Monday, October 21, 2013

Real Quartz v. Synthetics v. Simulated v. Hydro Quartz -- Which Is It?

I live in New Mexico, in the city of Albuquerque.  New Mexico's history includes silver mines, gold mines, copper mines, turquoise mines, and lots of artisans who make jewelry out of genuine metals and gemstones.

There is a very large facility that sells jewelry supplies to jewelers ALL over the world, including being perhaps the most trusted facility to purchase silver "shot" or grains for making pure silver or sterling silver rings, etc.  They sell sterling and gold and gold-filled wire, findings, genuine gemstones, just everything a jeweler could ever want.  It's called Rio Grande Jewelry  and luckily they are located a short drive from my home, ten or so minutes away.  I go there ALL the time because they employ dozens of knowledgeable jewelers and silversmiths (I don't know how many!) so if I have a questions about a gemstone, they can answer it.  Or they can repair or re-size anything, although they're a little pricey.  They have a small showroom and I love to go look at the charms and gems they have in the cases.  And they have a HUGE warehouse so anything in their catalogs can be purchased right then and there.  Seriously, there are hundreds of employees' cars in the lot.  They also offer jewelry making classes and people come to ABQ from all over to learn from the experts.  You can call them or send an email, and they are always fast to respond, but it's easier for me to just go there with an order or questions---everyone there is very nice and really helpful.

So I rely on their expertise often, and I trust what they have to say.

I was there recently to buy some gold-filled wire and to ask them about some sterling "tree" charms they have (right in their display case) that I read about in etsy's forums (someone outside of etsy who sells charms claimed she holds the copyright to this design and made the etsy seller remove her "copies"----and yet Rio Grande has the same items.  They checked and, NO, they laughed and said they have no knowledge of any such "copyright" for the item that's manufactured in Thailand, although that seller may have the copyright on the IMAGE in her catalogue, so there's that.).

But I really wanted to ask their expert opinion on so-called "Hydro Quartz" that is found in India, Thailand and China on Alibaba, and all over Etsy, sold as though it's a gemstone.  I asked them, "Is there such a thing AT ALL as "hydrothermal quartz" or "hydro quartz" that looks like emeralds, or like blue topaz or other gemstones?"

Answer directly from Rio Grande:  "NO.  Those aren't gemstones and are most likely glass.  We don't sell that here."

So if you clicked on the Rio Grande link at the beginning of this post, it would take you to their "green quartz" listings.  It will show you what "green quartz" actually is----and not an "emerald hydro quartz" to be found.  Green Quartz is also known as Prasiolite or "green Amethyst".  If you search Rio Grande for "blue quartz", you will find gemstone "doublets" and "triplets" made with clear quartz, some blue druzy stones in blue.  They have Chalcedony (the only real blue quartz, but also can be green or white or other dyed colors) listed separately. 

So---what is a Synthetic stone? Is it a gemstone?

In the jewelry industry, a "Synthetic" stone is a man-made gemstone, made in a lab, and is considered a real gemstone, with the same physical, chemical and optical properties as the natural gemstone.   To most people, "synthetic" means "fake" but not in the jewelry industry (confusing)!  Mostly people use the term "lab created" to describe synthetic gems.  The only real way to tell a synthetic gemstone from a "mined" stone is that the synthetic (or lab-created) stone is flawless, and natural stones are generally not.  Otherwise, there is NO difference.  Jewelers will test the stones and will see it's a sapphire, for instance, but when they look at it under a loup, it's flawless and therefore PROBABLY synthetic.  Sapphires and rubies are popular synthetics, as well as emeralds.  There ARE synthetic diamonds, but they are just as expensive as mined diamonds, but they are conflict-free. Man-made, or synthetic, diamonds are $1,000 and UP per carat.  They are definitely diamonds with a Mohs hardness of 10---only diamonds are that hard.  Some examples of lab-created gemstones that are available include:
  • Emerald (Beryl)
  • Aquamarine (Beryl)
  • Alexandrite (Color Change Chrysoberyl)
  • Ruby (Corundum)
  • Sapphire (Corundum)
  • Spinel
  • Diamond - VERY expensive, costs the same as mined diamond
Please note that there are some gemstones that are NEVER lab-created:  Topaz, Peridot, Garnet, and Tanzanite are three examples that I see listed as "created" or "synthetic" all the time.  Not so!   There is no such gem as a "created blue topaz" for example---the stone would be something like glass or CZ, but definitely is not a topaz.
(Edit to add:  A friend of mine who is a gemologist said that he recently heard of a lab that was attempting to create Tanzanite as they are very scarce and difficult to mine, so synthetic tanzanite might be available in the future!  I hope so because they're beautiful!)

