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Fun Jewelry Facts

Copper Fun Facts

You may think your copper jewelry is just another “pretty face” in a sea of silvers and golds, but you’d be wrong about that. Copper has plenty more to offer than its fashionable looks and more than pulls its weight in other areas of life. In fact, copper is a lot of the reason you’re still alive!  Inside the body, it supports nerve function and helps the body produce energy. It’s at work in enzymes and even functions in the production of skin color.

In folklore it was believed that copper bracelets were a remedy for arthritis. Some claimed that the bracelets worked by allowing tiny amounts of copper to get absorbed into the bloodstream, where they helped regrow cartilage and relieve arthritic pain. While scientific studies and disproved its usefulness in this department, copper certainly has many other functions in the health market. For one, some studies have indicated that copper’s natural antioxidants help prevent cancer. For another, copper is known to kill bacteria growth. Long before modern medicine, copper was used to sterilize wounds and drinking water. This phenomenon was documented in the Smith Papyrus, one of the oldest recovered texts in existence.

Another little factoid you might enjoy: copper is actually the first metal ever to have been used by humans in any capacity.

Fun Facts: Stones

A couple of “did you knows” to educate you about the gemstones in your jewelry…

Garnet, a category comprising several related minerals, was named after the word “pomegranate,” for their similar shades. Although garnet can come in a variety of colors, the most common one you’ll find is dark red, a hue similar to the seedy pulp of its namesake.

Most people know the hardest stone — diamond — but did you know the softest?  Next time you’re asked, you’ll know it’s amber.  In comparison to diamond’s impressive score of ten on the Mohs scale, amber measures up at two and a half.  (And in case you were wondering where amber got its name, it is derived from the Middle Persian word “ambar” or “ambergris,” a substance extracted from a whale’s stomach for its pleasant smell.)

Before becoming October’s special stone, the opal was widely utilized.  For what, you ask?  It was believed that wearing opals would help maintain the color in blond hair.  If your hair dye isn’t sticking, maybe you should take a peek inside your nearest jewelry store instead!

 

Diamond Secrets

A few fun facts about one of the most popular gemstones on the jewelry market: diamonds.

Although white/transparent diamonds are most common, that’s not the only hue you can find. There is a huge variety, from black diamonds to pink to blue… in fact, diamonds exist in pretty much every color.

De Beers, a diamond mining company founded by Cecil Rhodes, is one of the most powerful diamond companies of today; it controls as much as 70% of the entire diamond industry. Actually, in the late 1800s, De Beers mined a huge yellow gem that weighed in at nearly 430 old karats (a measurement used until early 1900’s) and measured as one of the largest diamonds during that time period. Now cut, it currently holds the record for seventh largest diamond in the world.

But to find the largest diamond in existence, you’ll have to look outside of De Beers’ mines.  In fact, you’ll have to look outside of planet Earth altogether!  The largest diamond is, in fact, a star — specifically, a chunk of crystallized carbon found within the Centaurus constellation.  Located about 50 light years from Earth, this white dwarf star was aptly nicknamed “Lucy” after the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.  Lucy may be only a dwarf as a star, but she’s a giant as far as diamonds are concerned; she would weigh in at about 10 billion trillion trillion karats… more than all the karats of diamond worn on Earth all together!

 

Equal Opportunity

Nowadays, men’s jewelry is a trend that has become more and more popular since the early twentieth century. Before that, glittering decoration was considered an effeminate attraction… or so you might think.

In truth, outside of Western culture, male jewelry has been a fairly common practice all throughout history. Often it was considered a mark of wealth and authority, giving its wearer a certain aristocratic status in society. In Ancient Egypt, the first culture to use jewelry made of gold, men adorned themselves with just as many trinkets as did women, if not more!  In fact, statues of kings and gods were lavishly bejeweled, as were the living Pharaohs themselves. For the male population, no ornament was off limits: they wore earrings, bracelets, rings, even anklets, not to mention several that have fallen out of use today, like armbands and collar pieces.

