Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Lab Made Diamond", "Lab Created Diamond"... What Is It Really?

"There's a sucker born every minute."  That's a quote attributed to P.T. Barnum (although he never said it---it was banker David Hannum, talking about one of Barnum's circus displays!).

Sadly, that is a very true statement, especially in the world of online shopping.  Etsy, like Ebay, has SO many items for sale, and SO many unscrupulous sellers.  Someone is always ready to make a buck saying anything to make that sale.  And all I can say is, "Buyer beware!!!" 

Just a CZ Ring---Pretty! But Not a Diamond!
Case in point:  on my Etsy feed (their suggestions for me to follow...) I saw some typical CZ rings that I've seen in person at Kohl's and Walmart, and at countless online wholesale vendors.  They are the usual engagement-type rings----halo styles, micropave bands, and so forth.  But the titles of their rings caught my attention.  "Lab Made Diamond..."  And I clicked on it and read the first line, "This patented cushion cut lab made diamond..." and at first I had to laugh, but then I felt angry.

How many people fall for this?  Apparently a LOT.

What Is This Stone?

This seller, along with other Etsy and Ebay sellers, who offer "lab created diamonds" or "lab made diamonds", are knowingly selling nothing but CZs.  Cubic Zirconia stones.  These are lab created stones that are an actual stone called Cubic Zirconia!  NOT diamonds.  These are simulated diamonds----stones that are made to LOOK LIKE diamonds.  But they are NOT diamonds and will fail the diamond test at any jeweler in any mall.  

Of course, I personally LOVE CZ rings.  I'm not a "genuine diamond" person at all.  These CZ are beautiful and sparkling stones and are a fabulous and affordable alternative to a diamond.  But it should be disclosed that it is a Cubic Zirconia, and nothing more than that.  


Why Do They Say "Lab Created/Lab Made Diamond"?

Simple answer:  to fool you into buying it.  This is usually referred to as fraud.

Why Does Etsy Allow This?

Etsy positions itself as a "venue", a marketplace, for sellers.  Each seller has their own "storefront" and Etsy leaves it up to other sellers or defrauded buyers to let them know about it.  Many items are reported, but for whatever reason, Etsy still allows them to sell.  SAD.

Is There Really A Man-Made Diamond?

YES.  There are a few companies (such as Gemesis) that do manufacture a genuine diamond, made entirely of carbon like a real diamond---because it is a real diamond.  It's just grown in a lab.  These are called "synthetic diamonds" or "man-made diamonds" or "created diamonds" or "cultured diamonds" and are ACTUAL diamonds, not CZ or any other stone.  These companies have every right to call these "diamonds" because the stones ARE diamonds.  But they are VERY expensive, almost as expensive as a genuine diamond.  DeBeers controls the entire diamond industry and was upset (to say the least) when these cultured diamonds were introduced, knowing these created diamonds would undercut the expensive diamond industry.  DeBeers still maintains that mined diamonds are "superior" to the flawless created diamonds.  Creative marketing!

A created diamond can cost as much or more than a natural mined diamond.  For example, a created diamond that is 2.11 carats, round brilliant cut, is about $10,000.  A 1-carat is about $6200.  It is however sustainable and "green" with no fear of  "blood diamonds".

How Much Is a Good Quality CZ Worth?

Not much.  There are "grades" of CZ, and the very top-of-the-line clear and beautifully cut cubic zirconias would cost only a few hundred dollars a carat.  But 99% of the CZ rings you will find on Etsy and elsewhere are worth nowhere near that much---more like $1-$5 per package of 10.  At riogrande.com, which is the jewelry supplier to jewelers world-wide, they have an 8mm cushion-cut CZ for $7.46.  So that so-called "patented" cushion cut CZ ring on Etsy, selling for about $100, isn't outrageously overpriced, but it is definitely nothing more than a CZ ring that you could find anywhere.

So please do your own research!  Buyer BEWARE!!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Does All Sterling Silver NEED To Be Marked "925" or "Sterling" By Law? Some Facts

Someone on Etsy's forums posted a question regarding a sterling silver item they purchased.  When it was received, there was no mark such as ".925" or "Sterling" and they wondered if this means it was fake silver.

Many comments later (at least 3 pages), I can see that there is a LOT of misinformation regarding the marking of precious metals in the U.S.

I hope I can clear some of this up:

(1)  First off, what is a "hallmark" and what is a "quality stamp"?
A quality stamp indicates the amount of precious metal in that piece.  The quality stamp "925" or "Sterling" will indicate that this piece is Sterling Silver.  Karat gold pieces are quality stamped (14k, 18k, 10k, etc.).
A hallmark is the manufacturer's maker's mark or in the United States, their registered trademark. 

(2)  What are the U.S. laws regarding stamping sterling silver and other precious metals?
In the USA, The National Gold and Silver Marketing Act does NOT require precious metals to be marked with quality (i.e., "925").  However IF a quality mark is used, the mark MUST be accompanied by a manufacturer's hallmark that is a registered trademark of the manufacturer. If there is ever a question about the content of a piece of jewelry, that manufacturer can be traced using the hallmark that has been stamped on the piece.  This accountability is particularly important to gold jewelry----you want to know that you are buying 18k gold as marked, and not 10k gold which is worth one-third less on gold content alone.

In many countries (NOT the U.S.A.) precious metals must have a quality stamp, and jewelry made of precious metal must be submitted to a governmental assay office for destructive testing before being marked and sold.

(3)  So Does all Sterling Silver have a mark such as "925" on it?

The answer is NO.  There are various reasons why a genuine sterling silver item isn't marked.  Perhaps the item is too small.  Some narrow gemstone eternity rings for example have no place inside to mark it.  Components that are sterling silver, such as beads, open or closed ring findings, or chain, have no room to be stamped. Sterling Silver wire is not stamped.

The cost of getting a registered trademark costs over $1,000, and since BY LAW an item that is stamped 925 MUST have the manufacturer's registered trademark alongside the purity stamp, many small jewelers and Native American jewelers cannot afford this cost for a legal hallmark. Therefore, they will not stamp the item.

Sometimes the quality stamp is lost when an item is re-sized.  And sometimes an item is actually stamped lightly, but has been plated with gold or rhodium which fills in the stamp, making it invisible or nearly invisible.  I've seen this happen myself many times with rhodium plated items, because sterling silver that's plated with rhodium also has a "barrier" plating between the two metals (such as nickel or copper) and can fill in the quality stamp.

(4) How can I test an item to make sure it's Sterling Silver and not just plated or something else?

You can take the item to a jeweler, who can examine it for you and test it.  Or you can buy a testing kit yourself.  A small scratch will be made in the item to cut through any plating or lacquer, and then a drop of Nitric Acid will be applied.  If it turns green, it is something other than sterling silver (such as brass, so-called nickel silver which has no silver in it, and other low quality metals) because the acid is reacting to a high level of copper.  If it turns a creamy color, it is sterling silver. 

(5)  Are all items marked "925" genuine Sterling Silver?

In the U.S., even though a quality mark is NOT required by law, it is totally illegal to fraudulently mark an item as "925".  There are stiff consequences for committing fraud.  Although it's possible for someone to purchase a .925 stamp and mark jewelry as sterling when it is not, it's highly unlikely.  Plus as mentioned above, it's easy to have the item tested for quality.  But that said, I've seen a LOT of so-called "Sterling Silver" jewelry on Ebay that is marked "925" but it is actually silver PLATED, not sterling----the price is very low and their feedback reflects a number of unhappy customers.  (For an example, search Ebay for "Sterling Silver 925 Bean Lady's Necklace" - a "kidney bean" charm on an 18" chain for $1.76, free shipping, from China. NOT real sterling silver!)

What IS Sterling Silver?
Sterling Silver is defined as a metal alloy consisted of 92.5% pure silver mixed with 7.5% other metals, the most common being copper.  Pure fine silver is 99.999% silver and is considered too soft to securely hold gemstones, so sterling silver looks like pure silver but is harder and more durable.  Argentium Sterling Silver is 92.5% pure silver that is alloyed with 1.2% germanium and 6.3% copper---the smaller percentage of copper makes this more tarnish resistant.

