A few tidbits about rhinestones and Swarovski crystals

Out shopping for prom dresses with my daughter today, I noticed there was a lot of rhinestone and Swarovski crystal jewelry for sale.  Faceted like gemstones, these faux gems sparkled from necklaces, tiaras, and other settings to tempt passers by.  It made me curious about the composition of these prolific pretties.

Swarovski crystal is a brand name of Swarovski AG, a company based in Austria.  Daniel Swarovski, one of the original founders, patented a machine to precision cut crystal stones in 1892[1].  “The characteristics of Swarovski crystals are unparalleled in both style and substance. Not only are their cuts distinct, but the assorted colors and shapes cover a broad spectrum. The brilliant sparkle of each crystal is actually resulted from a glass composition containing 32 percent lead.”[2]  The faceted glass Swarovski crystals are even sold in fine jewelry stores alongside diamonds, sapphires, and other gemstones.  These glass gems have a Mohs hardness of 6-7, which is harder than typical glass but still somewhat susceptible to chipping and scratches.

Rhinestones, used to simulate diamonds, can be made of paste, glass, or acrylic.  “Rhinestones were so named because they were first made along the Rhine River of a composition known as strass, which was a vitreous or glasslike paste invented by and named after Joseph Strasser, a German jeweler. The- original rhinestones consisted of a. silicate of potassium and lead, combined with borax, alumina and white arsenic.”[3]

Cleaning rhinestone or Swarovski crystals is best done with a soft, dry cloth (like a chamois cloth).  As some of the crystals may have a coating, you will want to rub gently so the coating is not damaged during the cleaning process.

[1]  http://www.crystalfanaticsclub.com/about_swarovski.php

[2] http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-swarovski-crystal.htm

[3] http://www.4information.com/trivia/what-are-rhinestones/

New treatments for corundum might be bad for your health

In previous posts, we’ve discussed both sapphires and rubies, which are varieties of corundum.  This popular, colorful, and durable gemstone is highly prized.

Corundum is now being diffusion treated with titanium and chromium, where the stone is irradiated to get the colorant to absorb into the outer layer of the stone.  Another treatment, beryllium diffusion, has been common for years.  Stones treated with any of these methods may lose part or all of their color if the stone is damaged or repolished.

It is possible that there are health hazards from these stone treatments.  For example, chromium is toxic and may damage DNA cells. [1]    “There is disturbing evidence that suggests the beryllium treatment poses a health hazard to the workers who process and cut the gemstones and to the merchants who handle them.” [2]

Surprisingly, irradiated gemstones are generally considered safe because of the mandated cooling off period and monitoring requirements.  “NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] requires that the initial distribution of these stones be by a distributor licensed by the NRC. This distributor would conduct radiological surveys of each batch of gemstones to ensure that any residual radioactivity falls below regulatory limits.”  [3]

Sellers in the United States are required by law to disclose all treatments to stones they sell.

 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromium#Precautions

[2] The Jeweler’s Directory of Gemstones by Judith Crowe, p.50

[3] http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/irradiated-gemstones.html

Federal Trade Commission and Jewelry, Gemstones, Precious Metals

This topic may sound dry and dull but it is relevant to anyone shopping for jewelry, gemstones or precious metals.  We have seen recent  listings (on a variety of auction sites) which misrepresent metals and gemstones.  For example:

  • One troy ounce German silver: this can be misleading as German silver contains zero Silver – see details in our blog post about various representations of silver: https://dragondreamsjewelry.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/know-your-silver/
  • 925 silver: then the listing states “no Sterling Silver content” in fine print
  • Peridot quartz: this was describing green colored stones but what exactly, one would have to guess since peridot and quartz are distinct gemstones

What’s a consumer to do?  First, educate yourself.  Do some research about the item you are buying – or seek assistance from someone who does.  Know the characteristics of the gemstone or metal as well as market prices.  If an item is selling for well below market price, that may be a warning sign.   Second, work with a reputable seller you can trust.  Positive feedback on an auction site or other website is no guarantee that a seller is trustworthy – far too many people purchase items from unscrupulous individuals without verifying their purchase.  If you cannot trust the seller, be sure you can get a full refund should the item not be as claimed.  Third, verify items you purchase.  Inspect the item or possibly have an expert evaluate it.

