Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gemstone Love: LAPIS LAZULI

Polished Lapis Lazuli Block
King Tut's Mask
Lapis Lazuli, also known as just "Lapis", is a semi precious stone that has been prized for its beautiful deep blue color since antiquity.  It has beautiful flecks of gold pyrite within the blue stone.  It is a stone, not a mineral and not a crystal.  It has been mined in Afghanistan since 7,000 b.c. and was used as the eyebrows in King Tut's mask.  In ancient times, Lapis along with Turquoise were considered the most valuable stones.

At the end of the Middle Ages, Lapis was exported to Europe where it was ground and used as "ultramarine" -- the finest and most expensive blue pigment.  It was used by the most important artists of the Baroque and Renaissance periods. Vermeer's Girl With a Pearl Earring uses Ultramarine for her head scarf.
Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring

Today, most Lapis is still mined in Afghanistan, but is also found in Chile, Canada, the United States and Russia.

The name "Lapis" comes from the Latin word for stone, and from the Arabic word for blue, "Azul".   It literally means "blue rock" and it is a rock, not a mineral.  It is composed of a variable mixture of the minerals lazurite, pyrite and calcite. The finest Lapis Lazuli is uniformly deep blue in color, opaque to semi-translucent and consists almost totally of lazurite.

I see pendants made of Lapis that have been carved into "points" or even "double terminated" points, like naturally occurring crystals, on etsy and elsewhere.  This is weird because Lapis is NOT a crystal at all, and is merely made of stone (rock!) and is carved in this shape for some reason.  Very odd.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Something Beautiful: ROSE GOLD

3 Colors of Gold
Rose Gold is sometimes called Pink Gold, or even Red Gold.  It has all the value and properties of yellow gold, but because it has a higher content of copper, Rose Gold has a beautiful, soft pink color that goes well with most skin tones.  In fact, there are ranges of color within Rose Gold.   I LOVE Rose Gold because it's a little more unique than the typical yellow or white gold, and it seems to tone down the bright "flash" of stones, giving it a more elegant or vintage look.  As it was popular in Russia at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it is also known as Russian gold, but this term is now basically obsolete.


But What Makes It Pink?

Pure 24k gold is yellow, and is very soft.  It is alloyed with other elements to produce colors and other karats.  The most common karat grades of gold, in addition to pure 24K (100% gold), are 22K (92% gold), 18K (75% gold), 14K (58% gold), 10k (41% gold) and 9K (38% gold).  For example, alloys which are mixed 14 parts gold to 10 parts alloy create 14K gold, 18 parts gold to 6 parts alloy creates 18k, etc.

There are hundreds of possible alloys and mixtures, but in general alloying gold with silver will color gold white, and the addition of copper will color it red (or pink). A mix of around 50/50 copper and silver gives the range of yellow gold alloys the public is accustomed to seeing in the marketplace. A small amount (0.2%) of zinc is sometimes added to give the gold added strength and hardness.

There are three general classifications of colored golds:
  • the Au-Ag-Cu system, producing white, yellow, green and red golds;
  • the "intermetallic" compounds, producing blue and purple golds, as well as other colors. These are typically brittle.
  • the surface oxide layers, such as black gold; the colored surface is prone to wear off.

Although the names are often used interchangeably, the difference between red, rose, and pink gold is the copper content – the higher the copper content, the stronger the red coloration. A common alloy for rose gold is 75% gold and 25% copper by mass (18k). But it's also common for 18 karat rose gold to typically add about 4% silver to 75% gold and 21% copper to give a rose color. Since rose gold is an alloy, there is no such thing as "pure rose gold".   The highest karat version of rose gold is also known as "crown gold", which is 22 karat.  14 karat red gold is often found in the Middle East  and contains 41.67% copper.

During ancient times, due to impurities in the smelting process, gold frequently turned a reddish color. This is why many Greco-Roman texts, and even many texts from the Middle Ages, describe gold as "red"!


<------Check it out!  Gold & Co. in the UK has created the world's first 24k GOLD and ROSE GOLD iPhone5 (two separate models). Expensive, and only available in Dubai.  AND, they're not solid gold---just gold plated.  I have no idea the price.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Cleaning Tarnish From Sterling Silver Jewelry: Experiment

We all have sterling silver pieces of jewelry that are sitting in a jewelry box or drawer, and look less than sparkling and bright!  Tarnish happens to ALL sterling silver, especially when left exposed to the air (as opposed to sealed in an airtight bag).

I always love to use a polishing cloth that is specifically for sterling jewelry---it's a soft flannel cloth that has been treated with a gentle cleaner that removes tarnish like magic!  There are liquid jars of cleaner, but those are some sort of acid and can ruin pearls or certain "soft" gems and are very harsh, so I don't recommend those.

But what about using products at home?  How about something cheap and natural?  I've read about using hot water, baking soda, salt and aluminum foil to remove tarnish for YEARS.  Does it really work?  I tried it today, and here's what happened:

(1)  I lined a foil pan with another sheet of aluminum foil.  The silver pieces have to touch the foil for this to work, I read.

(2) I gathered some baking soda and plain salt, and heated up some water until it was steaming.





(3) I chose a couple of tarnished Sterling Silver items from my jewelry box.  I found a box chain, a sterling heart, and a really intricate pendant that is sterling with a lot of granulation, plus rice pearls and a blue topaz gemstone in the center.



(4)  I put the pieces in the tray so they touched the foil, added about 2 tablespoons each of baking soda and salt, added steaming water until the jewelry was submerged, and waited about 5 minutes.

(5) After 5 minutes, I turned the jewelry over so both sides would touch the foil, and added a little more hot water.  And I waited another 4 minutes.

(6) I took the jewelry out of the pan and used a microfiber cloth (a VERY green one!) and rubbed the pieces.

