing 5.00-10.00ct are not unusual. The cushion-cut Logan Sapphire from Sri Lanka weighs an astounding 423.00ct and can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. There is also a 258.00ct stone set in the Russian crown, which is kept in the Diamond Fund in Moscow.
Because the gem has long symbolized sincere love and enduring faithfulness, blue sapphires are often given in engagement rings to express commitment and loyalty. Many women throughout the world decide on the blue stone for their engagement rings, as the gem also represents truth, friendship, harmony and consistency. Sapphire blue has become a color related to anything permanent and reliable, making it an ideal stone to symbolize the promise of marriage.
Often referred to as “Gem of the Heavens,” sapphire also symbolizes a noble soul. It is September’s birthstone and is traditionally given as 5th and 45th wedding anniversary gifts. Star sapphires are given for the 65th anniversary. The color sapphire-blue is known for representing clarity and competence. In fact, the first computer to ever declare victory over a chess grandmaster and world champion was named “Deep Blue.”
Sapphires have been associated with magical powers throughout the ages. The Greeks identified white sapphires with Apollo and the oracles at Delphi used them to tap into the subconscious and super conscious. During the Middle Ages, sapphires symbolized the tranquility of the heavens and wearing them was thought to bring peace, happiness and purity of the soul. The color blue became the symbol of the union between a priest and the heavens, so sapphires came to be adorned on the rings of bishops. Soldiers wore them to prevent capture by enemies and kings wore the gemstone to defend against harm and put themselves in divine favor. This supposed “divine favor” is why sapphires were often the gemstone of choice for high priests and royalty throughout history. In fact, the British Crown Jewels contain a number of notable sapphires.
Today, sapphires are still believed to hold special powers. The stone is said to provide healing properties for mental illness and depression. It can be considered an aid to psycho kinesis, telepathy and clairvoyance, while providing spiritual enlightenment and inner peace. White sapphires, like diamonds, are considered the guardians of love, enhancing it and ensuring fidelity in marriage. The most powerful type of the gem is said to be the star sapphire. They are believed to protect against negative energy and have a calming effect that allows the mind to experience tranquility, joy and clear thinking.
Zircon often suffers for its name’s similarity to “cubic zirconia,” the simulated diamond. The stone zircon, however, is actually a beautiful natural gemstone. It is named from the Persian word “zargun,” meaning “gold-colored.” This is despite the fact that it comes in a wide range of rainbow colors. The majority of zircons are brown or yellow-brown, while pure red and green are the most valuable colors. The yellow-red to reddish-brown variety is called “hyacinth.”
For many years, the most popular type of zircon was the colorless variety. More than any other natural stone, colorless zircons produce a brilliant sparkle similar to diamonds. The most popular color today tends to be the bright pastel blue variety. Sometimes called “starlite,” blue zircon has recently become considered an alternative birthstone for December.
Zircon is one of the heaviest gemstones, meaning that it will look smaller than other varieties of the same weight. It ranks a hardness between 6.5-7.5 on the Mohs Scale and is mined in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar and Australia.
Travelers during the 11th century wore zircon amulets for protection and to encourage welcome greetings on their journeys. In the Middle Ages, the stone was said to bring wisdom and prosperity to its owner. Hindu mythology even mentions the gem when referencing the Kalpa Tree, which was a glowing tree covered with gemstone fruit and leaves of zircon.
Aquamarine’s name was derived from the Latin terms "aqua” meaning water and "mare” for sea. According to legend, aquamarine was the treasure of mermaids and held the power to keep sailors safe at sea. Sailors carried it to stay in the good graces of Poseidon and ward off seasickness. Other folklore says that aquamarine was the stone of the sea-goddesses and sirens. Sea goddesses were said to cleanse the stone in the ocean water at night by the light of the full moon. Beads of aquamarine are even found in ancient Egyptian mummy tombs, used as a tribute to the gods of the netherworld for safe passage.
From the lightest sky-blue to the deepest sea blue, aquamarines are found in an exceptionally beautiful spectrum of blue hues. With its clear brilliance, deeper colors are unusual in smaller sizes since it generally takes a larger stone to hold a darker shade. The most prized aquamarines are those displaying a deep, intense, pure blue with no green tints. These are more rare and therefore more valuable. Unlike its emerald sister, aquamarine is known for being relatively free of inclusions with evenly distributed color. It retains excellent clarity, which is why aquamarines are frequently cut with large step facets to show off their flawless surfaces, immaculate transparency and high brilliance.
The different shades of aquamarine are distinguished by their names. “Santa Maria” is the name for the rare, intensely deep blue aquamarines found in the Santa Maria de Itabira Mine in Brazil. Similar colors are found in some of the sparse aquamarine gemstone mines in Africa, especially in Mozambique. In order to better distinguish them, these aquamarines are denoted as “Santa Maria Africana.” Not quite as deeply blue are “Espirito Santo” aquamarines from the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo. Another beautiful color has been named in honor of a Brazilian beauty queen from 1954, and has become famous as “Martha Rocha.”
Aquamarine is thought to possess a number of mystical properties, with powers that allegedly develop best if the stone is immersed in sun-drenched water. It is a stone of peace, joy and happiness, especially in the renewing of relationships. Its pale blue color arises sympathy, trust and harmony, all feelings that soothe and calm emotional fires or problems. The gem is said to re-awaken love in married couples or spark new friendships. In fact, carrying an aquamarine is supposed to guarantee a happy marriage and to make its owner happy. As a necklace, it is the most magically ideal gift for a groom to give his bride on the day of their nuptials.
In ancient times, aquamarine was thought to be capable of preserving youth and health. In magic today, this beautiful stone is worn or carried to enhance the utilization of psychic powers. Aquamarine can be worn as a magic charm to ensure good health, to halt fear and to strengthen courage. Because it is a cleansing and purification stone, it can be worn or rubbed on the body as a part of a purification ritual. Aquamarine can also be worn or carried as a protective amulet while sailing or flying over water. Fishermen, sailors and pilots have long made it their special amulet against danger. Other modern beliefs suggest the Santa Maria aquamarine makes the heart beat faster.
Now and then, sensationally large crystals are found. The largest known aquamarine is a 243-pound stone found in Brazil in 1920. It was cut into many smaller stones, and a 13-pound uncut piece resides in the American Museum of Natural History. Another noted aquamarine is an 879.50ct step-cut flawless sea green stone that is on display in the British Museum of Natural History. Aquamarine is found in many exotic places around the world, including Afghanistan, Angola, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Russia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Most of the gemstones available in the market today, however, come from Brazil.
Many modern designers have named aquamarine as their favorite stone, as its light color allows for a special creative freedom to bring out the character and brilliance of each stone. Gemstone artists get their inspiration for new cuts more often from aquamarines than from any other stone. These creative designer cuts have no doubt contributed to its high popularity. Aquamarine is the March birthstone and has become the traditional gift for 16th and 19th anniversary gifts. With an 8.0 ranking on the Mohs Scale , the stone is very durable and can stand up to everyday wear. It is the symbol for youth, hope, health and fidelity.
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.