Vintage Jewellery- Materials Guide A-Z

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  • Sapphire - Sapphire is one the three varieties of corundum, the other two being ruby. Although blue is their most well-known color, sapphires may also be colorless and they are found in many colors including shades of gray and black. The cost of natural sapphires varies depending on their color, clarity, size, cut, and overall quality – as well as their geographic origin. Fancy colour sapphires also exist in yellow, green, pink, pink-orange and the rare 'star sapphire' hues. Sapphire is a very hard wearing stone and as such can be found set in all types of jewellery.
  • Sardonyx - Sardonyx is a type of chalcedony and variant of Onyx in which the colored bands are sard (shades of red) rather than black. Both stones are banded which means they have parallel lines running through them. Onyx comes in black or white, while Sardonyx is usually dark brown, orange brown, or brownish red. Sardonyx is hard wearing stone and set in all forms of jewellery.
  • Shell - Shell is jewellery which is primarily made from seashells, the shells of marine molloscs. One very common form of shell jewelry is necklaces that are composed of large numbers of beads, where each individual bead is the whole (but drilled) shell of a small sea snail. Also since the late 1800s, Victorian era, shells were caved with cameos and scenes. The most coverted shell for carving is the emperor helmet shell, Cassis Madagascariensis. This shell has white and dark brown layers and is known as sardonyx shell, and looks similar to the layered agate known as sardonyx. These shell cameos are very popular and are set in all manner of jewellery, most popular are full parures of shell cameos.
  • Silver - Silver is soft, white, lustrous metal and has long been valued as a precious metal regularly used in jewellery making. Standard silver - Sterling silver is an alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper - hallmark 925. Silver is a constituent of almost all coloured carat gold alloys and carat gold solders, giving the alloys paler color and greater hardness. White 9 carat gold contains 62.5% silver and 37.5% gold, while 22 carat gold contains up to 91.7% gold and 8.4% silver or copper or a mixture of both. Varying hallmarks exist for silver dependant on the silver content of the alloy. Most common hallmarks other than 925 are 800, 835 and 900.
  • Spinel - Spinel is a mineral that may be colorless, but is usually found in various shades of red, blue, green, yellow, brown or black.There is a unique natural white spinel, now lost, that surfaced briefly in what is now Sri Lanka. Spinel, especially in its red and blue color varieties, is a historically important gem. As it is often found with corundum in gem deposits and has a similar color range, luster and hardness, it was, until modern times, used unknowingly as sapphire, and especially ruby. The famous "Black Prince's Ruby" which forms part of the Crown Jewels of England, is, in fact, a red spinel. The advent of modern gemological identification and separation techniques in the later 19th century established spinel as a distinct species.
  • Sunstone - Sunstone is a golden, sparkling brown hued colour stone of the Feldspar group which when viewed from certain directions exhibits a brilliant spangled appearance. The stone has the appearance something like that of aventurine, hence sunstone is known also as "aventurine-feldspar." Sunstone is generally cut cabochon and is set in rings and charms predominantly.
  • Tanzanite - Tanzanite is a blue/purple mineral discovered in 1967 in North Tanzania. Tanzanite can also appear differently when viewed under alternate lighting conditions. The blues appear more evident when subjected to fluorescent light and the violet hues can be seen readily when viewed under incandescent illumination. Because it is relatively soft, tanzanite is most commonly set in necklaces and earrings. Tanzanite is heat treated before commercial use.
  • Tiger's Eye - Tiger's eye is a golden to red-brown coloured stone of the quartz group. Tiger's eye is usually cut en cabochon and can be found mainly set in rings and brooches. The gemstones fibrous structure causes it to be chatoyant. The chatoyancy appears because wavy lines of very fine crocidolite fibers run perpendicular to the cutting direction, flat stones and tablets can have many bars or bands perpendicular to the wavy lines. Cabochons exhibit an eye similar to the eye of a cat.
  • Topaz - Topaz is a gemstone that comes in a variety of colours. Pure topaz is colorless and transparent but is usually tinted by impurities; typical topaz is wine, yellow, pale gray, reddish-orange, or blue brown. It can also be made white, pale green, blue, gold, pink (rare), reddish-yellow or opaque to transparent/translucent. There is also orange topaz, imperial topaz (yellow, pink or pink-orange), blue topaz and mystic topaz (rainbow effect). The many colours are attributed to different processes of heat treatment and artifical coating to enchance the colourless topaz. A popular gemstone which is fairly abundant.
  • Tourmaline - Tourmaline is classified as a semi-precious gemstone and the gemstone comes in a wide variety of colours. Tourmaline has a variety of colors. Usually, iron-rich tourmalines are black to bluish-black to deep brown, while magnesium-rich varieties are brown to yellow, and lithium-rich tourmalines are almost any color: blue, green, red, yellow, pink, etc. Rarely, it is colorless. Bi-colored and multicolored crystals are common, reflecting variations of fluid chemistry during crystallization. Crystals may be green at one end and pink at the other, or green on the outside and pink inside; this type is called watermelon tourmaline. Some forms of tourmaline are dichoric, in that they change color when viewed from different directions. Irridation andd heat treatment are used to enhance the colour of tourmaline and does not affect the value of the gemstone.
  • Tortoiseshell - Tortoiseshell is a material produced mainly from the shell of the Hawksbill turtle. It was widely used until the 1970s in the manufacture of items such as combs and piquework, Jewellery made from tortoiseshell inlaid with precious metals in patterns or pictures, which was made in the victorian era and is highly valuable and collectable. There are selling regulations for such products, please refer to DEFRA for more info.
  • Turquoise - Turquoise is an opaque, blue to green mineral. It is rare and valuable in finer grades and has been prized as a gem and ornamental stone for thousands of years owing to its unique hue. The most desirable colour is a strong sky to robins egg blue. During the Victorian era turquoise was set en cabochon extensively in sentimental brooches, bracelets, rings and pendants. Turquoise can also be found pave set and is closely associated with Arts and Crafts movement.
  • Vauxhall Glass - Vauxhall glass known as mirror back paste is a popular and valuable variety of paste. Dating to the early Victorian era it is usually found in the form of highly reflective glass panels of glass. These reflective glass panels are designed in floral clusters, stars and most sought after insect forms. Mounted mainly in base metals as brooches, earrings, necklaces and pendants. Unusual colours, especially greens and blues are highly sought after.
  • Vulcanite - Vulcanite also known as 'Gutta-percha' is a type of treated India rubber contaning Sulphur. Vulcanite has a black appearance similar to Jet and was a popular material used in the Victorian mourning jewellery era. Most vulcanite pieces are molded rather than carved and have a warm room temperature feel to them. Vulcanite is a popular material used to make brooches, lockets and large link necklaces.
  • Whitby Jet - Jet is a kind of fossilised wood formed from heat and pressure. Whitby is the location where the majority of Jet jewellery was produced in the Victorian era. Whitby Jet is black in colour, polishes shiny and is light in weight. Jet is mainly associated with the mourning Victorian era and is carved into all manner of forms.
  • Zircon - Zircon is a mineral, the natural color of zircon varies between colorless, yellow-golden, red, brown, blue, and green. Colorless specimens that show gem quality are a popular substitute for diamond and are also known as "Matura diamond". Zircon is better known today as CZ, Cubic Zirconia or Zirconia and is reletively inexpensive.
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