Other possible markings include "Mexican Silver", "German Silver", "Indian Silver", "Alpaca Silver" or even simply "Silver" and do not guarantee any silver content.  In fact, "German Silver" and "Alpaca Silver" contain NO silver whatsoever and are actually alloys of zinc, nickel and copper.

What About Pure or "Fine" Silver?
 Sometimes artisans use pure Silver (or "Fine" Silver) which will contain more silver than "regular" Sterling Silver--no alloys are added.  While Sterling is 92.5% Silver,  Fine Silver is 99.9% pure.  Although Silver is considered to be too "soft" for jewelry, it really is too soft to hold gemstones or hold its shape in a ring worn daily.  Fine silver beads and charms are beautiful, with a more brilliant white "silver" color, and are far more resistant to tarnish.  In Thailand, the Karen Hill Tribe makes and sells fine silver components and NONE are hallmarked or quality stamped.  They guarantee their silver to be at least 97% pure---taking into account the use of solder.  I also make pure silver charms myself by melting pure silver grain, which I purchase at Rio Grande Jewelry which is a supplier that I trust, and I don't mark the charms.  But I guarantee they are 99.99% pure fine silver. 

IN SUMMARY
  • Sterling silver must be at least 92.5% silver.
  • US law does NOT require precious metal to be marked with a quality stamp.
  • Some European countries do require marking. Many tourists visiting the US will question goods sold without markings that indicate precious-metal quality.
  • US law requires a maker's mark in the form of a hallmark or registered trademark in addition to the quality mark if the goods are quality marked. The name of the artist or manufacturer may now be used for this.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What's the Percentage of Gold in 14k? 10k? 18k?

Gold purity is defined either in Karats or fineness.  One Karat is equal to 1/24th part of fine gold, so 24k Gold is pure gold.  So to find the percentage of gold in 10k gold, you would divide 10 by 24 (10/24) and multiply by 100 to get the percentage:

  • 10k = 10/24 or 10 ÷ 24 = .416 or 41.6% gold
  • 12k = 12/24 or 12 ÷ 24 = .500 or 50% gold
  • 14k = 14/24 or 14 ÷ 24 = .583 or 58.3% gold
  • 18k = 18/24 or 18 ÷ 24 = .750 or 75% gold  
  • 24k = 24/24 or 24 ÷ 24 = 1.00 or 100% gold

Most alloys mixed with gold are different percentages of copper and silver mixed with pure gold.  When more copper is used, the result is "rose gold" or "pink gold".  When less copper and more silver is used, the result is a very pale "green" gold or pale yellow gold.  When no copper is used with the silver and gold, the result is a brighter "green gold".   White gold today uses the alloy Palladium (rather than nickel) plus silver and copper with gold, which results in an allergy-free white gold.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Boulder Opal or Opal Doublet?

A shop on etsy is offering opal jewelry, calling the items "boulder opals".  But what are they really?

I can see just by looking at them that these necklaces are actually "opal doublets" and NOT boulder opals at all.  What's the difference between a boulder opal and an opal doublet?

OPAL DOUBLET:

An opal doublet is a man-made opal.  This is a very inexpensive method for creating beautiful opal jewelry!  This gives the look of very expensive Black Opal.  A tiny slice of opal (about 1mm) is glued to a dark backing.  This backing can be made of industrial glass, onyx, hard plastic, ironstone, or even "potch" (common opal, or opal that doesn't exhibit the fire of precious opal).

You can see an opal doublet by simply looking at the side.  There is an obvious black backing and a straight line where it meets the opal.  This can be difficult to see when the opal is set.

It's important to NOT get an opal doublet wet, since the layers can separate!


BOULDER OPAL:

It is considered to be the second most valuable type of opal!  Ironstone boulders have thin veins of natural opal.  The stones are cut so the natural ironstone remains surrounding or backing these opal veins.  Ironstone is a dark brown stone, which makes the opal naturally darker and vivid.  Sometimes boulder opal is called a "natural doublet" since the ironstone is left behind the opal when cut for jewelry.  There is no adhesive involved in boulder opal!  Because the ironstone surrounds the opal naturally, it is much more durable than black opals.

If Boulder opals are cut to remove the opal for jewelry, they are always cut in irregular shapes, due to their natural veins within the ironstone.  They are never oval-shaped, except when the ironstone is left surrounding the opal (as shown here).  Boulder opals are also quite small, because the natural veins within the stone are thin.  

*******************

On Etsy, there is at least one gemstone supplier who is offering opal doublets which are thin layers of opal that have been glued to ironstone.  This supplies seller clearly states that these are doublets.  It would appear that the jewelry seller on Etsy purchased these from the supplier (they look very very similar in shape and style).  If that's the case, then why is the Etsy jewelry seller (who knows these are doublets) calling these "boulder opals"?  I don't believe the seller is merely misinformed---I believe they are using "creative marketing" (i.e., fraud) to sell their jewelry.  These items are CLEARLY sold by the supplier as opal doublets and not "boulder opals"!  Plus, the seller can see the backing (which is conveniently NOT shown in the jewelry listings).  Boulder opals are natural and valuable opals, and doublets are much less expensive man-made opals.

The drilled opal doublet supplier on Etsy is called Gempalace, and their doublets are beautiful!!  (If you click on the link, you can see them!)  There is another doublet seller called  Casagemsbeads located in India, and theirs are beautiful as well, with more of a freeform shape.  Both of those gem suppliers are totally upfront and call their drilled opals "opal doublets".  I'm considering buying some from them myself!!

Just because an opal doublet is backed with ironstone (as opposed to onyx or glass) doesn't make it a boulder opal.  Those are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS, very different, and now you know the difference!

Buyer beware!




Friday, October 24, 2014

Rutilated Quartz, Tourmalinated Quartz: What Are The Differences?

There are two types of clear or semi-clear quartz gemstones with little "needles" inside, and they are both very popular because they are both so beautiful!   One is called "Rutilated Quartz" and the other is known as "Tourmalinated Quartz".  They're both quartz stones, but with very different inclusions!

Yet it seems a large number of sellers (and therefore buyers) don't know the difference between the two.  But it's very simple:

RUTILATED QUARTZ

This is clear quartz that has GOLDEN Rutile crystal "needles" captured within the stone.  Rutile is a mineral, also known as Titanium Dioxide, and appears to be golden or reddish tiny "hairs" or needles.  It is because of the encapsulated Rutile needle crystals that this is called Rutilated Quartz.





 TOURMALINATED QUARTZ

This is clear quartz that has black Tourmaline crystal "needles" captured within the stone.  These needles are actually the gemstone Tourmaline that has formed within the Quartz.  It is because of the encapsulated black Tourmaline that this is called Tourmalinated Quartz.






And so whenever you see quartz with black "needles" inside, it is Tourmalinated Quartz.
Whenever you find clear quartz with golden "needles" inside, it is Rutilated Quartz.

There is no black Rutilated Quartz.

Now you know!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What is Gold-Filled Jewelry? How Much Gold Is Really In It?

There are three metals that are known as "precious" metals:  Gold, Silver, and Platinum.  Other metals used in jewelry are known as "base metals" and these include brass, bronze, copper, nickel, and so forth.  Most costume jewelry is made out of base metals.  "Fine" jewelry is made from precious metals.  Pure gold (24k) is too soft to hold gemstones securely over time, so it's alloyed (mixed) with other metals.  This is how we get 18k gold, 14k gold, 12k and 10k gold, etc. and also how we get various colors of gold---rose gold, white gold, green gold.   Pure silver is also alloyed with other metals (primarily copper) resulting in Sterling Silver (92.5% silver).

