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Precious Metals

Amazing Diamonds and their Stories

India's diamond mines, source of some of the most celebrated gems in history, go back thousands of years. Total output: an estimated 10 million carats. Total weight: a mere 2.5 tons.
The Florentine, weighing 137.27 carats, is cut for the Duke of Burgundy in the late 15th century. Lost in battle, it ends up in the hands of the Medici family in Florence. In the 18th century, it appears in the Habsburg crown in Austria. Whereabouts today: unknown.

Cullinan I, at 530.20 carats, was cut from the largest diamond ever found (3106 carats). Known also as the Star of Africa, it adorns the sceptre of King Edward VII of England. The Tower of London is its current home.
The famous Hope Diamond, though only 44.50 carats, has an intriguing history belying its size. Supposedly part of a much larger stone acquired by Louis XIV of France in 1668, it is stolen during the French Revolution and disappears. Henry Philip Hope buys it in 1830 and the Sultan of Turkey purchases it nearly a century later. Jewelers Pierre Cartier and Harry Winston own it at one time or another. It is now in the Smithsonian.

Koh-I-Noor belonged to an Indian Raj. Then larger than its present 108.92 carats, it is bought by the Shah of Persia in l739. He calls it by its modern name, meaning "Mountain of Light." It is is given to Queen Victoria of England, re-cut for the crown of Queen Mary and then set in the crown of Queen Elizabeth. Kept in the Tower of London.

Dresden, a 41-carat apple-green diamond, adorned Saxony's crown jewels in the mid-18th century. Pear-shaped and the largest of its color, it is confiscated by Russia at the end of WWII and returned in 1947. On display in the Dresden Historical Museum.

The Colorado, plucked from a mine in Colorado and the largest diamond ever cut in the U.S., weighed 17.86 carats when sold to a collector. Still in private hands.


The Romance of Pearls:
A Symbol of Cleopatra's Passion... The Obsession of Elizabeth I

The magical luster of pearls has fascinated women and men alike for thousands of years. Pearls conjure up visions of South Sea islands. They inspired the creation of The Pearl Fishers, one of opera's greatest masterpieces.

Where pearls were first discovered is unknown. Bits of irritating debris, perhaps a grain of sand, causes oysters to transform them, layer by layer, into objects of great beauty, prized throughout history.

We know pearl divers risk their lives to bring these treasures to the surface. The Middle East, India and China are thought to be among the earliest civilizations recognizing the attraction of pearls. The finest of all pearls come from the Persian Gulf.

The Chinese believed pearls poured from the mouth of their rain god. The Romans used pearls in love potions. Caesar may have invaded Britain for pearls.

According to legend, Cleopatra toasted Anthony with a pearl dissolved in wine. Elizabeth I of England reportedly had an insatiable appetite for pearls. Through the ages, pearls have been used in medicines and to adorn crowns, gowns and even religious temples. The birth of a pearl is one of nature's wonders.

The Mystique of Pearls: Stories of Beauty And the Bizarre

An oyster harvested in the coastal waters of Sri Lanka contained an incredible 87 pearls.

When the Duke of Buckingham went to Paris to bring back the bride of English king Charles I, he wore satin decorated with pearls worth LL20,000, a staggering sum for the time. Pearls were so popular during the Elizabethan era that the queen herself was forced to buy fake pearls at the then-unheard-of price of a penny apiece.
The Pearl of Asia, the largest known pearl, is the size and shape of a small egg plant.
In Babylonian times, pearls were thought to be endowed with the powers of the fountain of youth.
According to Greek myth, when the god of love Aphrodite was born from the sea, she turned drops of water into pearls. So prized were pearls during the Renaissance that many countries forbade anyone but nobility to wear them.
The most expensive pearls: A strand of Australian South Sea pearls sold at auction in l993 for a record $2.25 million.
Frederick Kunz, who devised a gauge to measure the size and weight of pearls, estimated that 100,000 oysters fished from the Arabian Gulf were needed to create a matched natural pearl necklace.
In 1917, Pierre Cartier acquired his Fifth Avenue mansion for two strands of pearls then worth a million dollars.
One in two cultivated oysters survives to bear pearls and only one in five of the survivors gives birth to a pearl that has the quality to become a jewel.
It takes 10,000 cultured pearls to produce a single, closely matched necklace.

Perhaps one in a million oysters will produce a flawless pearl!


Gold & Platinum

Without gold, it's been said there would be no jewelry. For thousands of years, men have fought, sailed oceans, braved jungles and moved mountains for gold. Every great civilization has left a legacy of gold jewelry that unfailingly dazzles the modern eye.

Too soft for tools or weapons, gold was thought to be the metal of the sun, coveted for its natural beauty and worshiped for its mystical powers. Today, gold is cherished not just as a rare precious metal. Its physical properties are unrivaled for creating fine jewelry.

Stretch an ounce of gold into 50 miles of fine wire. Hammer an ounce into a square, 100 feet wide. It resists tarnish and rust. It is immune to corrosion, oxidation and acids. Gold's value comes from both its beauty and scarcity. All of the gold mined in the past 6,000 years would fit into a cube 60 feet tall.

Karats are a measure of the percentage of fine gold to accessory metals contained in gold jewelry. Gold is mixed (alloyed) for strength. Metal stamped 24K, meaning 24-karat gold, is considered pure gold and too soft be used for jewelry. More common 18K gold contains 75% pure gold. Jewelry marked 14K appears the most widely. Anything under 10K cannot be labeled or sold as gold, although 9K is very popular in Europe.

Yellow gold, capturing the metal's classic natural color, is by far the favorite. Copper and silver are the alloys used most with yellow gold. For the fashion-conscious, white gold is hot and trendy. Copper, zinc and palladium, or nickel alone, alloy with white gold.

The value of gold jewelry is based on several factors: fineness or karat count, weight in grams and the workmanship reflected in the piece.

The Royal Metal- Platinum

From ancient Egypt to pre-Columbian South America, platinum plays a leading role in the creation of exquisitely fine jewelry. Not until the 18th century does it begin to appear in the jewelry of Western Europe. It becomes the metal of royalty.

Platinum ranks among the rarest of metals. Ten tons of ore yield one ounce of platinum. For every 15-to-20 ounces of gold extracted, only a single ounce of palladium is mined. Mountains of rock must be crushed to meet world demand and the refining process takes nearly a half-year.

Unlike gold, which doesn't work well in its purest form, platinum is used in jewelry at 90%-to-95% purity. Platinum of this fineness is stamped 900Pt, 950 Plat or just Plat. Even in this pure state, platinum contains five other metals -- iridium, osmium, palladium, rhodium and ruthenium. Like gold, it is tarnish- and rust-resistant.

There has recently been an effort to sell .58 Plat., to reduce cost, but it has been widely rejected.