Then what is a Simulated stone?  Is that different?

In the jewelry industry, a "Simulated" stone is simply something that was made to look like another stone.  It doesn't possess the chemical properties of the gemstone at all.  A simulated gemstone can be glass, plastic, a crystal (like Swarovski), a rhinestone, paste, anything.  A CZ is a simulated diamond.  A Moissanite is a simulated diamond.  A green CZ can be a simulated emerald or peridot, depending on color. And so forth.

What is Hydro Quartz?  Is it Quartz grown in a lab? 

Hydro quartz seen in the jewelry industry is NOT quartz at all.  It is a "simulated" quartz, in that it LOOKS like quartz (somewhat) or other stones but does not have the chemical properties of quartz or gemstones at all.  It would test as glass.  It is NOT a synthetic quartz, or a lab-created quartz.  It is ONLY simulated quartz, or glass that is sold to look like other gemstones including quartz.  A more honest name for this "hydroquartz" is actually "Fused Quartz."

What is Fused Quartz?

Fused quartz is manufactured by "fusing" (melting) naturally occurring Quartz crystals of high purity at approximately 2000 °C, resulting in a pure, clear glass.  It is used in the semiconductor industry, optical industry and electronics and other industries, including laboratories (borosilicate glass tubes, for example).  It is also colored and sold in glass "blocks" to the jewelry industry.

Is there such a thing as Hydrothermal Quartz at all?

Yes.   Companies in the electronics industry, for example, grow pure quartz crystals.  Also, some Siberian Amethyst (a deep purple with red flash) is lab-created.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Gold Filled or Gold Vermeil: Which Is Better?

Let me begin by saying that both are great, but different!  Some people prefer the idea of "gold filled" jewelry, while others prefer gold-over-silver.  Both are pretty, and durable.  But is one better than the other?

Precious Metals - There are basically three metals used in jewelry that are considered "precious":   Gold, Silver and Platinum (which includes a group of metals, such as Palladium or Rhodium).  Gold is of course yellow in color, and is alloyed with various other metals to produce different colors of gold, and different ratios of gold, indicated in karats:
  • 24k Gold is pure gold
  • 14k Gold is 14 parts gold to 10 parts alloy
  • 18k Gold is 18 parts gold to 6 parts alloy
And so forth.  You can see that everything adds up to 24.  It is sometimes written as a ratio, such as 14/24 or 18/24.  There are hundreds of different combinations of alloys that are mixed with the gold, such as silver or nickel (to make white gold), copper (to make rose gold), and 50/50 of silver and gold added to pure gold results in the typical "color" of yellow gold.  Zinc is also added (about 2%) for hardness.

Silver, in its pure form, is very soft and like gold is alloyed with other metals.  Sterling Silver is marked "925" which means it is certified as having 92.5% pure silver, plus 7.5% alloy---usually copper.

What is Vermeil?
Vermeil is gold plated sterling silver.  Sometimes it is gold plated pure silver, or nearly pure (97%) silver.  The gold is usually 18k or higher, up to pure 24k gold.  Vermeil has a lot more gold than other gold plated pieces.  Vermeil is regulated by the FTC and has to have a minimum gold thickness of 2.5 microns on all surfaces.  A Vermeil piece of jewelry is made entirely of precious metals, which gives the piece an intrinsic value.  Vermeil jewelry should maintain the look of yellow gold for many, many years.  I have vintage pieces of gold vermeil jewelry that are at least 20-40 years old and are still bright gold in color.  Sometimes it tarnishes, but can be easily cleaned with sterling silver jewelry cleaner or cloths, and looks brand new. I like knowing that Vermeil pieces are only PRECIOUS metals - sterling silver (or pure silver) and gold---no "mystery metals".

