Gemstone Guide

Diamonds

diamondsIf you know absolutely nothing about how to buy a diamond, you’re in good company. Most people know little about the characteristics of diamonds or how to make an educated purchase. Of course, that’s why we’re here. At A-Bryan’s Jewelers, we help our customers make informed decisions, and shopping for jewelry easier. We have precise standards for evaluating diamond quality, commonly known as the 4Cs: Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat Weight. These standards make it easy to compare different diamonds and understand their value.

CUT: Of all the 4Cs, cut has the greatest effect on a diamond’s beauty. In determining the quality of the cut, the grader evaluates the cutter’s skill in the fashioning of the diamond; technology. The more precise the cut, the more captivating the diamond is to the eye.

COLOR: Gem-quality diamonds occur in many hues. In the range from colorless to light yellow or light brown. Colorless diamonds are the rarest. Other natural colors (Blue, Red, Pink for example) are known as fancy – their color grading is different than from white diamonds.

CLARITY: Diamonds can have internal characteristics known as inclusions or external characteristics known as blemishes. Diamonds without inclusions or blemishes are rare; however, most characteristics can only be seen with magnification.

CARAT: The carat is the diamond’s physical weight measured in metric carats. One carat equals 1/5 gram and is subdivided into 100 points. Carat weight is the most objective of the 4Cs. It involves no estimates, comparisons or judgments.

Emeralds

emeraldEmeralds are fascinating gemstones. In top quality, fine emeralds are even more valuable than diamonds. Innumerable fantastic stories have grown up around this magnificent gem. The Incas and Aztecs of South America, where the best emeralds are still found today, regarded the emerald as a holy gemstone. However, probably the oldest known finds were once made near the Red Sea in Egypt. One of the world’s largest is the so-called ‘Mogul Emerald’. It dates from 1695, weighs 217.80 carats, and is some 10cm tall. One side of it is inscribed with prayer texts, and engraved on the other there are magnificent floral ornaments. Christie’s of London auctioned this legendary emerald to an unidentified buyer for $2.2 Million on September 28, 2001.

The lively luminosity of its color makes the emerald a unique gemstone. However, really good quality is fairly rare, with inclusions often marring the evenness of the color – signs of the turbulent genesis which has characterized this gemstone. Fine inclusions, however, do not by any means diminish the high regard in which it is held. On the contrary: even with inclusions, an emerald in a deep, lively green still has a much higher value than an almost flawless emerald whose color is paler.

While its hardness protects the emerald to a large extent from scratches, its brittleness and its many fissures can make cutting, setting and cleaning rather difficult. Even for a skilled gem cutter, cutting emeralds presents a special challenge, firstly because of the high value of the raw crystals, and secondly because of the frequent inclusions. However, this does not detract from the cutters’ love of this unique gem. Indeed, they have developed a special cut just for this gem: the emerald cut. The clear design of this rectangular or square cut with its bevelled corners brings out the beauty of this valuable gemstone to the full, at the same time protecting it from mechanical strain. Emeralds are also cut in many other, mainly classical shapes, however.

Unfortunately, because the emerald is not only one of the most beautiful gemstones, but also one of the most valuable, there are innumerable synthetics and imitations. So how can you protect yourself from fakes? The best way is to buy from a specialist in whom you have confidence.

Gold

goldThe story of gold is as rich and complex as the metal itself. Wars have been fought for it and love has been declared with it. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs portray gold as the brilliance of the sun; modern astronomers use mirrors coated with gold to capture images of the heavens.

By 325 BC the Greeks had mined for gold from Gibraltar to Asia Minor. In 1848 AD James Marshall found flakes of gold while building a sawmill near Sacramento and so triggered the gold rush in California.

Gold is rare. Today there are 165,000 metric tonnes of stocks in existence above ground. If every single ounce of this gold were placed next to each other, the resulting cube of pure gold would only measure 20 metres in any direction.
24K gold is pure gold in its refined state. It is soft, flexible, and even delicate. 22K and 21K gold is made of 91% and 87% pure gold respectively. These karatages are particularly prevalent in India and the Middle East.

18K gold has become an international standard for jewelry, containing 75% pure gold. Combining purity with performance, 18K gold has, for example, been adopted as the karatage of choice for the world’s leading watch brands. In addition, this is the karatage at which gold can magically begin to change color as other metals are added to the alloy (such as the increasingly popular rose gold hues).