The heart looked beautiful!  And the chain was completely tarnish-free and really sparkled!

SO FAR SO GOOD...



...except for the intricate pendant!  The tarnish was not gone on either side, and was a really weird grey color.  I repeated this whole process with just the pendant, but it still came out tarnished and dull.  It almost looked worse than when I started.  Perhaps the granulation and pearls kept the pendant from touching the foil, and that was the problem?


(7) So I got my Sterling polishing cloth and rubbed the pendant, and it immediately looked brighter and better!

After spending about 15 minutes polishing the pendant (which seemed to take FOREVER), it now looks a lot better!  It has a matte finish, and I'm not sure if that had anything to do with the baking soda/water/foil experiment fail.




SO----I would say that using baking soda and salt, foil and steaming water, really DOES work for chains and shiny silver jewelry!  It only took a couple of minutes, and the results were very impressive---especially on the chain, which has a lot of little tiny links that could never be polished by hand!  The matte silver intricate pendant didn't work, though---but polished up nicely with a sterling cloth! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Real Quartz v. Synthetics v. Simulated v. Hydro Quartz -- Which Is It?

I live in New Mexico, in the city of Albuquerque.  New Mexico's history includes silver mines, gold mines, copper mines, turquoise mines, and lots of artisans who make jewelry out of genuine metals and gemstones.

There is a very large facility that sells jewelry supplies to jewelers ALL over the world, including being perhaps the most trusted facility to purchase silver "shot" or grains for making pure silver or sterling silver rings, etc.  They sell sterling and gold and gold-filled wire, findings, genuine gemstones, just everything a jeweler could ever want.  It's called Rio Grande Jewelry  and luckily they are located a short drive from my home, ten or so minutes away.  I go there ALL the time because they employ dozens of knowledgeable jewelers and silversmiths (I don't know how many!) so if I have a questions about a gemstone, they can answer it.  Or they can repair or re-size anything, although they're a little pricey.  They have a small showroom and I love to go look at the charms and gems they have in the cases.  And they have a HUGE warehouse so anything in their catalogs can be purchased right then and there.  Seriously, there are hundreds of employees' cars in the lot.  They also offer jewelry making classes and people come to ABQ from all over to learn from the experts.  You can call them or send an email, and they are always fast to respond, but it's easier for me to just go there with an order or questions---everyone there is very nice and really helpful.

So I rely on their expertise often, and I trust what they have to say.

I was there recently to buy some gold-filled wire and to ask them about some sterling "tree" charms they have (right in their display case) that I read about in etsy's forums (someone outside of etsy who sells charms claimed she holds the copyright to this design and made the etsy seller remove her "copies"----and yet Rio Grande has the same items.  They checked and, NO, they laughed and said they have no knowledge of any such "copyright" for the item that's manufactured in Thailand, although that seller may have the copyright on the IMAGE in her catalogue, so there's that.).

But I really wanted to ask their expert opinion on so-called "Hydro Quartz" that is found in India, Thailand and China on Alibaba, and all over Etsy, sold as though it's a gemstone.  I asked them, "Is there such a thing AT ALL as "hydrothermal quartz" or "hydro quartz" that looks like emeralds, or like blue topaz or other gemstones?"

Answer directly from Rio Grande:  "NO.  Those aren't gemstones and are most likely glass.  We don't sell that here."

So if you clicked on the Rio Grande link at the beginning of this post, it would take you to their "green quartz" listings.  It will show you what "green quartz" actually is----and not an "emerald hydro quartz" to be found.  Green Quartz is also known as Prasiolite or "green Amethyst".  If you search Rio Grande for "blue quartz", you will find gemstone "doublets" and "triplets" made with clear quartz, some blue druzy stones in blue.  They have Chalcedony (the only real blue quartz, but also can be green or white or other dyed colors) listed separately. 

So---what is a Synthetic stone? Is it a gemstone?

In the jewelry industry, a "Synthetic" stone is a man-made gemstone, made in a lab, and is considered a real gemstone, with the same physical, chemical and optical properties as the natural gemstone.   To most people, "synthetic" means "fake" but not in the jewelry industry (confusing)!  Mostly people use the term "lab created" to describe synthetic gems.  The only real way to tell a synthetic gemstone from a "mined" stone is that the synthetic (or lab-created) stone is flawless, and natural stones are generally not.  Otherwise, there is NO difference.  Jewelers will test the stones and will see it's a sapphire, for instance, but when they look at it under a loup, it's flawless and therefore PROBABLY synthetic.  Sapphires and rubies are popular synthetics, as well as emeralds.  There ARE synthetic diamonds, but they are just as expensive as mined diamonds, but they are conflict-free. Man-made, or synthetic, diamonds are $1,000 and UP per carat.  They are definitely diamonds with a Mohs hardness of 10---only diamonds are that hard.  Some examples of lab-created gemstones that are available include:
  • Emerald (Beryl)
  • Aquamarine (Beryl)
  • Alexandrite (Color Change Chrysoberyl)
  • Ruby (Corundum)
  • Sapphire (Corundum)
  • Spinel
  • Diamond - VERY expensive, costs the same as mined diamond
Please note that there are some gemstones that are NEVER lab-created:  Topaz, Peridot, Garnet, and Tanzanite are three examples that I see listed as "created" or "synthetic" all the time.  Not so!   There is no such gem as a "created blue topaz" for example---the stone would be something like glass or CZ, but definitely is not a topaz.
(Edit to add:  A friend of mine who is a gemologist said that he recently heard of a lab that was attempting to create Tanzanite as they are very scarce and difficult to mine, so synthetic tanzanite might be available in the future!  I hope so because they're beautiful!)

Then what is a Simulated stone?  Is that different?