What Is Gold Filled?
In the jewelry industry, there are different terms for Gold Filled:  it can also be referred to as "rolled gold", "metal cladding" or "gold overlay".  There are standards for gold filled, and basically a thin sheet of karat gold (10k, 12k, 14k) is fused to a thicker sheet of base metal (brass, bronze, nickel or even steel) by heating the two sheets of metal to 900 degrees C, then rolling the metals together under high pressure (about 2500 psi).  The metals are now bonded.  This becomes a rigid sheet of welded metal that is karat gold on the outside----the part we see and touch.  This gives the look of karat gold at a much cheaper cost.

Is The Gold Only On One Side Of The Metal?
The placement of the sheet of gold over the base metal is called "cladding".  There is single-clad gold filled, and double-clad gold filled.  Double-clad is used on items to prevent discoloration (oxidation or tarnish).  Round gold-filled wire and tubes have a layer of karat gold welded entirely around the outside. 

How Thick Is The Gold Layer?
Most gold filled products have an outer layer of gold that is between 10 karat and 18 karat in fineness, 14k the most common. Depending on the usage, the thickness of the gold sheet varies.  The layer is measured in microns, and for reference, 1000 microns= 1 millimeter (and 25.4 millimeters to an inch).  The thickness of the layer of gold in gold filled jewelry is between 5 and 100 microns.   In inches, 5 microns = 0.000196850394 inches.   In inches, 100 microns is 0.00393700787 inches.  VERY, very thin.

What Are the Marks On Gold Filled Jewelry? 

All items designated and sold commercially as “gold filled” or “rolled gold” must comply with the rules set forth by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  The total gold content for an object designated "gold filled" must equal 1/20th of the total weight of the finished item.  This means that 5% of the item must be karat gold, and the remaining 95% is the base metal and solder

How Long Can Gold-Filled Jewelry Last?
Based on normal and reasonable wear parameters, the durability estimates per Metal Arts Specialties for some gold filled pieces are:

        ITEM             THICKNESS                   EST. DURABILITY
 
Bracelet                    30-75 microns                     5-10 Years
Chains                      5-10 microns                       2-8 Years


What About Gold Vermeil Items? In Comparison, How Long Will It Last?
Based on normal and reasonable wear parameters, the durability per Metal Arts Specialties for some gold Vermeil pieces, which by law must have a minimum of 2.5 microns of gold, are:

      ITEM                THICKNESS                    EST. DURABILITY

Bracelet                  2.5-8 microns                        3-7 Years
Chains                    2.5 microns                            3 Years

✦✦ Please keep in mind that Vermeil is a term used ONLY for solid Sterling Silver (or fine silver) with a minimum layer of 2.5 microns of gold, often 18k Gold or 24k pure Gold.  This means that with Vermeil jewelry, you are getting all precious metals---gold and silver--- which have intrinsic value, and not clad base metal like what you get with gold filled (which is 95% base metal).

What "Myths" or Exaggerations Are There About Gold Filled Jewelry?
  • "Gold Filled is considered a lifetime piece of jewelry".  Not really.  It should last, under normal wear, between 2 and 20 years.  SOLID gold is a lifetime piece of jewelry. 
  • "Gold Filled is a tube of brass that's filled with gold."   It's not anything "filled with gold".  "Rolled Gold" or "Gold Clad" are other terms, and they are less confusing.
  • "Gold Filled will NEVER chip or break off."   Not usually, but it can and sometimes does peel off the base metal.
  • "There is over 100 times the amount of gold in gold filled v. gold plated vermeil jewelry, which is just paint."  FALSE!  FALSE! FALSE!  Vermeil isn't "gold paint" and is regulated by the FTC for a minimum of 2.5 to 8 microns of actual gold.   Please refer to the chart above.
  • "Gold filled Jewelry will NEVER tarnish!"  Not true.  It can darken with exposure to sulfides in the air or skin, just like other metals.  It can easily be polished back to its original shine.  BUT since there is no such thing as "gold filled solder", the solder joints will blacken and will stand out against the gold filled piece.
  • "This cast charm is Gold Filled."  NO.  Gold Filled items can only be made from sheet, wire or tubing due to the nature of the process to make gold fill.  Casting requires melting metal, and gold fill cannot be melted and cast.
  • "This ring is Gold Filled."  Unless it's a wire-wrapped ring, made out of gold-filled wire, it is not gold-filled.  If it's a ring with prongs (or a cast ring), it is NOT gold filled and is probably just plated.  It's impossible to melt and cast gold-fill.
Summary
Gold fill is a reasonably priced, quality alternative to solid gold. Most gold-filled items are made in the USA.  Gold filled jewelry will provide the look of solid gold, and the feel of solid gold, for many years.  However, if you are looking for a lifetime piece of gold jewelry, solid gold is the way to go.

Friday, October 17, 2014

$5 Off -- Anywhere on Etsy!

If you are new to Etsy, you can buy anything (from ANY SHOP) and receive $5 off!  Here is a link to that coupon:

$5 OFF ETSY

That's a really great deal!!  Thanks, Etsy!
I have items in my shop that are under $10, so that's a really really great deal!

Plus, I offer 15% off anything in my shop (use coupon BLOGGER15OFF at checkout).  Then, after each purchase, you also receive a coupon to take $10 OFF anything in my shop on your next visit!!  Here's a link to my shop:

InVogueJewelry / WabiSabiChic

Monday, October 13, 2014

Opalite: NOT a Gemstone! NOT Quartz!! Just Glass

I got a "recommended shop" from Etsy today, and the seller is offering "Opal Quartz" because it's the "birthstone for October".

What is Opal Quartz, you ask?  Well it's actually Opalite.  

Opalite is GLASS.  It's not quartz.  It's not opal.  It's not "Blue Fire" opal.  It's never described as "eye clean" like actual gemstones.  It's not rated as "AAA+" or anything else, like gemstones are. Opalite is just glass, manmade glass that has an iridescent quality. It is certainly NOT the birthstone for October, since it's not a "stone" at all---it is glass.

It's also not worth anywhere near $48 and up for one Opalite briolette on a chain.

You can buy an entire STRAND of Opalite at Michaels for $3.99.  And at Michael's, they are honest enough to label it "Opalite Glass" because THAT is what it is.  Retail establishments would HAVE to honestly state what an item is, for fear of getting into trouble with the FCC for fraud.  I guess small online Ebay and Etsy sellers don't care about that, or think they won't get into trouble.

Is there such a stone at all called "opal quartz"?  The answer is NO.

Genuine Ethopian "Welo" Opals
For the money you might spend on this glass briolette necklace, you can buy a beautiful Welo Opal (also known as Ethopian Opal) piece and that IS a GENUINE OPAL, and is spectacular!  






Please, buyer beware!!!  Use Google to find out more information before making a purchase.  Be an informed consumer!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mineral LOVE: Pyrite!


The first "rock" I ever bought was a piece of Pyrite from a museum gift shop in Chicago.  It was beautiful--sparkling and golden, almost faceted.  It was Pyrite, and I still love it!  But what is Pyrite exactly?

Pyrite Cubes
Pyrite is a mineral that is sometimes called "Iron Pyrite" because it's made of Iron and Sulfur atoms.  It's often called "Fool's Gold" because in old mining days, little pieces of Pyrite would be mistaken for gold.   Sometimes, actual gold atoms form inside Pyrite, and sometimes in gold deposits, pyrite can be found.  This is probably why it's called Fool's Gold!

The word Pyrite comes from the Greek word for "fire" because it sparks when hit against rocks or steel.

Pyrite in Fossilized Ammonite
Pyrite is found in rocks, such as limestone, shale, and coal.  It can form as crystals or in massive form (lacking any crystals).  It sometimes forms in fossils.  It has a metallic luster, but it oxidizes quickly when exposed to the air, and looks greenish or greyish due to tarnish.

Pyrite has the same chemical structure as Marcasite, although it forms different crystals and therefore is considered a different mineral.  Often, Marcasite jewelry is actually made with Pyrite.