14 karat (14K) gold contains 14 parts gold and 10 parts another metal or metals, making it 58.3% gold. This is the most common Karatage found in the U.S.

10 karat (10K) gold contains 10 parts gold and 14 parts another metal or metals, making it 41.7% gold. 10k gold is the minimum karat designation that can still be called gold in the US.

One of the great qualities of gold is its malleability. This, combined with its physical beauty and resistance to corrosion, makes gold the ultimate creative medium. Pure gold can be considered too soft and delicate for use in jewelry, so it is often combined with other metals for greater strength.

Pearls

pearlsPearls are organic gems, created when an oyster covers a foreign object with beautiful layers of nacre. Long ago, pearls were important financial assets, comparable in price to real estate, as thousands of oysters had to be searched for just one pearl. They were rare because they were created only by chance.

Today pearls are cultured by Man. Shell beads are placed inside an oyster and the oyster is returned to the water. When the pearls are later harvested, the oyster has covered the bead with layers of nacre. Most cultured pearls are produced in Japan. In the warmer waters of the South Pacific, larger oysters produce South Sea cultured pearls and Tahitian black cultured pearls, which are larger in size. Freshwater pearls are cultured in mussels, mostly in China.

The quality of pearls is judged by the orient, which is the soft iridescence caused by the refraction of light by the layers of nacre, and luster, the reflectivity and shine of the surface. Fine pearls do not have any flaws or spots in the nacre: it has an even, smooth texture. Other factors, which affect value, are the regularity of the shape, size, and color: rose tints are the most favored.

Cultured and natural pearls can be distinguished from imitation ones by a very simple test. Take the pearl and rub it (gently!) against the edge of a tooth. Cultured and natural pearls will feel slightly rough, like fine sandpaper, because of the texture of natural nacre. Imitations will feel as smooth as glass because the surface is molded or painted on a smooth bead.

Rubies

rubyFor thousands of years, the ruby has been considered one of the most valuable gemstones on Earth. It has everything a precious stone should have: magnificent color, excellent hardness and outstanding brilliance. In addition to that, it is an extremely rare gemstone, especially in its finer qualities.

Ruby is the red variety of the mineral corundum, one of the hardest minerals on Earth, of which the sapphire is also a variety. Pure corundum is colorless. Slight traces of elements such as chrome, iron, titanium or vanadium are responsible for the color. Only red corundum is entitled to be called ruby, all other colors being classified as sapphires. The close relationship between the ruby and the sapphire has only been known since the beginning of the 19th century. Up to that time, red garnets or spinels were also thought to be rubies. (That, indeed, is why the ‘Black Ruby’ and the ‘Timur Ruby’, two of the British Crown Jewels, were so named, when they are not actually rubies at all, but spinels.)

In really fine colors and good clarity, however, rubies occur only very rarely in the world’s mines. The most important thing about this precious stone is its color. The red of a ruby may involve very different nuances depending on its origin. The range of those nuances is quite wide. For example, if the gemstone experts refer to a ‘Burmese ruby’, they are talking about the top luxury category. However, it does not necessarily follow that the stone is of Burmese origin. It is basically an indication of the fact that the color of the ruby in question is that typically shown by stones from the famous deposits in Burma (now Myanmar): a rich, full red with a slightly bluish hue. The color is sometimes referred to as ‘pigeon-blood-red’, but the term ‘Burmese color’ is a more fitting description. A connoisseur will immediately associate this color with the legendary ‘Mogok Stone Tract’ and the gemstone centre of Mogok in the North of Myanmar. Here, the country’s famous ruby deposits lie in a mountain valley surrounded by high peaks. Painstakingly, gemstones of an irresistible luminosity are brought to light in the ‘valley of the rubies’. Unfortunately, really fine qualities are quite rare even here. The color of a Burmese ruby is regarded as exceptionally vivid. It is said to display its unique brilliance in any light, be it natural or artificial.