In the jewelry industry, a "Simulated" stone is simply something that was made to look like another stone.  It doesn't possess the chemical properties of the gemstone at all.  A simulated gemstone can be glass, plastic, a crystal (like Swarovski), a rhinestone, paste, anything.  A CZ is a simulated diamond.  A Moissanite is a simulated diamond.  A green CZ can be a simulated emerald or peridot, depending on color. And so forth.

What is Hydro Quartz?  Is it Quartz grown in a lab? 

Hydro quartz seen in the jewelry industry is NOT quartz at all.  It is a "simulated" quartz, in that it LOOKS like quartz (somewhat) or other stones but does not have the chemical properties of quartz or gemstones at all.  It would test as glass.  It is NOT a synthetic quartz, or a lab-created quartz.  It is ONLY simulated quartz, or glass that is sold to look like other gemstones including quartz.  A more honest name for this "hydroquartz" is actually "Fused Quartz."

What is Fused Quartz?

Fused quartz is manufactured by "fusing" (melting) naturally occurring Quartz crystals of high purity at approximately 2000 °C, resulting in a pure, clear glass.  It is used in the semiconductor industry, optical industry and electronics and other industries, including laboratories (borosilicate glass tubes, for example).  It is also colored and sold in glass "blocks" to the jewelry industry.

Is there such a thing as Hydrothermal Quartz at all?

Yes.   Companies in the electronics industry, for example, grow pure quartz crystals.  Also, some Siberian Amethyst (a deep purple with red flash) is lab-created.






Monday, October 14, 2013

Gold Filled or Gold Vermeil: Which Is Better?


Let me begin by saying that both are great, but different!  Some people prefer the idea of "gold filled" jewelry, while others prefer gold-over-silver.  Both are pretty, and durable.  But is one better than the other?

Precious Metals - There are basically three metals used in jewelry that are considered "precious":   Gold, Silver and Platinum (which includes a group of metals, such as Palladium or Rhodium).  Gold is of course yellow in color, and is alloyed with various other metals to produce different colors of gold, and different ratios of gold, indicated in karats:
  • 24k Gold is pure gold
  • 14k Gold is 14 parts gold to 10 parts alloy
  • 18k Gold is 18 parts gold to 6 parts alloy
And so forth.  You can see that everything adds up to 24.  It is sometimes written as a ratio, such as 14/24 or 18/24.  There are hundreds of different combinations of alloys that are mixed with the gold, such as silver or nickel (to make white gold), copper (to make rose gold), and 50/50 of silver and gold added to pure gold results in the typical "color" of yellow gold.  Zinc is also added (about 2%) for hardness.

Silver, in its pure form, is very soft and like gold is alloyed with other metals.  Sterling Silver is marked "925" which means it is certified as having 92.5% pure silver, plus 7.5% alloy---usually copper.

What is Vermeil?
Vermeil is gold plated sterling silver.  Sometimes it is gold plated pure silver, or nearly pure (97%) silver.  The gold is usually 18k or higher, up to pure 24k gold.  Vermeil has a lot more gold than other gold plated pieces.  Vermeil is regulated by the FTC and has to have a minimum gold thickness of 2.5 microns on all surfaces.  A Vermeil piece of jewelry is made entirely of precious metals, which gives the piece an intrinsic value.  Vermeil jewelry should maintain the look of yellow gold for many, many years.  I have vintage pieces of gold vermeil jewelry that are at least 20-40 years old and are still bright gold in color.  Sometimes it tarnishes, but can be easily cleaned with sterling silver jewelry cleaner or cloths, and looks brand new. I like knowing that Vermeil pieces are only PRECIOUS metals - sterling silver (or pure silver) and gold---no "mystery metals".

What is Gold Filled Jewelry?
The term "gold filled" is actually a misnomer.  It is not a tube that is filled with gold.  It's actually a thin layer of gold that is bonded to a base metal, usually brass.  It's sometimes called "rolled gold" or "rolled gold plate".  A thin layer of gold is bonded to brass through heat and high pressure.  Brass is not a precious metal---it is an alloy mixture of copper and zinc.   If the gold used is 10k, the gold must be 1/10 the weight of the item.  If the gold is 12k or higher, it must be 1/20 the weight of the item.  The gold filled jewelry most commonly seen would be marked "1/20 14k G.F." or "1/10 10k G.F."   If by law Gold Filled must be 1/20 the weight of the item, that means that only 5% of that piece is gold, and 95% of that is brass (or other metal).   Contrary to popular belief, gold filled jewelry will not last indefinitely, but has a lifespan of daily wear of between five to 30 years before wearing through.  Sometimes the gold filled layer will peel away from the underlying base metal.    I have a vintage 1/20 14k gold filled chain from the mid-1970s  that was very tarnished (looked like copper) but I cleaned it in tarnish removing solution (a cleaning cloth didn't work) and it looks like solid yellow gold now.  I expect that chain to last at LEAST another 10 years.

Gold plated brass jewelry is similar to gold filled in that the same materials are used, but with FAR less gold used.  The plating on simple gold plated brass is very thin and can wear off relatively quickly. However, this is still actual gold used over brass, rather than just "gold tone" metal which doesn't contain any gold.

Does Vermeil Tarnish?  Does Gold Fill Tarnish?
The answer to both is:  YES.  ALL METALS WILL TARNISH.  Although precious metals in their pure form are less prone to oxidation, it DOES happen---even solid gold or pure silver will oxidize over time and under certain conditions.  Sterling Silver, whether you buy it at Tiffany's or ebay, will tarnish.  How much it oxidizes and how quickly depends on a lot of different factors, such as air pollution (especially auto exhaust which contains sulfur), exposure to chemicals, exposure to lotions and chlorine and even the wearer's own body chemistry.  Plating silver with Rhodium, or mixing the silver with Palladium or Platinum, will HELP prevent tarnishing, but nothing will stop it forever.  A white gold ring, a yellow gold ring, any karat purity of gold WILL oxidize (or "tone") over time and needs to be cleaned.   Vermeil will tarnish, and gold filled jewelry will absolutely tarnish as well.  Eventually!  When and how much just depends.  Taking care of jewelry, just like taking care of clothing,  means keeping it clean and storing it somewhere safe, away from the air (like in a zip lock bag).

