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.
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.
Pronounced SAV-OH-RITE, the tsavorite gemstone features an intense green color that ranges from a vivid light hue to a deep, velvety forest shade. It is a member of the garnet family and is often referred to as a green grossularite. Like other garnets, tsavorite is naturally pristine with no treatments and features a strikingly high brilliance.
In 1967, British geologist Campbell R. Brides discovered tsavorite in Tanzania. He found strange, potato-shaped rocks that had breathtakingly beautiful green grains and crystals inside them. In 1971, he discovered the same gemstone vein extended into Kenya, where he could officially start exploiting the occurrence.
Henry Platt, the former president of Tiffany & Co in New York, named the stone after its occurrence near the famous game frontier, Tsavo-National Park. In 1974, Tiffany’s started a special promotion campaign to make tsavorite well known throughout the United States. Campaigns in other countries followed, and tsavorite soon became sought-after everywhere.
Tsavorite is quite rare and can cost several thousand dollars per carat depending on size and quality. Larger stones are exceedingly scarce. Only occasionally is a rough crystal more than 5.00ct found, making tsavorites weighing 2.00ct or more quite valuable. Fortunately, the brilliance and luminosity of these gems are displayed even in smaller sizes. They rank a hardness of 7.5 on the Mohs Scale and enjoy an especially high light-refraction index.
Too new to have folklore of its own, tsavorite is believed to hold the mystical powers of garnet, including protection and healing. Garnets also symbolize loyalty and can be exchanged between friends to ensure they meet again.
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.
Necklace & Bracelet Clasp Types
A clasp is more than a practical device used to fasten your jewelry. It is part of the overall design and can be a very important focal point. Be sure to consider if it will suit your needs of durability, fashion, comfort and peace of mind.
Lobster Claw Clasp: As a traditional clasp style found in bracelets and necklaces, the lobster claw is generally reserved for heavier styles that may need added strength. The closure's shape is more oblong, similar to a teardrop shape, and is controlled by a tip that opens and closes the spring in the clasp. This type is also considered a more expensive finding that can add to the overall value of the jewelry piece.
Magnetic Clasp: The popularity of the magnetic clasp has greatly increased in recent years. It is a quick and easy way to secure jewelry while not having to fuss with a tiny clasp, which can be difficult if you have long fingernails, arthritic hands or other mobility challenges. A magnetic clasp relies on a strong internal magnet that works to pull both ends of the clasp together. In most cases, a magnetic clasp is used for light to medium weight jewelry pieces that do not put excessive stress on the magnet.
Slide Insert Clasp: This type of clasp is exactly as it sounds. With a box-like shape that is hollow on the inside, the wearer will slide the nearly-flat tab into the box until it clicks, indicating a secure closure. On some jewelry, a slide insert clasp will be accompanied by a side safety catch, which adds strength and security to the clasp. Although this type of clasp is found on both bracelets and necklaces, it is particularly popular on bracelet styles. These types of clasps are often reserved for more expensive jewelry.
Spring Ring Clasp: One of the most common closure types, the spring ring clasp is typically used for light to medium weight bracelets or necklaces. It is round in its design and features a small tip which controls the opening and closing of the spring. The circle then closes around another smaller loop or link at the other end of the strand.
Toggle Clasp: A toggle clasp is a narrow piece of metal, usually designed in the shape of a bar, which is then pushed through a circular ring to act as a fastener. Unlike the lobster claw or spring ring clasps, a toggle clasp is not controlled by a spring. The pretty design is less secure than other closure types, but is usually meant to be a big part of the design and is meant to "show". The clasp is an attractive way to secure a chunkier link bracelet or necklace.