Pyrite can be found in many forms:  in cubes, "dollars" (radiating flat
Pyrite "Dollar"
disc shapes) which are also called "pyrite suns", pyritohedral (12-sided small crystals, like a druzy), octahedral (like a double-sided pyramid).

Metaphysically, Pyrite is considered a protective mineral, and shields the wearer from negative energies while inviting prosperity and happiness!  In Fung-Shui, pyrite attracts wealth and abundance and positive energy when placed in the home or office.

There are many pyrite beads that are coated with gold or silver or other colors, including rainbow colors, that can be found on Etsy and elsewhere.  Many of these coatings are actually paint and it will scratch or even wash off.  Please be aware that these are called "coated" as opposed to plated. The honest sellers will refer to these beads as "silver colored" or "copper colored" etc.   Personally, the beautiful and natural brassy look of "raw" Pyrite is the best.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

18k White Gold Plated Sterling Silver??? Does It Really Exist??

I keep seeing rings for sale on Etsy and Ebay that are advertised as "18k White Gold Plated Sterling Silver".

Does this really exist?

The short answer is NO.

Sterling Silver, a precious metal, is a white metal but it tarnishes fairly easily.  The jewelry industry is always searching for better alloys to mix with fine silver to create a more tarnish-resistant metal.  Regular fine silver is far less prone to tarnishing, but it's really too soft to safely hold a gemstone, so it's alloyed (mixed) with other metals.  Copper is usually used in the ratio of 92.5% fine silver to 7.5% copper.  That's why Sterling Silver is always marked ".925" to indicate the 92.5% pure fine silver (an industry standard).  Some new alloys such as Argentium Sterling Silver are on the market and are very tarnish resistant (the alloy is Germanium, which is not reactive).  

Often, sterling silver rings and other jewelry is plated with Rhodium.  Rhodium is a very hard, bright white metal, a member of the Platinum family of metals.  It is very corrosion resistant, and provides a shiny and bright finish to Sterling Silver, plus keeps the silver from scratching.  And wherever silver is scratched, it is more apt to tarnish there.

Black Rhodium plated Sterling Silver is also very popular.

Sterling Silver jewelry is a great alternative to White Gold as far as appearance.

What about Sterling Silver plated with Yellow or Rose Gold?

Sterling silver jewelry is also sometimes plated with Yellow Gold and Rose Gold in various karats---14k, 18k and even 24k pure yellow gold.  (And sometimes even "Green Gold".) When there is a heavy enough plating of yellow or rose gold, it is called "Vermeil".  Only sterling silver that is plated with at least 2.5 microns of 14k gold (or higher) can be called, by law, Vermeil.  Even Fine Silver (97% silver or more) is plated with gold to give it that solid gold look.  It CANNOT---by law---be called "Vermeil" if it doesn't reach this standard of gold thickness over sterling or fine silver.  There is ONLY Rose Gold Vermeil and Yellow Gold Vermeil (no "white gold"). 

But is Sterling or Fine Silver EVER plated with white gold?

NO.

Like Sterling Silver, even White Gold jewelry (especially rings) is almost always plated with Rhodium.  That's because "white gold" is actually yellow gold that is alloyed with white metals to give it a whiter look.  However, the resulting white gold still has a yellowish cast.  A lot of people love the "pop" that Rhodium gives the white gold, and makes diamonds appear whiter.  Even yellow gold jewelry is sometimes plated with Rhodium to give it a whole new look.  Rhodium plated white gold also helps the gold resist scratching.  Even Platinum jewelry is plated with Rhodium. 

So why are sellers claiming their sterling silver is plated with 18k White Gold?

Well, it's just what I call "creative marketing".  Others may call it "misinformation" which means "fraud".  They think that consumers feel that "white gold" over Sterling Silver is more high-end sounding, I guess.  Actually, Rhodium (like Platinum) is one of the most expensive metals.

So if you see a ring that is stamped "925" then it is Sterling Silver, and is likely plated with Rhodium.  It is NOT plated with white gold. EVER.

Is there such a thing as White Gold Plated jewelry?

Yes.  Inexpensive brass jewelry (which is not a precious metal)  is given a "flash" plating with white gold.  A lot of very inexpensive plated brass charms and chains and other jewelry items can be found all over Etsy and Ebay.  These are often made in Korea and China.

And while we're on the subject of  "plated"....

There is NO SUCH THING as "Sterling Silver Plated" jewelry!!  For example, you might see something  advertised as "Sterling Silver Plated Chain..." Sterling Silver is a term used ONLY for solid sterling silver items, and would be marked with "925".  Jewelry, like chains and so forth, can be "silver plated" which is actually plated with a very small amount of fine silver---not "sterling".   Sellers use that term so you THINK you're getting Sterling Silver, when you are not.  Or perhaps they're trying to say their item is plated with ACTUAL silver, rather than a silver-colored metal or even paint.  They would be far better off (and more honest) to call it "fine silver plated". 

Monday, August 11, 2014

About Metals: What is Brass? Bronze? Pewter? Tin?


What is Brass?

Brass = Copper + Zinc

Brass Key
Brass is a golden metal that can be polished to a mirror finish.  It has been used for many centuries and was first widely known about 500 BC.  Brass is a mixture of Copper and Zinc.  Different ratios of copper to zinc make different "colors" of brass, such as red brass (85% copper), yellow brass (65% copper), and white brass (less than 50% copper and greater than 50% zinc), and different brasses with different hardness.  Basic brass used in faucets and pipes and other objects is 67% copper and 33% zinc. An interesting fact:  copper in brass makes it "germicidal" or antimicrobial.  This means that brass actually kills microorganisms within minutes to hours of coming into contact with it!

It is used in a wide variety of things:  doorknobs, musical instruments, zippers, gears, locks, plumbing, electrical components, ammunition casings, as well as jewelry.  It has a relatively low melting point and is easy to cast.

Today, almost 90% of brass is recycled.  Since it's non-magnetic, it's easy to separate brass from other metals.

Adding aluminum to brass makes it corrosion resistant.  Tin also adds corrosion resistance and is used in seawater applications (naval brass).

Exposure of brass to ammonia will result in "stress corrosion cracking".   I can vouch for this myself---I tried adding a patina to a brass locket by exposing it to ammonia for a day, and the hinge completely dissolved!

Brass is often coated with oil to protect it from corrosion.


What is Bronze?

Bronze = Copper + Tin

Rodin's "The Thinker"
Bronze is a brownish metal, an alloy consisting of mostly copper plus tin.  Sometimes other alloys are used, such as manganese, aluminum or silicon.  Bronze was the first alloy, from around 3500 BC and gives its name to the "Bronze Age".   When left to the elements, bronze will develop a beautiful patina.   

Bronze is widely used in cast sculptures, and due to its corrosion resistance, is used in naval propellers, fittings, and bearings.






What is Pewter?

Pewter = Tin + Copper

Pewter is a grey alloy of Tin plus Copper.  It is between 85-99% tin.  Pewter that has a bluish tint is Tin alloyed with Lead, although this is uncommon today.  The earliest piece of Pewter found was in an Egyptian tomb from about 1450 BC.

Pewter Plate, French, 1793
Pewter was the main component in tablewear (plates, cups, silverware) used by the Egyptians, Romans, and throughout Europe until porcelain and glass were used in the 18th Centuries, when mass production of pottery replaced Pewter.

Today, pewter is mostly used in decorative objects, pendants, and replica coins. 








Cassiterite with Tin

What is Tin?

Tin is a silvery-white metal found on the Periodic Table with the atomic number 50.  It is highly resistant to water corrosion and is used to plate other metals.  Tin is the 49th most abundant element in the Earth's crust.  Tin must be extracted from other ores, mainly Cassiterite.

Today, about 50% of all tin is used in solder, and the other half used in the production of brass and bronze, and tin plating. of objects such as steel whistles (tin whistles), and steel cans (tin cans).  It is also used in Li-ion batteries.








Saturday, July 19, 2014

ARAGONITE: Is There A Rare Faceted Gemstone Or Etsy Fraud?