But it's easy to remove the tarnish from vermeil and gold filled jewelry, as well as other types of fine jewelry.  Just like the world's finest diamond or a precious sapphire or even a rhinestone or crystal, gemstones also need cleaning to keep them sparkling.  Metals do as well.  There are mild liquid solutions sold for cleaning jewelry, sonic cleaners, even using a soft toothbrush and Dawn dishwashing detergent in warm water will clean metals. (Do NOT use toothpaste or baking soda---it will scratch metal!)  Sometimes quickly dipping a vermeil or gold filled piece into sterling silver jewelry cleaner (which can be found at Target or CVS or anywhere) for 2 seconds, then washing with mild soap will remove the tarnish but leave the gold intact.  I don't really recommend that except in extreme cases of oxidation, because it's an acid that removes the tarnish and you have to be VERY careful when using that.  The gentle use of a polishing cloth for jewelry is safer and will also keep metals sparkling clean and like new.

So Which is Better: Vermeil or Gold Fill??
The answer is:   it's just your personal preference since they're both beautiful.  To some people, Vermeil is better because it's made of only precious metals and therefore is more valuable.   (I'm one of those people!)  Most vermeil is made in Italy and is very high quality.   To others, gold filled is better because there is more gold used, even though 95% of the piece is actually brass.  It's becoming more difficult to find gold Vermeil chains (they are very expensive), and very easy to find gold filled chains, so the use of gold filled components has become quite popular.  Gold filled jewelry is a great alternative to solid gold pieces, making it much more affordable to own the LOOK of gold.


But whether you choose a vermeil piece or gold filled, I think of it this way:  the ONLY metal you see or touch is solid, real gold, and you can't go wrong with that!
 


Friday, October 4, 2013

Goldstone. Sun Sitara. Stellaria. Midnight Goldstone. WHAT IS IT?

I first laid eyes on Goldstone when I was 9 years old, when my family stopped at Wall Drug in South Dakota.  I saw a barrel full of these little Goldstone nuggets, and I couldn't believe how beautiful they were! I was always a rock collector, but I never saw anything like that before.  My parents bought me a goldstone ring that day, and it was the greatest treasure!  I still have that ring.  It was mesmerizing---like frozen liquid filled with gold sparkles.  I always thought the suspended sparkles were actual pieces of gold, or something like "fool's gold" since it's called "goldstone".  I only knew for sure that it was the most beautiful stone I ever saw!


But is it a gemstone?  What is goldstone?  Is there gold in it?  Is it a stone?

Goldstone - Copper Crystals
It's actually GLASS.  It's not a gemstone at all!  It's a glittering glass that can be polished or carved!  I've seen carved goldstone roses and Buddhas and all sorts of other shapes.  Goldstone is often misrepresented as a gemstone, and even formed into "crystal point" shapes as if it grew that way!  Midnight blue goldstone is often misrepresented as Lapis Lazuli, which is a navy blue gemstone but looks nothing like Goldstone otherwise, especially in person.  It's sometimes called "Lapis Lazuli Glass" but that's really not correct either, as it's not at all related to Lapis.  Goldstone has a Mohs hardness of 5-6, about the same as window glass. It is sometimes called Stellaria or Sun Sitara.  Sitara means "star" in Persian due to the star-like glitter inside.  Sometimes it's called Monkstone or Monk's Gold, based on the legend of its formation:  Italian monks in 17th Century Venice were trying to "make" gold out of copper, and Goldstone was produced.  A very happy accident!

How Is It Made?

Blue Goldstone
First, it's NOT made by tossing glitter into molten glass!  It's much more complicated than that.  The most common form of Goldstone is reddish brown with tiny crystals of metallic copper.  These flecks appear only under specific conditions.  Silica, copper oxides and other oxides are melted together. The vat is then sealed off from the air (a vacuum chamber) and kept at a certain temperature, so the glass remains liquid while allowing copper crystals to form without the crystals melting or oxidizing!  When cooled, the glass will have bright metal crystals suspended in semi-transparent glass.

Goldstone also appears in other colors, depending on other elements.  If cobalt is used instead of copper, it
Green Goldstone
results in blue goldstone with gold and silvery glitter.  It's navy blue to black-blue and the silvery sparkles inside the glass makes it look a like the Milky Way galaxy.  Using Manganese results in purple goldstone (pic below).  There is also green goldstone, also knows as "chrome aventurine" although it's glass, not aventurine,  but the green is due to sparkling chromium oxide particles.  Sellers claim the green goldstone is "rare", like it's formed in nature, but it's not rare---it's just not manufactured as often as the far more popular blue and brown colors of goldstone.