What is Gold Filled Jewelry?
The term "gold filled" is actually a misnomer.  It is not a tube that is filled with gold.  It's actually a thin layer of gold that is bonded to a base metal, usually brass.  It's sometimes called "rolled gold" or "rolled gold plate".  A thin layer of gold is bonded to brass through heat and high pressure.  Brass is not a precious metal---it is an alloy mixture of copper and zinc.   If the gold used is 10k, the gold must be 1/10 the weight of the item.  If the gold is 12k or higher, it must be 1/20 the weight of the item.  The gold filled jewelry most commonly seen would be marked "1/20 14k G.F." or "1/10 10k G.F."   If by law Gold Filled must be 1/20 the weight of the item, that means that only 5% of that piece is gold, and 95% of that is brass (or other metal).   Contrary to popular belief, gold filled jewelry will not last indefinitely, but has a lifespan of daily wear of between five to 30 years before wearing through.  Sometimes the gold filled layer will peel away from the underlying base metal.    I have a vintage 1/20 14k gold filled chain from the mid-1970s  that was very tarnished (looked like copper) but I cleaned it in tarnish removing solution (a cleaning cloth didn't work) and it looks like solid yellow gold now.  I expect that chain to last at LEAST another 10 years.

Gold plated brass jewelry is similar to gold filled in that the same materials are used, but with FAR less gold used.  The plating on simple gold plated brass is very thin and can wear off relatively quickly. However, this is still actual gold used over brass, rather than just "gold tone" metal which doesn't contain any gold.

Does Vermeil Tarnish?  Does Gold Fill Tarnish?
The answer to both is:  YES.  ALL METALS WILL TARNISH.  Although precious metals in their pure form are less prone to oxidation, it DOES happen---even solid gold or pure silver will oxidize over time and under certain conditions.  Sterling Silver, whether you buy it at Tiffany's or ebay, will tarnish.  How much it oxidizes and how quickly depends on a lot of different factors, such as air pollution (especially auto exhaust which contains sulfur), exposure to chemicals, exposure to lotions and chlorine and even the wearer's own body chemistry.  Plating silver with Rhodium, or mixing the silver with Palladium or Platinum, will HELP prevent tarnishing, but nothing will stop it forever.  A white gold ring, a yellow gold ring, any karat purity of gold WILL oxidize (or "tone") over time and needs to be cleaned.   Vermeil will tarnish, and gold filled jewelry will absolutely tarnish as well.  Eventually!  When and how much just depends.  Taking care of jewelry, just like taking care of clothing,  means keeping it clean and storing it somewhere safe, away from the air (like in a zip lock bag).

But it's easy to remove the tarnish from vermeil and gold filled jewelry, as well as other types of fine jewelry.  Just like the world's finest diamond or a precious sapphire or even a rhinestone or crystal, gemstones also need cleaning to keep them sparkling.  Metals do as well.  There are mild liquid solutions sold for cleaning jewelry, sonic cleaners, even using a soft toothbrush and Dawn dishwashing detergent in warm water will clean metals. (Do NOT use toothpaste or baking soda---it will scratch metal!)  Sometimes quickly dipping a vermeil or gold filled piece into sterling silver jewelry cleaner (which can be found at Target or CVS or anywhere) for 2 seconds, then washing with mild soap will remove the tarnish but leave the gold intact.  I don't really recommend that except in extreme cases of oxidation, because it's an acid that removes the tarnish and you have to be VERY careful when using that.  The gentle use of a polishing cloth for jewelry is safer and will also keep metals sparkling clean and like new.

So Which is Better: Vermeil or Gold Fill??
The answer is:   it's just your personal preference since they're both beautiful.  To some people, Vermeil is better because it's made of only precious metals and therefore is more valuable.   (I'm one of those people!)  Most vermeil is made in Italy and is very high quality.   To others, gold filled is better because there is more gold used, even though 95% of the piece is actually brass.  It's becoming more difficult to find gold Vermeil chains (they are very expensive), and very easy to find gold filled chains, so the use of gold filled components has become quite popular.  Gold filled jewelry is a great alternative to solid gold pieces, making it much more affordable to own the LOOK of gold.

But whether you choose a vermeil piece or gold filled, I think of it this way:  the ONLY metal you see or touch is solid, real gold, and you can't go wrong with that!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Goldstone. Sun Sitara. Stellaria. Midnight Goldstone. WHAT IS IT?