I saw a ring on etsy that is VERY expensive.  It's advertised as Aragonite and is described as being a one-of-a-kind gemstone, Pleochroic (see below), and so very rare due to its "birefringence" which the seller described as meaning that the stone exhibited "different colors on different facets."  (And that is NOT what the term means....see below!)  The gem in this ring was even given a "name" --- you know, like the Hope Diamond or the Timur Ruby.  They claim this particular stone is "one of the rarest faceted gemstones on earth"!  In doing a simple Google search, no such named Aragonite appears, except the one listed on etsy.  The "name" of this gemstone is also the ancient name of the Kingdom of Aragon, which is simple history and is now known as the region of Aragon, Spain.   And this supposed rare and exquisite "gem" is mounted in a Sterling Silver setting.... well, if this were indeed an expensive gemstone ring (listed at well over $20,000!) then it most certainly would have been set in platinum, or white gold, or yellow gold.  So that's a giveaway right there that something in the milk ain't clean, so to speak!

If you Google images of Aragonite, you can see what it really looks like.

What is Aragonite?

Aragonite Crystal-Spain
Aragonite is described as "a mineral consisting of calcium carbonate, typically occurring in white seashells and as colorless prisms in deposits in hot springs."  It is formed by biological and physical processes, including precipitation from marine and freshwater environments.  The common mineral Calcite is also made of calcium carbonate.  Per www.minerals.net, "There are many Aragonite crystals sold to collectors that are in fact really calcite."
There are many Aragonite crystals sold to collectors that are in fact really Calcite pseudomorphs after Aragonite - See more at: http://www.minerals.net/mineral/aragonite.aspx#sthash.KiuX60SO.dpuf
There are many Aragonite crystals sold to collectors that are in fact really Calcite pseudomorphs after Aragonite. - See more at: http://www.minerals.net/mineral/aragonite.aspx#sthash.KiuX60SO.dpuf
There are many Aragonite crystals sold to collectors that are in fact really Calcite pseudomorphs after Aragonite. - See more at: http://www.minerals.net/mineral/aragonite.aspx#sthash.KiuX60SO.dpuf

It's named Aragonite after Aragon, Spain, where it was first discovered.  It is also found in the Czech Republic, Mexico, Austria, and even Carlsbad Caverns here in New Mexico, which form as stalactites.

It is often used in replicating reefs in aquariums.

Aragonite is the main component in such organic gems as pearls, coral and mother-of-pearl.  It is Aragonite that gives the nacre its iridescent look.
Aragonite Needle Spray - Austria

Aragonite forms in many environments, and can be banded as well as nearly colorless or brown.  It can be found as colorless, white, brown, grey, yellow, red, pink, green, blue, purple, orange. 

Colorless, white, brown, gray, yellow, red, pink, purple, orange, blue, green - See more at: http://www.minerals.net/mineral/aragonite.aspx#sthash.KiuX60SO.dpuf
It is actually Aragonite that is sold as "Mexican Onyx" or "California Onyx" or even "Onyx Marble" and "Suisan Marble".

Flos Ferri Variety
It is VERY soft and brittle, with a Mohs hardness of 3.5-4 which makes it unsuitable (as a gemstone) for jewelry.   Window glass has a Mohs hardness of 5, so this is much softer than glass.   In fact, the Flos Ferri variety of Aragonite will break when touched!   As a crystal, it has a luster that is described as "vitreous, dull" and is brittle.







What is "Birefringence?

Well, first we have to discuss refraction.  When light passes through something, such as a gemstone, or even a glass of water with a straw in it, the light rays are "refracted" or bent at an angle.  Light passes more slowly through water which is why the straw seems bent.
Birefringent Aragonite on Graph Paper

Each gemstone as its own refractive index, and this is used to identify gemstones.  Some gems are singly refractive----diamonds, spinel, and garnet, and also opals and organic gems (pearls).  Most gemstones are doubly refractive.  This means that a beam of light is split into two beams, each beam traveling at a different speed and path through the stone.  "Birefringence" is the measurement between the two beams.  Most gemstones' birefringence is hard to detect with the naked eye.  Sometimes it's very strong, and if not cut properly, can result in a blurry looking stone. 

So this particular etsy seller said their stone was "Birefringent", as if that was rare.  It's the most common!  And it has nothing whatsoever to do with varying colors....because that would be called "Fire" or "Dispersion" in the jewelry world.

What is Dispersion or Fire?

When the white light rays are refracted inside the gemstone, the rays are split into the colors of the rainbow (like a prism).  This colorful effect is called "Fire" in the jewelry industry.   Diamond has the highest Fire of all the natural (non-synthetic) gemstones.

Dispersion - Aragonite

A genuine Aragonite, which again is really too brittle to wear as jewelry (and is more of a collector's gem), exhibits certain qualities, as all individual gemstones do.  Per http://www.classicgems.net/gem_aragonite.htm,
Aragonite exhibits a Dispersion (or fire) is considered "weak".   The dispersion for a CZ is high. Pleochroism (or the ability to be different colors at different angles) is NONE.  This seller is claiming it IS pleochroic!  Not possible if it's Aragonite.  And all the fire "dancing" around the stone pictured on etsy?  Not possible if it's Aragonite. 


What About Aragonite on Etsy?

I did a quick search for "Aragonite Ring" on Etsy, and there were 59 items found.   58 of these items are definitely and truly Aragonite!  They look like rough crystals, or opaque and banded stones in the various natural colors of Aragonite (such as blue, yellow, brownish, pinkish).  And they're lovely!  But this one ring... could it be Aragonite?  Or could it be a "jonquil" CZ set with two clear CZ baguettes?  Some other stone?  The seller showcases this ring with different lighting, and the "flash" or "fire" in the stones looks like a CZ, and nowhere are pictures or descriptions of "fire" in faceted Aragonite.   So luckily I live near Rio Grande Jewelry, THE major supplier to the jewelry industry world-wide, and I asked one of the gemologists there to take a look at this listing.  Their opinion was that without testing, they couldn't be sure what it was, but it didn't look like any Aragonite they've seen.   They said the pictures show a very clear stone (not blurry, such as seen in the Aragonite pictured above) with the fire exhibited in many stones, most particularly Cubic Zirconia which is available in many colors, even color-shifting CZ stones.  I of course am not going to pay over $20,000 to purchase it in order to have the ring tested.  (Especially from a seller who will NOT accept a refund even for misrepresented stones; i.e., fakes---as their one-star feedback states!)   And the clear baguettes are obviously CZ and in NO way are "clear Aragonite".

Prices Per Carat

Per the website gemsociety.org, there are suggested retail prices per carat for gemstones.  These are RETAIL, not wholesale.  For Aragonite, it is listed as between $26 and $260 per carat for Aragonite that is 5 carats and up. 

* * * * * * * * * * * *
It's so sad to see gemstone claims like this online, as it taints the reputation of all online jewelers and Etsy sellers.  I would not suggest purchasing that ring, and for that price, you could purchase---from a reputable jeweler---a diamond or other gemstone, set in gold or platinum,  that would increase in value. 

BUYER BEWARE!!




Colorless, white, brown, gray, yellow, red, pink, purple, orange, blue, green - See more at: http://www.minerals.net/mineral/aragonite.aspx#sthash.KiuX60SO.dpuf

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What is Paraiba Tourmaline? Is there "Paraiba" Apatite, Quartz, Fluorite etc.?

For awhile now, I've been seeing a lot of jewelry on etsy (and elsewhere) that is made with "Paraiba" gemstones.  I've seen Paraiba Quartz, Paraiba Apatite, Paraiba Opal, Paraiba crystals, as well as Paraiba Tourmaline.

But what is "Paraiba"?  

In 1989, in Paraiba, Brazil, a beautiful blue Tourmaline was found.  This blue was unlike anything else---an electric blue, almost neon, sometimes called "swimming pool blue" and it seemed like it was lit from within.  It has a dazzling turquoise to green color range.   Tourmaline is a gemstone that is found in a rainbow of colors---yellows, reds, greens, black, blue---but this was special.  This beautiful turquoise blue color was due to the presence of copper and manganese.  Because of variations in the amount of copper in Paraiba Tourmaline, it can range from vivid turquoise to emerald green colors.  More manganese results in violet to red colors of tourmaline.

