Sterling Silver Paua Shell (Abalone) Marcasite
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.”
Finishes on Sterling Silver
Rhodium Plating: Rhodium plating is a complex and laborious process that enhances the luster and beauty and extends the life of silver. A member of the platinum metal group, rhodium is often used as a finishing touch on silver jewelry. It's a shiny silvery metal with a very white and reflective appearance, much like mercury. It's also very hard, so it withstands much wear and tear, resists natural tarnishing and wonderfully mimics the brilliant finish of freshly polished silver.
Finishing, or plating, is a common treatment with sterling silver. Popular types of plating are rhodium plating, gold plating and anti-tarnish plating. Plating is used to extend the life and sheen of the jewelry. After sizing or buffing a piece of jewelry with a machine, it must be re-plated to restore the finish.
Caring for Sterling Silver
Avoid exposing sterling silver to direct sunlight and harsh chemicals, including chlorine, ammonia, hair products, perfumes, cosmetics, perspiration and strong jewelry cleaning solutions.
Periodically wash sterling silver with mild dish soap and warm water. Rinse well and dry completely with a soft cloth before storing because moisture can cause tarnish.
Lightly polish sterling silver frequently with a soft silver-polishing cloth, avoiding abrasive cloths completely.
Tarnish is easy to remove when it first forms as a yellowish tint, but becomes more difficult to remove when it becomes brown and black. Remove tarnish with a silver polish cream, avoiding immersing pieces with gemstones in tarnish-removal solutions.
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.
Sterling silver becomes tarnished as the result of a natural chemical process that occurs when sterling silver is exposed to chemicals in the air, rubber, wool and latex. Humidity also plays a role in accelerating tarnishing. It's easy to keep your sterling silver sparkling, though, by taking a few steps to prevent tarnish and other wear and tear.
Paua shell features vibrant color variations of blue, green, silver, pink, purple and mother-of-pearl. Although its rough exterior is black, paua’s interior is the most colorful type of abalone shell in the world. Its iridescent patterns even change color when viewed from different angles. Because color range and patterns vary from shell to shell, each piece of paua is unique and one-of-a-kind.
Paua is a species of abalone that is found only in the seas around New Zealand. It has larger cousins located around the world, such as in California and Japan, but those species aren’t as colorful. Paua’s unique coloring is produced from the rich volcanic sediments found within the unpolluted southern New Zealand waters. They are marine mollusks that eat seaweed and cling to rocks at depths of one to ten meters. The holes in the shells are for breathing and reproduction. Starfish are paua’s main predator and can suffocate the shellfish by putting their tentacles over the breathing holes, forcing it to let go of the rock.
Used for food since ancient times, paua meat is considered a delicacy. The exquisite shells used for ornamentation are simply natural by-products. The New Zealand government strictly controls the harvesting of abalone to ensure the sustainability of this natural resource. It has enforced a quota system for the gathering of paua by both commercial and individual fishermen. Paua fishers must free-dive to pry the mollusks from the rocks, as no compressed air diving is allowed. Moreover, all paua that is gathered must be no smaller than five inches in size. There are stiff penalties for those caught removing undersize shells.
In many cultures, abalone shell is used in herbal remedies and is considered a treatment for vertigo, dizziness, blurred vision and headaches. Pacific Rim cultures have considered it a symbol of good fortune and believe it to have powers as an aphrodisiac. Some believe that wearing paua shell aids in creativity and calming. Folklore identifies paua with beauty, physical strength and power. It is believed to improve self-image and increase personal strength and endurance.
Marcasite, a name derived from the Arabic word for pyrite, is the term applied to small polished and faceted stones inlayed in sterling silver. Their color is usually described is being pale bronze, looking rather gray with a greenish tint. A multi-colored tarnish may exist as a result of oxidation. With a metallic luster and opaque crystals, marcasite ranks 6.0-6.5 on the Mohs Scale. Occurrences are worldwide, especially in the United States, Mexico, France, Peru, China and Russia.