Purple Goldstone
Even though it's not a gemstone, Goldstone---whether coppery or midnight blue or other colors---is such a beautiful "stone" and looks just as pretty as mineral gemstones.  It's MUCH more beautiful in person than can be captured in photos.  The sparkles are throughout the stone, not just on the surface, and the glass
itself is basically clear so it's very unusual and fascinating to stare at!
Blue Goldstone Briolette

However, be aware that it is NOT a "semi precious gemstone" as it is described by jewelry shops online.  It does not grow as a crystal.  It is NOT "Blue Sandstone" described as "composed of quartz or feldspar because these are the most common minerals in the Earth's crust. The sand inside creates the blue color. For this reason, this substance is named "Blue sandstone," which I just saw on Etsy.  (WOW---that's really an example of FRAUD!)   It's not a gemstone at all.  It is in the same category as "opalite" or  "hydro quartz" or "fused quartz"--- GLASS.  Pretty, but just manmade glass, even though actual elements (copper, etc.) are used to make it and actual crystalized copper is what provides the sparkle---all embedded in glass.  I saw little strands of blue goldstone disc beads at Michael's this weekend, for $3.99.  They are marked "glass beads" if you look closely at the hang tag, and are found in the area reserved for other glass beads and Swarovski crystals---not even in the gemstone section.  Too bad some sellers online aren't as honest as Michael's!  But now YOU know!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

October Birthstone: OPAL

Actually, October has two birthstones:  opal and tourmaline!  Both are so beautiful, but I want to share some info about Opals, one of my favorite gems.  My favorite interesting fact about Opal:  in 2008, NASA discovered Opal on Mars!

What Is Opal?

14k Opal Pendant
Opal is a hydrated amorphous (non-crystal) form of silica (sand or quartz).  "Hydrated" means with water, and Opals are usually 3% to 21% water, with most opals somewhere in the 6-10% range.  It is found in fissures of rock, and 97% of the world's supply comes from Australia---it's national gemstone.

There is "Precious Opal", which is opal (as pictured left) which displays a wide range of colors.  Precious opal ranges from clear through white, gray, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, magenta, rose, pink, slate, olive, brown, and black.  These flashes of color are also known as "Opalescense"  or "play of color".  Because of this play of color, Opal was prized in the Middle Ages as a token of good luck, since it looks like it is made of all other gemstones.
 
Peruvian Opal
Mexican Fire Opal Rough
There is also "Common Opal" which is also referred to as "potch".  It doesn't display flashes of color.  Peruvian Opal, which comes in blues, pink, lavender, which, yellow, and mint, are examples of Common Opal.  Fire Opal is also technically "common opal".  It is an opal without flashes of color, and is orange to deep red, and sometimes yellow-orange.  Fire Opal is NOT a term to use when describing Precious Opal, even though Precious Opal displays colorful "fire".  Fire Opal is only a term used for the orange "common" opal from Mexico and the US.   Sometimes, more transparent Fire Opals are faceted.

Black Opals
Black Opal is a term used for opal that has a dark body color, often black or dark gray. The term is also used for opal that has a dark blue or dark green body color.

The dark body color often makes the fire of black opal more obvious. This contrast of fire color to body color makes black opals very desirable and expensive.

Boulder Opal--In My Etsy Shop!
Boulder Opal is a gemstone showing opal within its surrounding rock matrix. Opal often forms within voids or fractures in its host rock and specimens of boulder opal reveal this aspect of opal's origin. The contrast of color can be striking when a bright flash of opal is seen within a the surrounding rock material. Many people enjoy the natural appearance of boulder opal and find these gemstones to be beautiful, interesting and educational.


Opals can also be "assembled stones", such as Opal Doublets or Opal Triplets.  Whereas most opals are whole stones, some opal rough has very thin but brilliant fire layers. Artisans cut the stone down to the thin fire layer and glue it to a base of obsidian, potch (common opal) or basalt - then cut a finished stone. These two part stones are called "opal doublets".  To protect the soft opal from abrasion and impact facturing, a crystal clear top of quartz, spinel or other transparent material is sometimes glued onto the opal. This produces a three part stone, called an "opal triplet".  These assembled Opals offer beautiful and affordable Opals, that (when a triplet) provides stability to the otherwise fragile gem. 

Opal Mosaic
Recently, "Opal Mosaics" or mosaic Opals can be found in the marketplace.  These assembled gems consist of pieces of precious opal glued to a base (obsidian) and the covered with a "cap".  This is a very affordable assembled Opal, costing a fraction of what a genuine precious opal, or even an opal triplet, would cost.  Perfect for any Opal lover!





Man-Made Opals

Simulated Opal Ring in my EtsyShop
There are man-made simulated opals that have all the look of a real Precious Opal but are very affordable. Some of these simulated opals are spectacular and really hard to tell that they're not genuine opals. They have beautiful fire that moves with the light, in a rainbow of colors. It's very hard to tell if an opal is simulated, so be sure to deal with a reputable seller who will disclose the true nature of the opal!  Generally, simulated opals can have evenly distributed "sparkles" and have a "plastic" feel.

Synthetic Gilson Opal Rough
Some people are claiming to have created "synthetic Opals" or so-called Gilson or Gibson Opals.  This is controversial.  A true "synthetic" or "created" gemstone is a gem that is grown in a lab that has the exact chemical and physical properties as the natural gemstone.  It is, therefore, the gemstone---only created in a lab.  Opals that are created in a lab do NOT possess the same physical properties----they don't have the water content that natural opals have.  These so-called synthetic opals are made in labs in Japan, Russia, and other places I'm sure.   These Gilson Opals are pricey.

OPALITE - Finally, people are STILL trying to sell glass Opalite as "synthetic Opal" or "synthetic Moonstone" or "Opal Moonstone" or "Sea Opal".  Opalite is GLASS.  It is a man-made GLASS bead that may have the word "opal" in "opalite" but that is done only to deceive the unwary.  There is no opal in opalite.  It is just glass.  GLASS.  Not any gemstone.  Opalite glass has a sort of ghostly glow, not fire. These beads are about $3.99 for a strand at Michael's.  This is Opalite:
Opalite on black background - GLASS
Opalite on light background - GLASS

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gemstone ♥Love♥: SPINEL

Colors of Spinel
Spinel is a natural gemstone that has been mistaken for other gems---rubies in particular---for centuries.  It occurs naturally in many colors, and is sometimes called "the great imposter" since it looks like sapphire and black diamonds, tanzanite and other gems.  It can range in colors from bright orange to intense red, vibrant pink, and all shades of purple through violet and even greenish blue.  Spinel is a NATURAL gemstone; however, there are synthetic spinels that are used to imitate other gemstones.  Spinel has a Mohs hardness of 8, which makes it a great choice for jewelry.