If you find a disreputable seller, know that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is out there to help consumers.  It is required by FTC rules that sellers disclose any and all treatments to gemstones, that is, the seller is responsible for informing the consumer.  The FTC also outlines rules for clearly identifying metals and metal content so that the consumer is able to understand exactly what is being purchased.  Details of the rules are on the FTC site here:  http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/guides/jewel-gd.shtm

Some sellers make mistakes and will correct the mistake once it has been brought to their attention.  However, sellers who repeatedly and intentionally misrepresent their products should be reported to the FTC.

Featured stone: ruby

The Latin ruber, meaning red, is the likely origin of the name ruby.

Prior to the 1800s, there was not a distinction made between red spinel, red garnet, and ruby[1].  As a result, some of the most famous rubies of the world are not actually rubies.  For example, the Black Prince’s Ruby is actually red spinel.   There are also a number of misnomers for ruby[1]:

  • almandine ruby (red garnet)
  • Australian ruby (red garnet)
  • balas ruby (red spinel)
  • Bohemian ruby (red garnet)
  • cape ruby (red garnet)

Chatham ruby, Ramaura ruby, Linde star ruby are all names describing synthetic, flux grown ruby.

Ruby is a variety of corundum which has a purplish-bluish red to yellow-red color (sapphire is used to describe corundum of any other color).  Ruby has a Mohs hardness of 9, making it quite durable and strong.

Clean your ruby jewelry with water mixed with a small amount of mild liquid hand soap with a soft cloth, rinse with water and dry with a soft cloth.  You may want to use a toothbrush to clean under the stone.  While rubies are not particularly light sensitive, all colored stones can fade with prolonged intense exposure to sunlight, so be sure to store your ruby jewelry out of direct light.  As ruby jewelry can last many years, periodically check the prongs and/or settings to be sure the metal is still holding the stone securely in place.

Rubies can have fractures filled with oil, wax, paraffin, glass, or epoxy resin as fillers, reducing the visibility of flaws and cracks within the stone.  When this has been done, the ruby is considered to be composite, reducing the value of the stone although the it will look better to the naked eye as the fractures will be nonreflective[1].   Rubies, like sapphires, can also be heat treated to improve the color.  Most of the rubies we have seen recently in chain jewelry stores have been lab created rather than natural stones.  Sellers are responsible for disclosing all treatments and whether the stone is natural or lab created.

Some of the metaphysical properties associated with ruby include:

  • shields against negative intentions
  • guards against psychic or physical attack
  • helps to be warm, caring toward others
  • reinvigorates and restores energy
  • encourages love, passion, joy, spontaneity, laughter, and courage
  • balances the heart
  • improves motivation

Chakras: root, heart

[1] The Jeweler’s Directory of Gemstones by Judith Crowe, p.50

We have gorgeous ruby jewelry items on our site at www.dragondreamsjewelry.com.

Ruby and Sterling Silver earrings

Featured stone: sapphire

Sapphire is believed to derive its name from the Greek σάπφειρος; sappheiros, meaning ‘blue stone’.  However, there are a variety of possible word origins from Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and other languages.

A 12th century writing by Abbess Hildegard von Bingen includes this use for a sapphire: “Who is dull and would like to be clever, should, in a sober state, frequently lick with the tongue on a sapphire, because the gemstone’s warmth and power, combined with the saliva’s moisture, will expel the harmful juices that affect the intellect. Thus the man will attain a good intellect.”

Sapphire is a variety of corundum which comes in a variety of colors, including pink, yellow, green, purple, blue, colorless (virtually any color except ruby, another variety of corundum which has a purplish-bluish red to yellow-red color.)  Sapphire has a Mohs hardness of 9, making it quite durable and strong.

Clean your sapphire jewelry with water mixed with a small amount of mild liquid hand soap with a soft cloth, rinse with water and dry with a soft cloth.  You may want to use a toothbrush to clean under the stone.  While sapphires are not particularly light sensitive, all colored stones can fade with prolonged intense exposure to sunlight, so be sure to store your sapphire jewelry out of direct light.  As sapphire jewelry can last many years, periodically check the prongs and/or settings to be sure the metal is still holding the stone securely in place.

Because these beautiful stones are durable and colorful, there are many synthetics and imitations on the market.  Heat treatment of sapphire has been a common practice since the 1960s [1].  Most of the sapphires we have seen recently in chain jewelry stores have been lab created rather than natural stones.  As always, be sure to ask your seller.