I first laid eyes on Goldstone when I was 9 years old, when my family stopped at Wall Drug in South Dakota.  I saw a barrel full of these little Goldstone nuggets, and I couldn't believe how beautiful they were! I was always a rock collector, but I never saw anything like that before.  My parents bought me a goldstone ring that day, and it was the greatest treasure!  I still have that ring.  It was mesmerizing---like frozen liquid filled with gold sparkles.  I always thought the suspended sparkles were actual pieces of gold, or something like "fool's gold" since it's called "goldstone".  I only knew for sure that it was the most beautiful stone I ever saw!

But is it a gemstone?  What is goldstone?  Is there gold in it?  Is it a stone?

Goldstone - Copper Crystals
It's actually GLASS.  It's not a gemstone at all!  It's a glittering glass that can be polished or carved!  I've seen carved goldstone roses and Buddhas and all sorts of other shapes.  Goldstone is often misrepresented as a gemstone, and even formed into "crystal point" shapes as if it grew that way!  Midnight blue goldstone is often misrepresented as Lapis Lazuli, which is a navy blue gemstone but looks nothing like Goldstone otherwise, especially in person.  It's sometimes called "Lapis Lazuli Glass" but that's really not correct either, as it's not at all related to Lapis.  Goldstone has a Mohs hardness of 5-6, about the same as window glass. It is sometimes called Stellaria or Sun Sitara.  Sitara means "star" in Persian due to the star-like glitter inside.  Sometimes it's called Monkstone or Monk's Gold, based on the legend of its formation:  Italian monks in 17th Century Venice were trying to "make" gold out of copper, and Goldstone was produced.  A very happy accident!

How Is It Made?

Blue Goldstone
First, it's NOT made by tossing glitter into molten glass!  It's much more complicated than that.  The most common form of Goldstone is reddish brown with tiny crystals of metallic copper.  These flecks appear only under specific conditions.  Silica, copper oxides and other oxides are melted together. The vat is then sealed off from the air (a vacuum chamber) and kept at a certain temperature, so the glass remains liquid while allowing copper crystals to form without the crystals melting or oxidizing!  When cooled, the glass will have bright metal crystals suspended in semi-transparent glass.

Goldstone also appears in other colors, depending on other elements.  If cobalt is used instead of copper, it
Green Goldstone
results in blue goldstone with gold and silvery glitter.  It's navy blue to black-blue and the silvery sparkles inside the glass makes it look a like the Milky Way galaxy.  Using Manganese results in purple goldstone (pic below).  There is also green goldstone, also knows as "chrome aventurine" although it's glass, not aventurine,  but the green is due to sparkling chromium oxide particles.  Sellers claim the green goldstone is "rare", like it's formed in nature, but it's not rare---it's just not manufactured as often as the far more popular blue and brown colors of goldstone.

Purple Goldstone
Even though it's not a gemstone, Goldstone---whether coppery or midnight blue or other colors---is such a beautiful "stone" and looks just as pretty as mineral gemstones.  It's MUCH more beautiful in person than can be captured in photos.  The sparkles are throughout the stone, not just on the surface, and the glass
itself is basically clear so it's very unusual and fascinating to stare at!
Blue Goldstone Briolette

However, be aware that it is NOT a "semi precious gemstone" as it is described by jewelry shops online.  It does not grow as a crystal.  It is NOT "Blue Sandstone" described as "composed of quartz or feldspar because these are the most common minerals in the Earth's crust. The sand inside creates the blue color. For this reason, this substance is named "Blue sandstone," which I just saw on Etsy.  (WOW---that's really an example of FRAUD!)   It's not a gemstone at all.  It is in the same category as "opalite" or  "hydro quartz" or "fused quartz"--- GLASS.  Pretty, but just manmade glass, even though actual elements (copper, etc.) are used to make it and actual crystalized copper is what provides the sparkle---all embedded in glass.  I saw little strands of blue goldstone disc beads at Michael's this weekend, for $3.99.  They are marked "glass beads" if you look closely at the hang tag, and are found in the area reserved for other glass beads and Swarovski crystals---not even in the gemstone section.  Too bad some sellers online aren't as honest as Michael's!  But now YOU know!