Paraiba Tourmaline Trillion
When this Paraiba Tourmaline was introduced to the marketplace in 1990, it was immediately in huge demand.  The demand was far greater than the supply.  Meanwhile, in Africa, around 2001, very similar Tourmaline was found that was also a vivid blue color, although just a tiny bit lighter.  It was called "Paraiba Tourmaline" even though it wasn't mined in Brazil.  This helped supply the marketplace with the demand for this blue tourmaline.  After much consideration, it was determined by the gemstone community that Tourmaline that matched the color and had  copper and manganese present could be called "Paraiba Tourmaline".

Tourmaline is a specific gemstone.  It is NOT quartz, it is NOT topaz, NOT fluorite, it is NOT Apatite, it certainly isn't Opal or glass.  Paraiba Tourmaline is extremely rare and very expensive.

Then what is Paraiba Apatite or Quartz etc.? 

"Paraiba Quartz" on Etsy--is GLASS
There is no such thing!  Because of the popularity of Paraiba Tourmaline, sellers are using the term "paraiba" to describe pretty much anything that is blue.  Apatite is blue, but it's not tourmaline.

I just did a search on Etsy for "Paraiba" and 853 results turned up.  While there are some true Paraiba Tourmalines and some "Paraiba Like Tourmalines", there are also "Paraiba Fluorite", "Paraiba Topaz", Paraiba Opal", "Paraiba Quartz", all in different colors of blues.  And that's just on page ONE!  I didn't bother to look at any other pages on Etsy.

"Paraiba Apatite" on Etsy
This is simply "creative marketing".  Sellers are using the term Paraiba to grab your attention and make you believe you're getting something of great quality.  Sorry, but only Paraiba TOURMALINE should be called Paraiba.  Honest sellers would say something like, "Paraiba color" if they must use the term at all to describe Apatite or other stones.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What Are "Precious Metals" In Jewelry?

Today on etsy I saw a listing for a gold plated ring.  The seller said---right at the top of the listing--that this was a "Precious Metal" ring...except it said "24k Gold Plated".  There was no mention of the underlying metal, which could have been anything but was probably brass.

Is this really a "precious metal ring" in any way?

The short answer:  NO

What Are Precious Metals?

A precious metal is a rare, naturally occurring metallic chemical element of high economic value.  Precious metals have historically been used in currency (coins) and have a high value.

Precious metals are only Gold, Silver and the Platinum group of metals (such as Palladium and Rhodium).

What Are Precious Metals In Jewelry?

Pure 24k Gold and 99.9% Fine Silver are too soft to be used in jewelry, so other metals are alloyed with the gold or silver to make them hard enough to hold gemstones, hold their shape, and resist scratching and bending.  Karat Gold (10k, 14k, 18k, 22k, 24k) is considered precious in jewelry.  Sterling Silver and Fine Silver are also considered precious metals in jewelry. Platinum, being an extremely rare and expensive metal, is the ultimate precious metal.

What About Metals Plated With 24k Gold?

When base metals, including brass, are plated with gold or rhodium, they are NOT considered "precious metals".  They are simply base metals that have been flashed with a very thin layer of gold.

Often in jewelry, a ring or other piece of jewelry will be described simply as "gold plated" or "rhodium plated".  The underlying metal could be tin, aluminum, brass, copper, nickel, zinc...or could even be plastic.  Coating something with gold, whether it's 24k gold or 14k gold plated, does not make that item "precious".

What About Gold Vermeil?

Vermeil is gold plated Sterling Silver or Fine Silver----all precious metals.  It must have a certain amount of gold (14k or higher) plated on the silver, as mandated by the FTC. So yes, Vermeil is considered "precious".

What About Gold Filled Jewelry?

Gold Filled, or "rolled gold" or "rolled gold plate", is brass or copper that has a thin layer of karat gold that's mechanically bonded or heat-fused to one or both sides of the base metal, then rolled out into sheets to create jewelry.  The thickness of the gold layer can vary, but must be 5% (or 1/20th) of the total weight.  In other words, gold filled jewelry is 95% base metal with 5% karat gold (which itself is a percentage of pure gold), which is a considerably larger amount of gold than found on other plated brass.  This means it will provide the look of gold for a longer time than other gold plated brass pieces. Still, it's not considered a precious metal, since it is 95% brass or copper.





Saturday, May 10, 2014

"London Blue Quartz" -- What is it? NOT a Gemstone!

Let me get straight to the point:  The ONLY "London Blue" gemstone is topaz.  That is IT.

I've written about Quartz gemstones before.  Specifically, I've written about the unbridled fraud and misinformation in the jewelry marketplace regarding hydroquartz, or quartz that is sold as "aquamarine quartz", "tanzanite quartz", "Swiss Blue quartz" and other supposed quartz which has familiar sounding gemstone names.

Today I noticed a LOT of so-called "London Blue Quartz" in jewelry.  Please know that there is NO SUCH GEMSTONE as a blue quartz that is crystal clear, no matter what it's called.   There are mystic coated clear quartz stones (aqua aura), but no synthetic (created) blue quartz. 

I've also noticed that most of this "quartz" is sold on Etsy, and some on Ebay.

What Forms of Quartz are Gemstones? 

Quartz is the second most abundant mineral on earth (the first being feldspar).  It's a beautiful crystal clear mineral (known as Rock Crystal or Pure Quartz) that comes in a wide variety of colors which occur due to impurities.  When it's purple, we call it Amethyst; when golden yellow, it's Citrine; milky to nearly transparent pink is called Rose Quartz; deep brown is known as Smoky Quartz; Aventurine is a green semi-translucent stone that resembles jade.  Chalcedony and Agate are forms of Quartz.  In fact, there are more variety names given to Quartz than any other mineral.  There is also Rutilated Quartz (with golden needles or rutiles within the quartz) and Tourmalinated Quartz (with tourmaline rutiles).  There is even a form of cat's eye quartz that is usually greyish with a very week "cat's eye" effect. 

As a gemstone, Quartz is often enhanced.  Prasiolite, or "green amethyst", is produced when heating certain forms of Amethyst.  Amethyst itself is often heat treated to enhance the purple color.  Almost all forms of Citrine are produced by heat-treating amethyst.  Mystic quartz is synthetically colored by irradiating gold.

What About Blue Quartz?

Blue Quartz exists, but is never clear like topaz.  It is called Blue Chalcedony, and is an opaque stone.


What is the "Blue Quartz" that is clear, on Etsy?

It is most likely glass, or fused glass, fused silica, or fused quartz.  None of these is a gemstone, in that they aren't minerals.  Just glass.

Aside from blue Chalcedony (which is a milky stone), there is a very rare form of Blue Quartz called Dumortierite.  Other than that, there is "aqua aura quartz" which is clear quartz that has been irradiated with gold.

How About Hydro Quartz?

Actual Hydro Quartz is a synthetic crystal that is made in labs for the electronics industry.  It's not produced for jewelry.

What about all the Hydro Quartz Sold as Gemstones?

That is GLASS.  The briolettes and so-called "blue quartz gemstones" that you find ALL over Etsy, etc., are nothing more than manufactured GLASS.  They are not gemstones.  They are not quartz.  They are beautiful and sparkling clear manufactured glass stones that are produced all over the world, specifically in China and India, where they are known as "Hydroquartz Glass".  Somehow the word "glass" is dropped when marketing these pieces here in the U.S.  As I wrote in my previous post about this, gemologists and independent labs have analyzed many pieces of  "hydroquartz gems" and all of it turned out to be glass.

What About London Blue Quartz?  Tanzanite Quartz?

None of these are any variety of the gemstone Quartz.  These are glass.  NOT a gemstone.

