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.
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.
Hematite gets its name from the Greek word meaning “blood-like” because of the red color of its powder. American Indians used to crush hematite and mix it with animal fat to produce red and brown paint for their artwork and bodies. Interestingly, red hematite is essentially rust. Its reddish brown and orange colors appear when its high iron content comes into contact with water and oxygen. But when the stone is smooth and polished, hematite features a beautiful steel gray color with a metallic and earthy luster. It is this exquisite gray color that is most often used in jewelry.
Although both red and gray hematite is common on Earth, it also occurs everywhere on Mars, making it responsible for the planet's distinctive red color. The reddish landscape of Mars is due to the oxidized iron on its surface, proving that water and oxygen must have been present on the Red Planet at one time. In 2004, NASA's Mars rover Opportunity discovered small spheres believed to be made partly or mostly of hematite, proving that Mars was once a wetter world long ago.
Grey hematite usually forms over long periods of time in the presence of liquid water. It is typically found in layers at the bottom of standing water, such as lakes or mineral hot springs. Hematite can also occur as the result of volcanic activity. While England is the best-known supplier, hematite is also found in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Brazil, New Zealand and the United States.
Hematite is the most important source of iron ore in the world, which leads to the production of steel, and is therefore vital to the economy of major countries. Because of its high iron content, hematite has magnetic attraction. It is often fashioned into carvings, cameos, intaglios and beads and ranks a hardness of 5.0-6.5 on the Mohs Scale.
It was once believed that large deposits of hematite were formed in places where battles had been fought. The subsequent blood that flowed into the ground was thought to turn into the stone. Hematite is a symbol for the Roman god of war and is thought to be a stone of protection, a belief originating from the Roman belief that it could strengthen warriors going into battle. Ancient warriors even used to rub their bodies with hematite believing it would protect them.
Since the silvery-gray stones can be polished to such a high sheen, they were long ago used as mirrors. Because of this reflective quality, it is believed today to help deflect the emotions of others. It is said to deepen the connection between spirit and body while balancing yin/yang energies and emotions. Folklore also says that hematite can transform and dissolve negativity. It is considered an excellent “worry stone” with emotional grounding properties that calm the mind and clear it of stress. Hematite is also thought to be a “lawyer’s stone” that brings positive judgments and helps one remain true to his or her inner self.
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.