Red Spinel:  Not a ruby!

The 14th Century "Black Prince's Ruby" that sits in the Tower of London the Imperial State Crown is actually a red spinel!

Another jewel in the Crown Jewels is the "Timur Ruby" which was thought be a ruby until the 1800s.  It weighs over 350 carats, and is actually a red Spinel.  It has a fabulous history, and the stone itself is inscribed:
This (is) the ruby from among the 25,000 genuine jewels of the King of Kings, the Sultan Sahib Qiran [Timur], which in the year 1153 [1740 AD] from the (collection of) jewels of Hindustan reached this place [Isfahan].
Timur "Ruby" - Red Spinel

Spinel occurs all over the world, but gem-quality spinel is mined in Vietnam, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.
Natural Red Spinel Crystals

Black spinel is relatively rare.  They are mined in Sri Lanka, Africa, and Myanmar.  Black Spinel is often used as a substitute for black diamonds.  But black spinel hasn't been marketed to consumers very much---and I have no idea why, except it's just cheaper for companies to keep using onyx.  Black spinel is a gorgeous gemstone. Onyx is a much more fragile stone, and doesn't have the fire and sparkle of spinel.  Spinel is a natural black color---not dyed or even heated.  Black Spinel stones are a TRUE absolute black color, and once faceted and polished, display a lot of fire and brilliance.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What Is "Yellow Turquoise"? Real Stone or Fraud??

Chinese "Yellow Turquoise" IS from China, IS NOT Turquoise
I've seen some jewelry lately on etsy made with "Yellow Turquoise".  Some of it is more of a moldy grey-green color with weird spots in it. Some is bright "crayon" yellow.  Some is bright green, some dark green.  There are over 30,000 results on etsy when you search for "yellow turquoise".   It looks like other stones around (like chalcedony or agate) with strangely mottled colors of greens and yellows and brown, oranges and greys----and looks absolutely nothing like turquoise!  It looks more like river rocks.  Some look like obvious pieces of plastic.  Some are calling it "peach" turquoise.  To me, the real gemstone "turquoise" is the most beautiful gem of all, and so whatever they call this,  it's kinda...um, the opposite of pretty.  So, what is it really?

Dyed Howlite and Gypsum Chunks and Slabs---NOT Turquoise
These four pictures show some of the types of dyed yellow (and red, purple, green--in a rainbow of colors) fake "turquoise" which are possibly dyed plastic, dyed chunks of gypsum (you know---drywall), and Howlite or Magnesite.  These are sold as nuggets or slabs.  None of these are turquoise, even though they are often marketed as "natural" turquoise, complete with info where it was mined.

A quick google search of "what is yellow turquoise" took me to several bead sellers, like Fire Mountain Gems, who call it Yellow "Turquoise" Beads  (with  quotes around the word "turquoise"!), which says it's not really turquoise.  They have inexpensive strands of this stone, which they say are "natural".  When you click on the item and read their description, it further describes this material as "a lively blend of quartz and jaspers" or sometimes that it's serpentine with quartz inclusions.  So they're not trying to push this as genuine turquoise, which is good.

Artbeads.com, who describe themselves as "one of the nation's top websites for beads",  has a really enthustastic header about it:
"Yellow turquoise, or Chinese turquoise as it is sometimes called, is sweeping the beading world! Its popularity is beginning to rival the more traditional blue turquoise. Add a splash of intense color to your designs with this beautiful stone. These stones are natural and will vary in color and pattern."
Rivaling blue turquoise?  Well, since it's so cheap and people are marketing this as a color variety of turquoise, that's the plan---to rival the real thing!  It's really too bad that they don't say what it really is---Jasper (which is a quartz stone), NOT any type of turquoise.

But google's first result, right at the top of the search results page, in big, bold black & white says this:

YELLOW TURQUOISE
Sometimes referred to as Chinese turquoise or yellow Chinese turquoise. Most likely this stone is a form of jasper. It ranges in color from yellow to lime.

SO.... as anyone and everyone can see, there is no such thing as "yellow turquoise".  It is actually another stone, probably Jasper.  (Or else it's dyed howlite or magnesite or gypsum or some other thing that's NOT turquoise.)   If I can google it and see this in about 2 seconds, why are bead vendors still calling it "turquoise"?  Why are etsy sellers offering jewelry with this yellow "turquoise"?  Especially when----at best---it looks like Jasper, and sometimes looks like slices of dyed plastic.   So what's going on?
Rough Yellow Jasper

Supposed to be Yellow Turquoise Pendants.  Really? 












The answer is:  "Creative marketing" which is just a gentler term for not being forthright or honest, in order to make a sale.

And if confronted, I'd bet some sellers offering this stone would say, "Oh I bought it at blahblahblah.com and they said it was yellow turquoise, so that's what I'm going to say!"  Either they don't care what the stone is, or they knowingly are selling something that's advertised as something else--because that's what they've chosen to do already.  They're not interested in honesty.
Yellow Jasper Bead

Turquoise is a color as well as a semi-precious gemstone.  The stone itself is so historically popular, and has been desired and treasured for thousands of years, that the gemstone's name is the very description of the color.  Turquoise It is NOT yellow.  It is NOT white.  (NO such thing---white or "buffalo" turquoise is HOWLITE.)  It is NOT orange or peach or lime or red or purple.   It is an opaque gem that is ONLY blue-green or green-blue, and sometimes green.  Chemically, turquoise is a hydrous phosphate of aluminum and copper---more copper, it's more blue. 