What About Emerald Quartz? Sapphire Quartz?

This is interesting.  Because the green or blue dye used to color enhance gemstones isn't stable or results in uneven or unstable colors, a different method is used to produce "Emerald Quartz" and "Sapphire Quartz".  Aside from the glass "hydro" versions of this stone, these stones are made by cutting a piece of clear Rock Quartz in half, and then gluing the pieces back together with a thin layer of dyed glue.  So the color you are seeing is actually the tinted GLUE which is sandwiched between two pieces of clear quartz.

What's a Quartz Doublet?

Just like the Emerald Quartz and Sapphire Quartz above, a clear quartz gem is cut in half and then re-assembled with tinted glue.  The result is a beautiful quartz gemstone that looks vibrant and colorful and is only revealed to be a doublet when immersed in water. 

How Do I Know What I'm Buying?

If you are purchasing from an honest seller, whether on Etsy or Ebay or online, just ask.  I purchase my stones directly from Rio Grande Jewelry Supply, which is a jewelers' supply store and VERY reputable and trusted by jewelers all over the world.  If you visit their site (riogrande.com), they describe Emerald Quartz and Sapphire Quartz more clearly and in more detail---and they divulge that it's the colored glue that gives the clear blue or clear green color of quartz.  Rio Grande sells ALL kinds of natural gemstones, synthetic (created) gemstones, and diamond simulants such as CZ and Moissanite.  They do NOT sell any "hydro quartz".  In fact, if you search Rio Grande for "blue quartz", only druzy stones and "doublets" are found.  You can view this at http://www.riogrande.com/Search/blue-quartz


An educated consumer is a good thing!  Buyer beware.  Don't think that because someone has sold a lot of jewelry on Etsy or they charge a lot for a piece of hydroquartz jewelry that it's a gemstone.  Hydroquartz is NOT a gemstone.  If you love the look of a beautiful, crystal-clear blue stone, enjoy wearing it!  But understand that it's not a true gemstone, and has no intrinsic value.   Most of all, remember this:

There is no such thing as a clear (non-milky) type of Blue Quartz!  Aside from the adhesive-tinted doublets, there is NO BLUE QUARTZ that is crystal clear, or called London Blue or Sky Blue or Aquamarine or Tanzanite or Swiss Blue.  Those are manufacturer's names of glass products.  They are taking well-known names of Topaz or Beryl or other gemstones to FOOL consumers into believing they are buying a gemstone.  IT IS NOT. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sterling Silver, Rhodium Plating, and Ring Sizing



What Exactly is Sterling Silver?

Since pure silver, also known as "fine silver",  is much too soft to be used in rings and other jewelry, an alloy is mixed with the metal to harden it.  Usually this is copper.  The result is a beautiful and sturdy metal that has the beauty of Fine Silver, but is now Sterling Silver.   By law, a piece that is sold as Sterling Silver will be 92.5% pure silver plus 7.5% copper, and will then be stamped ".925" or "S925" or "Sterling Silver".  Only actual Sterling Silver will bear the ".925" Sterling stamp. It is illegal under title 15, chapter 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations to in any way represent an item as sterling if it is not.

Other metals can be used in place of copper as an alloy.  These other alloys are used to help eliminate tarnish.  These metals include zinc, platinum and germaium (known as "Argentium Sterling Silver"), and even silicon and boron.

Is there a difference between Sterling Silver from Tiffany's and Other Stores?

No.  All Sterling Silver is 92.5% fine silver plus 7.5% alloy.  The metal is the same, 92.5% fine silver plus an alloy.  The difference is only in the design of the piece.

Does Sterling Silver Tarnish? What about Fine Silver?

Chemically, pure silver is not very reactive—it does not react with oxygen or water at ordinary temperatures, so does not easily form a silver oxide, which we see as tarnish. However, it is attacked by common components of atmospheric pollution---silver sulfide forms as a black tarnish while exposed to airborne compounds of sulfur (byproducts of the burning of fossil fuels and some industrial processes), and low-level ozone reacts to form silver oxide.  With Sterling Silver, the problem of corrosion or tarnishing increases because other metals in the alloy, usually copper, may react with oxygen in the air.

Sources of sulphur, which cause tarnishing,  include sweat, wool, carpeting, felt, eggs, leather, latex, and various other sources, so limiting exposure to them can help. Avoid bleach or chlorine---even the fumes will cause tarnishing.  Storing your silver in an airtight container with activated charcoal or commercial anti-tarnish strips is a good way to prevent tarnish when storing your jewelry. 

Tarnish begins as a yellow tinge to the metal, and becomes darker until it eventually is black.

To clean tarnish off of Sterling jewelry, a swipe with a treated jewelry cloth for Sterling Silver will remove most tarnish.  Sometimes a quick dip in jewelry cleaner liquid will remove tarnish from intricate silver work, but always immediately wash the piece off in warm water with a little dish soap, and dry with a soft cloth.  Do not use the liquid cleaner on jewelry with pearls, coral, or other gemstones!

Why is Sterling Silver sometimes Rhodium Plated?

Rhodium, which is a very hard (and brittle) metal in the Platinum group of precious metals, is electroplated onto Sterling Silver for a few reasons:  it helps prevent tarnishing, it helps prevent corrosion, it protects the silver from scratching or marring; it gives a very bright and shiny finish; and gives the sterling the look of white gold.  Why? Because white gold is gold mixed with alloys, but is still slightly yellow.  Plating white gold with Rhodium gives the bright, shiny, platinum look that is desired in white gold jewelry.

Rhodium is plated onto sterling silver rings for durability as well as beauty.

Sometimes the layer of Rhodium on jewelry is quite thick, but often the Rhodium layer is an extremely thin layer of metal that is electroplated over the silver or gold.  It will eventually wear off.  Rhodium plated rings especially will need to be replated after several years of wear.

►► CAN I RESIZE MY RHODIUM PLATED STERLING SILVER RING?◄◄

Certainly, it CAN be resized, but should it be?  The short answer is NO, I don't recommend that.  There are several reasons why.  First, in order to plate Rhodium over Sterling Silver, another metal or two must be plated onto the Sterling so the Rhodium adheres, and without contaminating the Rhodium solution.  There are three methods to plate silver:

     1.  First Copper, then Nickel,  then Rhodium.  (This is most common)
     2.  First Palladium, then Rhodium.
     3.  Rhodium straight onto Sterling Silver.
The first two are done in that order because the Rhodium solution is sensitive to copper and will loose its bright plating ability if it is contaminated by base metals, especially copper. 
If one plates straight onto Sterling Silver, then copper in the silver alloy will, after a short time, degrade the solution and the plating will be dark.

Additionally, the Rhodium layer is very hard and brittle, and cutting the band will possibly result in the shattering of the Rhodium layer, revealing the nickel or copper layer underneath.  A skilled silversmith (NOT the jeweler at the mall) can successfully cut through the band and adjust the size and replate the ring---but this can be costly and can also undermine the integrity of the original ring.

A skilled jeweler or preferably a silversmith might be able to "stretch" the ring slightly using a mandrel, but that depends on the thickness of the band and the setting itself, and would need to be discussed with your jeweler first.

Why can't a jeweler use a laser or heat the band?

Different metals melt at different temperatures.  Rhodium, on the outside of a ring band, is an incredibly hard metal, with one of the highest melting points of all metals.  Copper or nickel, plated between the Rhodium and the Sterling Silver, is much softer, although harder than Sterling.  Sterling Silver is an alloy of soft silver and copper.  The melting points of these metals are:

             Rhodium...................3571 °F
             Copper.....................1981 °F
             Nickel...................... 2651 °F
             Sterling Silver............1651 °F

If Rhodium were heated to the point where it would melt or even soften to cut, the underlying metals would all liquify.  If done by an inexperienced person, this would create a mess, and probably ruin the ring.

