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.
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.
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.