BUYER BEWARE!!!  I'd avoid any seller who is offering this simulated "gemstone" without divulging what it really is (whether jasper, or howlite, etc.)  because they're deceiving you in order to make a quick buck.

Here is a great picture of a genuine piece of turquoise.  Remember:  it's called Turquoise because it's the color TURQUOISE. 


Genuine Turquoise

====================

UPDATE:  4/17/14:  I received a comment from a reader, who directed me to a website, geology.com, insisting that she read that there IS such a stone as yellow turquoise, and it derives its color from the iron in the surrounding rock.   I looked at this website, and they are discussing the value of the beautiful turquoise colored stones, and it actually states:

"...After blue, blue-green stones are preferred, with yellowish green material being less desirable. Departure from a nice blue color is caused by small amounts of iron substituting for aluminum in the turquoise structure. The iron imparts a green tint to the turquoise in proportion to its abundance." 
 There are pictures of the yellowish green turquoise (left, from geology.com), which by no means are "yellow" or are EVER referred to as "yellow turquoise."  This picture shows the turquoise which are greenish or yellowish green turquoise stones----genuine turquoise (but less valuable and less desirable than the "true" turquoise color).

So, as I've said, there is NO such stone as yellow turquoise, which although marketed as yellow turquoise is either jasper or dyed howlite or plastic or gypsum, or some other such thing. 

In particular, be aware that "Chinese yellow turquoise" is actually jasper, not the gemstone turquoise.

==============>  UPDATE: October 12, 2015 and August 2016:  A reader submitted a response, which I thought of publishing just so I could respond, but I decided to delete it since the author's blog would be visible (and her identity) which would be unfair since I don't want to embarrass anyone,  so I'll just address it here.  (And AGAIN, in August of 2016, this same person sent another note to me regarding this fake yellow turquoise, this time in a completely unhinged and irrational tone so I reported and deleted it and won't post any of it----but here's the gist of the first email sent.)
Someone wrote (regarding so-called Yellow Turquoise) (emphasis mine):
"It is a Jasper but it's name really is yellow turquoise. I don't think you can called [sic] it a fraud when so many people know it by that name. I also bet if you ask the jewelers most of them will in fact know that it's a Jasper. This post is based on so little facts and you assumed so much. I think it's time for you to do a little more research."

WOW!!   If you KNOW it's actually Jasper and not really any type of turquoise (a gemstone), and yet you call it Turquoise (because "so many people" do), that is the very definition of fraud!!  And not MY definition-----Per the FTC, any gemstone that is a "simulant" (looks like a gem) or "lab created" (or treated or enhanced, etc.) MUST be identified as such.  This is to protect consumers from fraud.  So even though you believe that "everyone" knows that so-called yellow turquoise is actually Jasper, legally it cannot be called "yellow turquoise" without saying it's a simulant made of Jasper! 
THOSE are the government's rules, Kyla---I didn't make them up.   (If you are not aware, the Federal Trade Commission has specific rules and guidelines for the jewelry industry that must be followed.  For starters, read the guidelines here:  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0295-gemstones-diamonds-pearls#gemstones)
My post is 100% based on FACTS and research including legal research, so I think I have a lot more knowledge than you have suggested.   But now YOU know what the legal guidelines are regarding gemstone identification.  If you want to argue with that, take it up with the Federal Trade Commission---it's their rules.
========================

I write this blog to be informative to people who may not be aware of certain things, so they're not defrauded and can make educated purchases.  
I think most people understand that.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Star Sapphires: Natural or Synthetic?

The Star of India  is a 563.35 carat (112.67 g) Star Sapphire

Genuine Star Corundum (Sapphires and Rubies) are incredibly beautiful and interesting gemstones, and rare and expensive.  Synthetics are very inexpensive to produce and are very common!  How can you tell the difference?  For starters, synthetic stars will be "perfect", with very little or no irregularities and extremely sharp stars.  Natural Star gems are irregular and imperfect, and the stars will be "wavy" and uneven in length and brightness.  But some newer, better quality synthetic Star gems are now on the market---see pictures below!


Blue Star Sapphire displays a three-ray, six-point star.  These star sapphires are cut in a smooth domed cabochon to showcase the effect.  The star is most visible when illuminated with a single light source:, such as a flashlight or bright sunlight, and the star moves across the stone as the light moves. This effect, called asterism, is caused by light reflecting off tiny needle like rutile (called "silk") arranged in three sets of parallel needles that intersect one another at 60 degree angles.

Star Sapphire is usually found in blue colors, but there are also various shades of brown and green that are called Black Star Sapphire. Orange and Yellow Star Sapphires are almost unknown, and very rare.  Color Changing Star Sapphires are even more rare.
From Alibaba--fakes at $.10 a piece

The value of genuine star sapphires is influenced by at least these two things: 1) the intensity and attractiveness of the body color, and  2) the strength and sharpness of the star.  Of course all six legs should be fairly straight and equally prominent. Star sapphires rarely have the combination of a fine translucent or transparent color and a sharply defined star.

HOW TO SPOT A FAKE
There are a LOT of fake Star Sapphires being produced in China and Thailand right now.  The same Etsy seller who sells huge "Kunzite" and "Paraiba Apatite" (what? Paraiba is a tourmaline, not Apatite) for about $100 (and the same glass stone jewelry on ebay for $20)  is now also offering  fake Star Sapphires. Watch out!!

There are synthetics called "Lindy" or "Linde" Star Sapphires and are marked with an "L" on the bottom of the stone, so that's a surefire giveaway that this is a synthetic stone!  Millions of these Lindy stones were manufactured in the mid-20th Century.  But there are also many fakes that aren't marked at all.  So how can you tell? 