Is there a way to test metal to see if it's Sterling Silver? 
Yes:
(1)  First, does it have the "925" or "Sterling" marks somewhere?   If it does, then it is sterling silver.  Sometimes Sterling Silver isn't marked, or the markings have worn off.  Often, vintage pieces and Native American jewelry is also not marked.  Clean your piece to remove any tarnish or dirt and inspect it carefully for any hallmarks or maker's marks.
(2) Then check:  Is it magnetic?  Sterling Silver contains no metals that would be attracted to a magnet, so if it is, it's probably Stainless Steel or some other metal.  Use a strong Neodymium magnet.
(3)  Next, if it's not Rhodium plated, you can try purchasing a test kit.  A small scratch can be made in an inconspicuous spot and a drop of Nitric Acid applied.  This will ruin the ring, so often the metal is rubbed onto a "touchstone" and the Nitric Acid is applied to that touchstone rubbing.  You will have to analyze the color that appears as the acid sinks into the piece. Be sure to follow the instructions and color scale of your specific silver test. In general, the color scale is as follows:
  • Bright Red: Fine Silver
  • Darker Red: 925 Silver
  • Brown : 800 Silver
  • Green : 500 Silver
  • Yellow: Lead or Tin
  • Dark brown: Brass
  • Blue: Nickel
(4) A less invasive method and quite simple is the "bleach test".  Silver tarnishes extremely quickly when exposed to bleach (or ammonia, but that takes longer).  Simply place a drop of bleach on your item and if it quickly turns black, that is tarnish and the piece is silver.  You can then polish the piece and remove the tarnish.
(5) Take it to a professional--a reputable jeweler, a silversmith, an appraiser--who can determine if it's sterling silver, and maybe give more information about any maker's marks or hallmarks on the piece, and its value.
****************************

I would recommend that if you are buying a ring, such as a vintage ring, that is Rhodium plated, buy the ring in the proper size!  Don't expect to take any ring that has been Rhodium plated to a jeweler to size it.  The results will most likely not be good, or even disastrous. 



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Gemstone ❤ ZIRCON v. Cubic Zirconia

Clear Zircon
Zircon is a mineral, a naturally-occurring gemstone.  It's a beautiful gemstone and doesn't get a lot of "love" from the public because people are often confused by the name Zircon---it is very close to "Cubic Zirconia" or CZ, which is a man-made stone.  They both contain the element Zirconium, but Zircon is naturally-occurring and a CZ is made in a lab.  Very confusing!

The colorless variety of Zircon is the natural element that most resembles diamonds.  Zircon also has a wonderful refraction which gives the gemstone lots of fire.  It can also seem to have more than one color.  This effect is called pleochroism.  It has a Mohs hardness of 6.5, and its strong luster and intense fire makes it a very beautiful NATURAL alternative to a Diamond.  (Please note: Moissanite is NOT a natural mineral, but is created in a lab, as is Cubic Zirconia.)

White Zircon
The word Zircon comes from the Persian word "zirgun" which means "gold", which makes sense since the majority of Zircons are a brownish gold color.  Zircon is associated with granite.  It's made of Zirconium Silicate.

Blue Zircon
Zircon is found in a variety of colors:  white, colorless, blue, green, red, yellow, orange, brown, pink, purple, grey, and black.  Blue and clear zircon are used the most in jewelry and are heat treated.  Heating the Zircon will increase its transparency, and change colors.  Heating brown or grey zircon in an oxygen-free environment will yield blue gemstones.  Heating them in an environment with oxygen yields a golden brown transparent color.  Almost all blue and colorless zircon are heat treated.

Trade Names:

- Starlight:  a blue gem variety of Zircon; heated
- Matura Diamond:  trade name for colorless Zircon
- Jargon - colorless, pale grey or pale yellow Zircon
- Jacinth - yellow, orange, brown or red Zircon; name goes back to Biblical times.
- Seiland Zircon - dark red Zircon from Norway
Red Zircon

Where is it found?

Cambodia, Burma, Sri Lanka, Australia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Madagascar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Italy, France, Germany, Russia, Canada, United States

Similar Gemstones:

Colorless - resembles Diamonds, and also CZ.  It is distinguishable by its hardness and double refraction.
Blue - resembles Blue Topaz, Aquamarine, Blue Spinel, Tourmaline, Apatite
Golden Brown - resembles Topaz, Citrine, Sapphire, Garnet
Yellow - resembles Heliodor (Golden Beryl), Sapphire, Canary Diamond, Chrysoberyl, Topaz
Pink Zircon - resembles Topaz, Morganite, Kunzite, Spinel, and Rose Quartz

Golden Yellow Zircon
The luster, fire, hardness, and double refraction make Zircon distinguishable from other gemstones.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

OPALITE: Not a Gemstone! Not Dolomite or Quartz! It's GLASS

Opalite - GLASS
I'm constantly amazed at the "creativity" of online sellers, and that includes wholesale companies in China and Thailand and all over the world, and sellers on Etsy and Ebay and other online sites.  Too bad this creativity is used to scam buyers---it hurts everyone, from honest sellers to naive buyers.


Opalite is a beautiful "stone" that can be purchased all over, and Michael's (the crafts supply store) has a LOT of it.  It's clearly marked on their tags as "Opalite GLASS" because that's what it is---it's GLASS.  It's very inexpensive (about $5 a strand not on sale).  It's not a gemstone, not made from other gemstones, or any mineral.  It is a glass product.  It is a beautiful glass, but glass nontheless.  I wrote about Opalite last year (HERE) because I was seeing it being sold as "Moonstone" or "Opal" which is a terrible thing to do---it's not any sort of gemstone!  I explained how and where it's made in that blog post.

In my Etsy feed today, I saw an object for sale called "Opalite Gemstone".  In reading the description, the seller goes on to say it's sometimes called Sea Opal, Tiffany Stone*, Opalized Glass, Opal Quartz, and other names.  This makes it seem as though Opalite is correctly called other names----when, in fact, those are just manufacturers' brand names that are given to Opalite EXPRESSLY to mislead the public.  There is no such gemstone as "Sea Opal" or "Opal Moonstone".  And Opalite is NOT quartz!

*There IS a stone called "Tiffany Stone", which is actually a stone mined in Utah seen in varying shades of
So-Called Tiffany Stone: NOT Opalite!
dark purple, lavender and creamy white with swirls of dark and light yellowish brown and pink areas takes a high polish as a cabochon.  It has NOTHING to do with Opalite!!  It was used by Tiffany in some jewelry at one time so it's been dubbed that name.  So to refer to Opalite as this gemstone---well, that's really beyond "creative".



But beyond that, they go on to describe it as a "glass resin" that is made with the actual mineral Dolomite plus metals!

I googled "Opalite+Dolomite" and can see that this particular description (Opalite made with Dolomite) is often used in the wiccan jewelry world, and therefore gives Opalite (which is ONLY glass) mystical healing properties.  Plus, a lot of people might think, "Oooh, Dolomite...so it IS a gemstone" since the name Dolomite sounds very technical and mysterious, until you know what Dolomite is!

In other words, it's a scam.

WHAT IS DOLOMITE?

Dolomite is a very common rock similar to limestone and is comprised of calcium magnesium carbonate.  These rocks were originally deposited as calcium carbonate muds that were post-depositionally altered by magnesium-rich pore water to form dolomite. It is the primary component of Dolomitic Marble and Dolomitic Limestone.  Dolomite has a Mohs hardness of 3.5.
Dolomite Marble 2" Piece

Dolomite Aggregate 1/2" pieces
Dolostone is used extensively in the construction industry. It is crushed and used to pave roads, as an aggregate in concrete and asphalt, and is used in making cement.  Dolomite is used in the production of bricks, glass and ceramics.  Because it is soft and is filled with "gaps" or "holes" within the rock, it is targeted by the oil and gas industry because these holes can be filled with natural gas or oil.

WHY WOULD DOLOMITE (Paving Gravel!)  BE USED TO MAKE OPALITE GLASS?

Simple answer:  it wouldn't, and it isn't.


If you'd like to read more about Opalite, please visit my post about it HERE.