Gemstone & Jewelry Blog by Dragon Dreams Jewelry, LLC

November 3, 2012

Know your silver

Filed under: Jewelry Care — Tags: , , , , , — dragondreamsjewelry @ 8:07 am

As the price of pure silver has risen over the past few years, many jewelry makers have moved to less expensive variants with lower silver content to keep prices down while still delivering attractive pieces for clientele.  It is our belief that customers should know what they are getting.  As a result, we have put together a summary of common silver variants along with information about approximate silver content and a simple home test anyone can perform.

One of the most common “silver” materials for sale internationally is Tibet silver.  Tibet silver is only a name, it does not guarantee any silver content.  Typically, what we know as Tibet silver today, is the Chinese PAKTONG, or cupronickle or copper-nickle.  Typically this material is 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc.[1]

What about other silvers?

  • Genuine Bali silver is generally around 92.5% silver but some makers are lowering the silver content as silver prices rise.
  • Genuine Thai Hill Tribe silver is around 95% but again, some makers are reducing the silver content.
  • Some American Indians found that they could get a very inexpensive silver, a metal also known as German silver, or Nickel Silver.  This material has been found throughout American Indian works since the 19th century, in everything from horse bridal decorations to wearable Jewelry art.[2]  The German silver was developed in an effort to copy the Chinese cupronickle.
  • Fine Silver is 99.9% pure silver.
  • Sterling Silver is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals, often copper.
  • Genuine Mexican silver has to be at least 90% pure silver and much of it is 92.5%.
  • Britannia Silver is 95.85% pure silver with not more than 4.16% copper.

So what is a consumer to do?  The name of the silver can provide an indication of the process and silver content.  Silver content can also be established by specific gravity testing and simple chemical tests (chemical test not recommended in the kitchen).  However, some research has turned up this quick and simple test that anyone can perform at home.

  1. Get a genuine Sterling Silver item and a Tibetan, Bali, or Mexican silver item.
  2. Wet the items – preferably with distilled water (because distilled water doesn’t have the contaminants found in tap water)
  3. Place the items on a plate.
  4. Cut a hard boiled egg in half (free range eggs have a higher sulfur content so they work better).
  5. Place half of an egg on the plate.
  6. Cover the plate with a glass dish or other solid, see-through cover and watch. The lower the silver content, the quicker it tarnishes.

Take the tarnished items and boil them in a dilute solution of sodium carbonate or bicarbonate (baking soda).  Only the silver with at least 80% silver content will revert back to a white silver surface.  It the item turns more of a salmon color, then its a high copper alloy.  Items that have an appearance similar to stainless steel will be nickle silver or stainless.

Two things to observe to understand silver content of an item:

  1. Time it took to tarnish by comparing a known metal against an unknown.  The color of the tarnish is another clue, as the lower the silver content, the quicker and blacker the tarnish, maybe even a greenish tinge.
  2. Color of the metal after the baking soda test.

Note: this test does not harm the metal.  In fact the baking soda “test” is one method of cleaning and removing tarnish from silver.

[1] Tim McCreight, The Complete Metalsmith.

[2] Dubin, Lois Sherr. North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment: From Prehistory to the Present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999. ISBN 0-8109-3689-5., p. 290-293.

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October 27, 2012

Take good care of your bone…jewelry

Filed under: Jewelry Care — Tags: , , , — dragondreamsjewelry @ 7:50 pm

Bone has been found in jewelry dating back to when Cro-Magnons were wandering the planet. Talk about long lasting jewelry!

Despite the natural strength of bone, it can still be damaged.  For example, extreme temperature changes as well as fluctuations in humidity may cause bone jewelry to split or crack.  To help you prolong the life and enjoyment of your bone jewelry, I have compiled some tips for caring for it.

  • Store your bone jewelry in a soft pouch when not in use to protect it from being scratched by other jewelry or objects.
  • Put your bone jewelry on after any perfume, hairspray, or other such substances have been applied as these substances may stain bone jewelry.
  • Natural skin oils may also stain bone, so jewelry should be wiped with a soft cloth after wearing.
  • Jojoba oil can be used to polish bone.  I’ve also seen suggestions that tea tree oil can be used, however it can be more drying, so my suggestion is to use sparingly.
  • Do NOT soak bone in water as the material may swell and/or crack.

October 20, 2012

Beware of toxic gemstones!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — dragondreamsjewelry @ 5:42 pm

While most people know to keep lead from their children, many people don’t think twice about their natural gemstone jewelry (or even tumbled rocks).  At first, I was thinking primarily about cinnabar – which has a high mercury content and is frequently carved into ornate designs.  With some research, I found that there are a significant number of other stones which contain substances that should not be ingested (or in some cases, the dust is problematic).

Below is an alphabetical list of gemstones/minerals I found which contain toxins:

