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.
Jade reigns as the universal symbol for good luck and has been treasured in China as the royal gemstone for 5,000 years. The Chinese character for jade resembles a capital “I” with a line across the middle. The top of the character represents the heavens, the bottom the Earth and the center section humankind. It has been considered a symbol of love, virtue and status for thousands of years and remains popular today. Jade is traditionally given as a 12th anniversary gift and is believed to strengthen the body and bring longevity to life.
Jade is the term applied to forms of both jadeite and nephrite. The ancient jade carved in China was what we today call nephrite. In the nineteenth century, it was discovered that the material from the new world was not the same mineral as the jade from China. This new and different jade from Central America was called jadeite to distinguish it from the original nephrite. Both are similar in appearance, yet jadeite is considered the true jade and commands higher prices. Though both are quite durable and tough, ranking 6.5-7.0 on Mohs Scale, jadeite is slightly harder than nephrite due to its microcrystalline structure.
Jadeite has a much more vivid green color with finer translucency than nephrite. It is most treasured for its vivid greens, but it also comes in lavender, pink, yellow and white. Nephrite, however, is found in less intense spinach green, white, brown and black colors. While overall color is the most important factor in considering the value of jade, other important criteria are translucency, texture and pattern. Jade is most often sold by the piece rather than per carat. Because of its smooth and even texture, it has long been a preferred material for carving. When placed in jewelry, it is usually cut into smooth dome shapes called cabochons.
Jadeite is primarily mined in Myanmar. Each year, the state-owned Myanmar Gems Enterprise holds the Myanmar Gems, Jade and Pearl Emporium where boulders are sold to top jade dealers from around the world. The dealers take some high-risk gambles with the jade boulders they purchase. Boulders are sold intact, with only a tiny window cut in the side to expose a small section of the interior. The buyer has no idea what lies inside, whether there is valuable green jadeite or only white or brown-stained inexpensive material. Relying on instinct, buyers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for what may turn out to be exquisite gemstones or huge losses.
The most valuable form of jadeite is known as imperial jade. It is a vivid emerald green color and comes from Myanmar. The Emerald Buddha, a sacred image that is enshrined at Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok, Thailand, is actually beautiful green jadeite. A leek green variety called "Russian Jade" is found near Lake Baikal in Russia. In addition to Myanmar, small quantities of jadeite can be found in Mexico and Central and South America, while nephrite is mined in Australia, Canada, Taiwan and the United States.
In ancient China, Jade was thought to preserve the body after death and was placed in emperors' tombs. One tomb contained an entire suit made of jade, thought to assure the physical immortality of its owner. In Central America, the Olmecs, Mayans and Toltecs also treasured jade and used it for carvings and masks. In Europe, although prehistoric axes and blades carved from jade have been found by archeologists, the gemstone was not popular for jewelry use until the sixteenth century when jade objects were imported from China and, later, Central America. The Portuguese brought home jade pieces from their settlement in China and called jade “piedre de ilharga,” which meant “stone of the loins” because they believed it to be strong medicine for kidney ailments. Jade objects brought to Spain were called by the Spanish version of this phrase, “piedra de hijada.” This became the French word “ejade,” which led to the English word jade.
Peridot features a lively yellow-green color that is transparent with an oily luster. The iron that creates peridot’s color is an integral part of its structure, so the gem is only found in various shades of green. It is most prized in lime hues, but Italian peridot is a rich olive color and popular American peridot is a beautiful light yellow-green. The Romans called peridot “evening emerald” because its exquisite green color was said to glow at night. This is perhaps because the stone exhibits double refraction, meaning that when looking through the stone, objects appear double. So when looking into a faceted peridot, the number of bottom facets appears to be double the actual number, creating a glittering sensation.
Pronounced PEAR-A-DOE, the word “peridot” comes from the French word meaning “gem.” It is the gem variety of the mineral olivine and ranks a 6.5-7.0 on the Mohs Scale.
Born in cauldrons of fire, peridot is considered the “volcanic gem,” since small crystals of it are often found in the rocks created by volcanoes. In fact, Hawaiian legend called peridot the divine tears wept by Pele, goddess of the volcano. The island of Oahu even has beaches made out of olivine grains, but they are much too small to cut into peridot. Samples of the gem also have been discovered in meteorites that have fallen to Earth, many of which are more than a billion years old.
Peridot traces its jewelry roots to 3,500 years ago. The stone was first mined by the ancient Egyptians on the volcanic island of Zebargad in the Red Sea. Known as the “serpent isle,” it was infested with poisonous snakes that interfered with mining activity until one Pharaoh had them all driven into the sea. Today, Native Americans mine most peridot on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. Interestingly, almost all peridot sold in Hawaii is from Arizona, despite the fact that peridot is produced by Hawaii's volcanoes. The gemstone is also found in Norway, Brazil, China, Egypt, Italy, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. An exciting new deposit was discovered in Pakistan in 1994, yielding some of the finest peridot ever seen, including one stone that weighed more than 300.00ct.
Peridot is among the oldest known stones and has been mined as a gem for thousands of years. As early as 1575 to 1350 B.C., the ancient Egyptians used peridot beads in their ceremonial jewelry. In fact, it is believed the stone was one of the favorite gems of Cleopatra and that some of the “emeralds” she wore were actually peridot.
Ancient Egyptians also carved small drinking vessels out of large chunks of peridot. Priests would drink soma from them in rituals, believing the soma would put them in touch with the nature goddess, Isis. Legend has it that King Soloman traded cedar trees from Lebanon for 12 soma drinking cups and 144 liters of soma. The Egyptians made this trade for ramp logs to build their pyramids at Gisa, while King Soloman was said to have been enlightened by drinking soma from the peridot cups. Today, Mexican hill tribes still drink soma from green glazed cups to put them in touch with nature and their ancestors’ spirits. Additionally, some Native American Indians in Arizona use tea made from peyote ground with peridot crystals in their rituals.
Peridot has also been important to other cultures throughout history. Late in the Ottoman Empire (1300 to 1900), peridot was a highly prized gem and Turkish Sultans amassed some of the world’s largest collections of the gemstone. It is mentioned in the Bible under the name of “chrysolite,” and was used to decorate medieval churches with samples that were most likely carried back to Europe by the Crusaders. Large stones weighing more than 200.00ct adorn the Shrine of the Three Magi at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.
Throughout the ages, peridot has been believed to hold mystical powers of protection and healing. The ancients regarded the stone as a symbol of the sun and wore it in amulets to prevent nightmares and drive away evil spirits. It was even favored by pirates to protect them against evil. Peridot was said to be useful for calming raging angers, curing nervous afflictions and promoting quiet sleep. It was also used as a medical remedy to treat asthma and ward off fevers. Peridot was also believed to strengthen any medicine drunk from goblets carved from the stone. South American Shamans use peridot to ward off snakebites and the evil spirits who have taken the form of mosquitoes who bring the sleeping sickness. They also say the heating of magic mushroom tea by peridot takes them on trips to the ancestor heavens.
Today, peridot is believed to bring the wearer success, peace and good luck. To be most powerful, it is said that the stone should be mounted in gold and surrounded with small diamonds. With powers that are thought to bring protection and health, modern folklore also says it can be used to attract love and calm anger while soothing nerves and dispelling negative emotions. The gem is believed to protect the wearer from bad dreams when set in gold.
Peridot is considered the birthstone of August. Given as a symbol of fame, dignity and protection, this gem is also traditionally given to couples celebrating their 16th wedding anniversaries.
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.