Ruby deposits also exist in Vietnam, near the Chinese border. Rubies of Vietnamese origin generally display a slightly purplish hue. Rubies from Thailand, another classical supplier, however, often have a darker red which tends towards brown. This ‘Siamese color’ – an elegantly muted deep red – is considered second in beauty only to the Burmese color, and is especially popular in the USA. Ceylon rubies, which have now become very rare, are mainly light red, like ripe raspberries.
Straight after their discovery in the 1960s, rubies from Kenya and Tanzania surprised the experts by their beautiful, strong color, which may vary from light to dark red. But in the African mines too, fine and clear rubies of good color, purity and size are very rare. Usually the qualities mined are of a merely average quality.

Where color is a ruby’s most important feature, its transparency is secondary. Inclusions do not impair the quality of a ruby unless they decrease the transparency of the stone or are located right in the centre of its table. On the contrary: inclusions within a ruby could be said to be its ‘fingerprint’, a statement of its individuality and, at the same time, proof of its genuineness and natural origin. The cut is essential: only a perfect cut will underline the beauty of this valuable and precious stone in a way befitting the ‘king of the gemstones’.

Sapphire

sapphireThe sapphire belongs to the corundum group, the members of which are characterized by their excellent hardness. Indeed their hardness is exceeded only by that of the diamond – and the diamond is the hardest mineral on Earth. Thanks to that hardness, sapphires are easy to look after, requiring no more than the usual care on the part of the wearer.

The gemstones in the corundum group consist of pure aluminium oxide which crystallised into wonderful gemstones a long time ago as a result of pressure and heat at a great depth. The presence of small amounts of other elements, especially iron and chrome, are responsible for the coloring, turning a crystal that was basically white into a blue (what is most commonly associated with the sapphire), red, yellow, pink or greenish-blue. However, this does not mean that every corundum is also a sapphire. For centuries there were differences of opinion among the specialists as to which stones deserved to be called sapphires. Finally, it was agreed that the ruby-red ones, colored by chrome, should be called ‘rubies’ and all those which were not ruby-red would be known as sapphires.

If there is talk of the sapphire, most gemstone aficionados think immediately of a velvety blue. It’s a versatile color that becomes many wearers. The fact that this magnificent gemstone also comes in a large number of other colors was known for a long time almost only to insiders. In the trade, sapphires that are not blue are referred to as “fancies.” In order to make it easier to differentiate between them, they are referred to not only by their gemstone name but also by a description of their color. In other words, fancy sapphires are described as yellow, purple, pink, green or white sapphires.

However, the sapphire has yet more surprises in store. For example, there is an orange variety with a fine pink undertone which bears the poetic name “padparadscha,” which means lotus flower. The star sapphires are another rarity, half-dome-cut sapphires with a starlike light effect which seems to glide across the surface of the stone when it is moved.

Sapphires are found in India, Burma, Ceylon, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, the United States and Africa. From the gemstone mines, the raw crystals are first taken to the cutting-centres where they are turned into sparkling gemstones by skilled hands. When cutting a sapphire, indeed, the cutter has to muster all his skill, for these gemstones are not only hard. Depending on the angle from which you look at them they also have different colors and intensities of color. So it is the job of the cutter to orientate the raw crystals in such a way that the color is brought out to its best advantage.

Sterling Silver

silverPure silver, also called fine silver, is relatively soft, very malleable, and easily damaged so it is commonly combined with other metals to produce a more durable product. The most popular of these alloys is sterling silver, which consists of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper.

Although any metal can make up the 7.5 percent non-silver portion of sterling, centuries of experimentation have shown copper to be its best companion, improving the metal’s hardness and durability without affecting its beautiful color.
The small amount of copper added to sterling has very little effect on the metal’s value. Instead, the price of the silver item is affected by the labor involved in making the item, the skill of the craftsperson, and the intricacy of the design.

Platinum

silverPlatinum, a naturally white metal, will never fade or change color. Platinum also enhances the brilliance of diamonds and other gemstones without reflecting other colors of light into the gemstone.

A platinum engagement ring and wedding band is everlasting, perfect for a lifetime of everyday wear. Platinum’s density makes platinum highly durable, so it doesn’t wear away over time.

Typically 95% pure, platinum is one of the purest precious metals. White gold, which is yellow gold mixed with other metals such as nickel, is often rhodium plated to give it a white appearance. Platinum’s purity makes it naturally hypoallergenic and ideal for those with sensitive skin.

Platinum’s strength and durability makes it a secure setting for diamonds and precious gemstones. Platinum prongs offer excellent protection for diamonds.