  • Adamite – zinc, copper
  • Amazonite – copper
  • Amber – toxic dust, fumes
  • Angelite – lead, sulfur
  • Aragonite – pollutants
  • Atacamite – copper
  • Auricalcite – zinc and copper
  • Auripignment – arsenic
  • Azurite – copper
  • Boji-Stones – may contain sulfur
  • Bronchantite – copper
  • Cerrusite – sulfur, molybdenum
  • Chalcantite – copper
  • Chalcopyrite (Peacock Stone, Peacock Ore) – copper and sulfur
  • Chrysocolla – copper
  • Cinnabar – mercury
  • Cobaltocalcite (Pink Cobalt Calcite) – cobalt
  • Conicalcite – copper
  • Copper – copper
  • Coral – bacteria and pollutants
  • Cuprite – copper
  • Diopside – copper
  • Dioptase – copper
  • Eliat Stone – copper
  • Emerald – aluminum
  • Garnet – aluminum
  • Gem Silica – copper
  • Galena/ Galenite – lead
  • Garnierite (Genthite, Falcondoite) – nickel
  • Hiddenite – aluminum
  • Iolite – aluminum
  • Kansas Pop Rocks – may contain sulfur
  • Kunzite – aluminum
  • Kyanite – aluminum
  • Labradorite – aluminum
  • Lapis Lazuli – copper, sulfur
  • Magnetite (Lodestone) – iron in large quantities
  • Malachite – copper suphate
  • Marcasite (Markasite) – sulfur
  • Meteorite – may contain many toxic substances
  • Mohawkite – copper, arsenic
  • Moldavite – aluminum
  • Molybdenum – molybdenum
  • Moonstone – aluminum
  • Mother of Pearl – bacteria and pollutants
  • Opal – toxic dust
  • Pearl – bacteria and pollutants
  • Psiomelane – barium
  • Pyrite (Fool’s Gold, Inca Gold) – sulfur
  • Quartz (all types) – toxic dust
  • Realgar – sulfur and arsenic
  • Rhodocrosite – lead
  • Ruby – aluminum
  • Sapphire – aluminum
  • Serpentine – asbestos, may contain nickel
  • Sodalite – aluminum
  • Spinel – may contain aluminum, zinc
  • Stibnite – lead, antimony
  • Smithsonite (Galmei, Zinc spar)- zinc, may contain copper
  • Sulfur – sulfur
  • Tiger Eye – asbestos
  • Topaz – aluminum
  • Tourmaline, Watermelon – aluminum
  • Turquoise – copper, aluminum
  • Uranium – radioactive mineral
  • Vanadanite – lead
  • Variscite – aluminum
  • Wulfenite – lead, molybdenum
  • Zircon – zirconium (radioactive)

October 13, 2012

Colored gemstones are like vampires – they don’t like bright light

Filed under: Jewelry Care — Tags: , , , , — dragondreamsjewelry @ 11:03 am

Vampires shy away from the light.  Likewise, you should keep your colored gemstones from prolonged exposure to bright light.  Why?  Colored gemstones will fade when exposed to bright light over an extended period of time.

Sunlight is the most common source of bright light exposure but bright display lights can also fade stones over time.

In my experience, colored quartz (e.g. citrine, amethyst, rose quartz, ametrine) will fade in sunlight more quickly than other stones like sapphires, rubies, emeralds or diamonds.  Certain stones are exceptionally sensitive to light and will fade rapidly – such as kunzite or brown topaz.  Some brown topaz has lost color just in transit from the mining site to the mine entrance!

I read a story about a person who put a lovely ruby heart in the window to soak in the Southern California sunshine for several weeks, and she now has a fair quality light pink sapphire (sapphire and ruby are both varieties of corundum).  While colored corundum is considered to be stable and not particularly light sensitive, prolonged exposure can still fade the color.

To prolong the life of your colored stones:

  • store them in a dark place when they are not being worn
  • limit the exposure to direct sunlight as much as possible
  • wear particularly sensitive stones only in the evening

Some of the stones considered to be light sensitive:

  • ametrine
  • amethyst
  • apatite
  • brown topaz
  • citrine
  • jade
  • kunzite
  • rose quartz
  • zircon

Sterling Silver and tiger eye earrings – color won’t fade on these!

October 7, 2012

Caring for Your Pearls

Filed under: Jewelry Care — Tags: , , , , , — dragondreamsjewelry @ 9:34 am

Most people are aware that pearls dissolve in vinegar but did you know that skin oils can also, over time, degrade your pearls?  Use the following tips keep your pearls looking their best and help extend their life.

DOs

  • wipe the pearls down with a dry or damp soft cloth (like a chamois cloth) after each wearing
  • restring pearls when the string wears thin/frays or becomes too discolored (this could be an annual need for those wearing a favorite pearl necklace daily)
  • clean with water using a soft cloth
  • clean using specially labelled pearl cleaners
  • wipe with olive oil using a soft cloth to help retain luster
  • remove your pearls when applying perfume, hairspray and/or makeup
  • remove your pearls when bathing/swimming
  • dry your strung pearls laying flat

DON’Ts

  • use dish / hand soap to clean pearls – no matter how mild the package says it may be, these can still damage your pearls
  • use an ultrasonic cleaner on pearls – ultrasonic cleaners will damage your pearls
  • use ammonia-based products to clean pearls – these will damage pearls
  • use a steam cleaner on pearls – the heat will damage pearls
  • put pearls in vinegar or lemon juice – acidic liquids like these can eat away at the surface of the pearl
  • use abrasives to clean pearls – they will scratch the nacre
  • wear a pearl necklace when the string is wet – the string will stretch and attract more dirt
  • wear pearls touching rough fabrics – very rough fabrics (like wool) can be abrasive to pearls
  • store pearls in a hot, dry place – heat and dry air can cause pearls to discolor and become brittle

Hand crafted pendant with a freshwater pearl set in hammered and fused Fine Silver (99.9% pure silver) – available for purchase at http://www.dragondreamsjewelry.com

September 23, 2012

Turquoise Buying Tips

Filed under: Stone Buying Tips — Tags: , , , , — dragondreamsjewelry @ 10:57 am

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.

November 7, 2011

A diamond rainbow…of treatments

Filed under: Stone Buying Tips — Tags: , , , , — dragondreamsjewelry @ 10:00 pm

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.

May 8, 2011

Pearl creation and treatments

Filed under: Stone Buying Tips — Tags: , , , , — dragondreamsjewelry @ 9:29 am

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:

April 26, 2011

Doublets and triplets explained

Filed under: Stone Buying Tips — Tags: , , , , — dragondreamsjewelry @ 9:24 pm

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.

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