  • If the star is too "perfect"  and the color is too blue, it's not genuine.  A natural sapphire's "legs" aren't all identical; some are brighter, longer or straighter than others.
  • Natural Star Sapphires have visible imperfections within the stone.
  • If the bottom of the cabochon is smooth and flat, it's fake.  A natural sapphire will be rough on the bottom, or even have missing "chunks".
  • A fake's star will stay stationary when shining a flashlight on it and moving it in a circle!  A genuine star sapphire's "star" will follow the light source!    This is the easiest test!
  • Best test:  take it to a gemologist who will do a thermal conductivity test.  Or, send the stone to a certified Gemologist and ask for a Gem Identification Report.
It's difficult to tell a genuine Star Sapphire from a synthetic stone online.  It can be very difficult in person!  Only a thermal conductivity test can tell you for sure.  There are some really nice synthetic stones from Thailand right now, but a reputable, honest seller will tell you that the stone is not natural.   I respect that!  There is a seller on ebay from Thailand that has some really, REALLY nice lab created Star Sapphires that are in all colors, including the very rarest color-changing stone.  This seller absolutely says they're lab stones, not natural.  They also say their lab stones have stars that follow the light!  So it's more important now to have the stone examined by a gemologist.  Here is an example of their lab stones:

Lab Created Star Sapphires:  Look Great from the Front, but Flat Backs Are GiveawaysPretty Though!

Here are examples of genuine and phony Star Sapphires.  Here is a genuine Star Sapphire:

You can see imperfections, and the star isn't perfect.
Here is another genuine Star Sapphire, price tag of about $1900---note the "imperfections" in the stone:

Natural Star Sapphire--Not Perfectly Round...


Same Natural Stone from Side




Lindy Star Synthetics:

Original Lindy Star, 1950s--Too Blue, Round, Smooth
Asian Produced Lindy Star--Fake Star, Too Smooth








Saturday, September 7, 2013

SILVER: Sterling? Plated? What the Heck is "Sterling Plated"??!

Sterling Silver - Casting Grain
Silver is a beautiful metal, one of the three precious metals (besides gold and platinum).  In its pure form, it's very soft and therefore doesn't work for jewelry---it would bend easily and stones would fall out of settings, for example.  So it is alloyed with other metals, primarily copper, to give it strength while retaining the beauty of the silver.

I was looking at jade on etsy this morning, as I have a jade necklace I want to list and I have no idea how to price it.  And I saw some things that are really NOT right, and I wanted to let you know!  It involves sterling silver, and plated items:


  • STERLING SILVER - marked 925 or .925 or sometimes "sterling".  This is pure silver that is mixed with an alloy to harden it, so it can be worn as jewelry.  The "925" means it is verified 92.5% pure silver, and 7.5% alloy.  It is almost always alloyed with copper.  Sometimes other metals are used, such as platinum and germanium (Argentium sterling silver) in an attempt to reduce tarnish. Sterling Silver, as a precious metal, is considered fine jewelry.
  • SILVER PLATE - is NOT "sterling silver" in any way, shape or form!  There is NO SUCH THING as "sterling silver plated" or, what I saw today, "925 Sterling Silver Plated"!  That is totally a lie, and used to make buyers think that the item is somehow as nice as actual sterling silver.  There is an ENORMOUS difference between silver plate and sterling silver.  Silver plate is any metal (mystery metals) that is plated with actual silver.  It could be plated nickel, brass, tin, plastic, anything---but it is not in any way related to Sterling Silver.  AVOID SELLERS who claim this, because if you can't trust them to be honest with this small thing, forget trusting them about anything!
    Simple Explanation via ChemWiki
  • Silver plated items are nothing more than any metal that has a VERY thin layer of silver applied via an electroplating process.   It's not "sterling silver" that is electroplated---that is impossible!  Sterling ONLY refers to something that is silver throughout---SOLID----and not any metal that is plated with silver.  Sterling ALWAYS is hallmarked as sterling to assure you that it is, in fact, pure precious sterling silver.  This silver plate is costume jewelry.
  • Silver Tone - this is just any silvery metal, could be lead or tin or anything.  Costume jewelry.
  • VERMEIL - Vermeil is sterling silver with real gold, usually 18k gold,  bonded to the sterling, and the gold layer is quite thick.  It is hallmarked 925 to indicate the underlying sterling silver metal.   It is not electroplated, but layered and bonded to the sterling. Good quality vermeil will last a lifetime, meaning the gold will not wear off.   You will usually pay a little more for vermeil than plain sterling because of the gold content, but you know you are getting real sterling, and not a thin, gold plated mystery metal item.  Vermeil jewelry is good quality fine jewelry and worth looking at for investment. In order to qualify as Vermeil, it has to have a minimum of 2.5 microns of  at least 10k gold.  Normal gold (or silver) plating has far less gold, at .175 microns.

Just to mention: Sterling Silver is always ALWAYS 92.5% pure silver.  It doesn't matter if you buy something from Tiffany's or something from Target, if it is marked "925" it is Sterling Silver---the SAME no matter where you get it.  The actual silver (the metal itself) from Tiffany's is not "better" or any different than from anywhere else!  Just something to keep in mind when shopping.

And please remember:  ALL STERLING SILVER WILL TARNISH.  It doesn't matter if it cost a fortune or not, is old or new, from Europe or Thailand, if it is sterling silver, it WILL tarnish!  Rhodium is applied to sterling to HELP PREVENT tarnishing, but it doesn't stop it.  So whenever you see claims that this item "will never tarnish" because of blah blah blah, that is FALSE.  It will tarnish!  It just depends on external factors, such as the environment, the air, air pollution, chemicals it touches, even a person's body chemistry which also changes from day to day.  BUT it's very easy to clean (just swipe with a silver polishing cloth, and polish with the polishing side to also HELP prevent future tarnishing) and it's like brand new!  EASY.