Some of the metaphysical properties associated with sapphire include:

  • bring clarity and clear perception
  • assist communication, including with the spirit realms
  • release mental tension
  • enhance creative expression and intuition
  • promote fairness and loyalty
  • protection during astral travel

Chakras (by color):
White, purple – Crown chakra
Blue – Third Eye and throat chakra
Padparadscha, Yellow – Solar plexus chakra
Green – Heart chakra

[1] The Jeweler’s Directory of Gemstones by Judith Crowe, p.48

We have many lovely sapphire jewelry items on our site at www.dragondreamsjewelry.com.

Sapphire in Sterling Silver

Featured stone: amethyst

The Greek word ‘amethystos,’ meaning ‘not intoxicated,’ gives amethyst it’s name – it was considered to be a strong antidote to drunkenness.

Amethyst is a type of quartz that can be found in all shades of purple – from light lavender to a rich purple that can display highlights of magenta when faceted, known as Siberian amethyst.  Cape amethyst (also called amethyst quartz) is more opaque with color zoning in white and purple.  Like all quartz, amethyst has a Mohs hardness of 7, so it is moderately hard but can scratch and get chipped.

Amethyst is sensitive both to heat and sunlight – both could affect the color of the stone.  Try to keep your amethyst jewelry or stones away from prolonged exposure to intense heat or light and store in a cool, dark place when not in use.  Clean your amethyst jewelry with water mixed with a small amount of mild liquid hand soap with a soft cloth, rinse with water and dry with a soft cloth.

Typically amethyst is not treated in any way, however synthetic amethyst does exist and synthetic quartz may be dyed and sold as amethyst.  Be sure to ask your seller about the stones.

Amethyst has a number of metaphysical associations with it, including:

  • increases stability, peace,  and calm
  • provides protection against psychic attacks
  • opens communication with angels, telepathy and other psychic abilities
  • promotes shrewdness in business matters
  • balances and heals all chakras
  • encourages inner strength
  • helps with developing intuition and psychic abilities
  • can transform negative energy to love energy

Chakras: third eye, crown

 

We have many amethyst pieces on our site and loose stones waiting to be set.  Below is a 2.51ct amethyst set in Sterling Silver from www.dragondreamsjewelry.com

Amethyst set in Sterling Silver

Turquoise Buying Tips

We buy a lot of stone and encounter misrepresentations from time to time.  One of the more problematic stones is turquoise.  Some common imitations masquerading as genuine turquoise include:

  • dyed howlite – often complete with black shoe polish “veins”
  • reconstituted turquoise
  • dyed magnesite
  • “spiderwebbed” turquoise – typically assembled from multiple smaller chunks of low grade turquoise and glued together

We have also seen genuine turquoise that has been dyed to alter the original color into one of the more desirable and rare colors.

Soft turquoise (found deeper underground) is frequently stabilized so it will hold its shape rather than crumble like chalk.  While this is genuine turquoise, a seller must disclose the treatment.

As a buyer of jewelry or stones, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of purchasing misrepresented stone.

  • Rub the stone with your finger.  If color (black or turquoise) comes off on your finger, you know it has been dyed.
  • Inspect the edges and contours for signs of epoxy, glue, cracks or other indications that the stone is a composite of multiple stones.
  • If you are looking at beads, look inside the drill hole to see if the color is present throughout the stone or just on the outside.
  • If the price is extremely low, it’s likely fake.  Genuine turquoise has gotten expensive, especially in the brighter blue hues.
  • Always buy from a reputable seller who checks their stones for authenticity.  Many chain stores do not and will represent the stone as genuine based on the word of their source, which may not turn out to be reputable.

Other detection methods may be destructive (slicing into the stone to see the color) or using nail polish remover on the outside of the stone to see if color rubs off.

Our best advice – unless you are a professional with equipment to identify fakes yourself, be sure to buy from a reputable seller who can explain to you how they have verified the authenticity of the turquoise you are considering.

A diamond rainbow…of treatments

People are most familiar with the white (colorless) diamond. However, over the past year, I have seen major chain jewelry stores adding jewelry with a variety of colored diamonds in their catalogs.

Natural diamonds can be found in yellow, orange, brown/cognac, and black (commonly) as well as the less common pink, light green, and lavender. Deep blue, red and dark green are extremely rare.

If you don’t mind irradiated stones, you may find a less-expensive stone that has been heated and irradiated to produce fluorescent yellows, electric blues, magenta, coral pinks, chocolate browns, blacks and greens. Many of the black diamonds on the market (including that in the aforementioned jewelry catalogs) have been irradiated or heated under very high temperatures. Read the fine print!

That’s not to say that white diamonds haven’t been treated in some way. A laser can be used to vaporize black inclusion in a white diamond. This is a permanent treatment which, like all treatments, should be disclosed by a seller.

Fractures and cracks may have been filled – a process which is not always permanent. This, like the laser treatment, would be visible under magnification.

High temperature and pressure may also be used on yellow-tinted diamonds to make them white.

If you are purchasing from a reputable seller, any treatments should be disclosed. Think twice about a “bargain” diamond if you don’t have a certificate from a respected laboratory or if you cannot have it verified yourself.

Pearl creation and treatments

Pearls have been long been prized for their classic beauty, especially in a pearl necklace.  I was curious about how pearls are made and what I discovered seemed interesting enough to share at least as a brief summary.  Note that I am not going into detail about every shape and variety because that started to seem boring. 🙂

Real Pearls

Wild pearls (as nature creates them) are produced by the pearl oyster.  The pearl is created when a foreign item, like a grain of sand, lodges inside it and is surrounded by layers of nacre (calcium carbonate substance the oyster secretes).

Cultured Pearls

Cultured pearls are commercially created by placing a small mother-of-pearl bead in an oyster which is then covered by nacre in the same way a true pearl is made.

Freshwater Pearls

Also sometimes called Biwa pearls because they originally came from Lake Biwa in Japan, these pearls are now cultured largely in China.  Genuine Biwa pearls are known for their good quality, smooth surface, and high, even luster.  Colors include creamy white, rose, green-white, salmon orange, violet, and wine red.

Imitations

Glass imitation pearls can be created by spraying or dipping glass beads in up to ten coats of a fake nacre made up of silvery crystals of fish scales.

Plastic imitation pearls are created by giving a pearlized coating to plastic beads.  To see if a pearl is plastic or real, rub it against the teeth.  The plates of nacre on real pearls grate against the teeth.  And no, I’ve never tried this…

Treatments

  • Pearls can be soaked in silver nitrate to make them appear black but this treatment also weakens the pearls, making them easier to damage.
  • Some pearls are bleached after drilling to make their coloring look lighter and more even.  When poorly done, the nacre is softened and the lifespan of the pearl is shortened.
  • Chemical polishes or beeswax can be used to buff the pearls, improving the luster.  Beeswax wears off quickly and chemical polishes eat away the nacre of the pearl.
  • Thin plastic coatings are occasionally applied to darken the color of pearls.  It can be detected by touch and over time, the coating will wear away.  I’ve seen this with a lot of vintage pieces.
  • Most black and gray pearls are dyed.  An iridescent peacock color also indicates treatment.  If all the pearls on a strand have an identical color, it indicates they are dyed as natural color pearls never look exactly the same.
  • Pearls are irradiated to blacken the nucleus and darken the nacre, giving the pearls an iridescent blue-green-gray color.  Some pearls are dyed and irradiated!

Any treatments to pearls should be disclosed by the seller.

A lovely pair of freshwater pearl earrings we have available for sale on our site:

Doublets and triplets explained

Some stones are very soft and damage easily – opal and ammolite are a couple of examples.  A common way these materials are protected is to make them into doublets or triplets.   So as a gem or jewelry consumer, what does this mean to you?

  • A doublet is a composite stone made from gemstone material in combination with other, less expensive, material.  To create a doublet, the two pieces are glued together.
  • A triplet is a composite stone with three layers glued together: a base, a thin middle layer of gemstone, and a protective top dome of rock crystal (often quartz).

Doublets and triplets are created for a number of reasons.  Commonly doublets and triplets are created to protect soft gem materials.  For example, natural opal is colorful but fragile so the safest way to be able to use it for jewelry making purposes is in doublet or triplet form.  A dark backing underneath a stone can make the stone’s colors appear more vibrant.  This color enhancement technique is used often with stones like opal and amber.  Another reason someone would create a doublet or triplet would be for profit.  Which of these two offerings sound better to you? 1) A two carat sapphire doublet or 2) A one carat sapphire?  The reality may be that each of these contains the same amount of actual sapphire.  With composite stones, the amount of each component is not typically declared.

Doublets and triplets must be declared by sellers according to Federal Trade Commission rules.  By viewing the stones from the side with a common loupe (10x magnification), the layering should be visible.