Egyptians weren’t the only ones with equal male/female treatment when it came to jewelry. In Mesopotamia, men wore earrings, necklaces, armlets, bracelets, pectoral ornaments, and headbands. (At times women did have a few more gender-­specific options, including headdresses, belts, and some floral dress pins.) Other cultures that made use of male jewelry were the Akkadians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, as well as most African and Native American tribes.  So it seems Europeans were the odd men out in their lack of ornamentation.

Truthfully, although you won’t find too many earrings on European men in the Middle Ages, they weren’t completely without adornment. Forgoing what they considered more feminine relics, they instead chose beauty with a more “masculine” spin, such as gemstones embedded in sword hilts, and they also made use of signet rings, an ornament that could double as a functional piece in letter sealing. It seems no matter how far back you look ­­– and no matter where ­­– you will always find some decorative outlet, regardless of gender distinctions.

 

Bangle Bracelets

Nowadays, bangle bracelets adorn millions of wrists from Europe to the United States. But before it came into popular fashion to wear a score of bands up the forearm, bangles were a symbol of status in West Indian and West African cultures.  Once known under a myriad of names — manillas, okpoho, okombo, or abi — ­­ bangles could identify how wealthy a woman’s husband was.  For West Indian families, more gold in the piece indicated a higher status for the wearer.  Those who could not afford gold made bangles of copper or silver.  In West Africa, however, where the style seems to have originated, the most prestigious material to use was copper, known in Africa as the ‘red gold’.  The sound they made when clanking together also added to its value.  Later, when Portuguese merchants realized the jewelry’s significance in West African culture, bangles began to act as a form of currency.  Unfortunately, it became the primary method of payment for people sold to the Americas beginning in the 16th century.

The original form for manillas was a horseshoe-­shaped bracelet, what we often call a ‘cuff’, with a thin body tipped on either end by a rounded knob.  Now the style is as diverse as the people who wear them, from diamond-­studded to knitted to lanyard-spun. Sometimes they are family heirlooms, like the passed ­down manillas of the Caribbean, and sometimes they are ‘friendship bracelets’ passed between adolescents.  It’s clear these artifacts come in all varieties for people of all backgrounds and ages — a ‘cuff’ that links different cultures together.

The Long View of Diamonds

It may be interesting to note the costly nature of our jewelry.  In the past 100+ years, the price of engagement rings has increased on average over three thousand percent!  In the 1890s, Tiffany’s sold its rings at around $40, a striking contrast to the rings nowadays that are sold for somewhere in the multiple thousands of dollars.

Like engagement rings, most things rise in value as they age –­­ wines, coins, and baseball cards, to name a few.  One object that seems to take the opposite approach, however, is diamond.  Given enough time, that particular gem morphs into the ever-­common graphite. Don’t worry, though.  Practically, the conversion is likely to occur only when kept for prolonged periods of time at very high temperatures. Without that stimulation, the process can take innumerable eras, which means your diamond necklace won’t be in danger any time soon.  At least not in your own lifetime. But we should put that timeframe into perspective: while the process may take many lifetimes of a human, it is only a blip on the scale for our jewelry.  In natural circumstances, diamonds take an average of 3 billion years to form, so to them the span of eras until their deterioration into graphite probably feels like the blink of an eye!

The Stones of Power

We are fairly accustomed to seeing materials like silver and gold shaped into assorted forms for jewelry. What we may not realize, however, is that these raw materials have much more potential than just the bracelets clasped to our wrists. Here are a couple of the more interesting functions your ornaments can provided:

When not glittering from your earlobes, silver might be moonlighting as an antibacterial agent. Its natural inhibition of bacteria and fungi makes it an optimal choice as an odor stopper. In fact, most of the non­-jewelry that you wear –­­ clothing, socks, even shoes — ­­ will be laced with nano-silver to prevent unwelcome smells from seeping into the fabric.  Silver is also rather popular in the medical world, and used as antiseptic.

Sapphire is like Tolkien’s “One Ring” of the gemstone world.  Translation: it can make you invisible (sort of).  In addition to being a key element used to build infrared lasers,it also possesses the unique ability to become invisible to that same light.  When specially treated, sapphire can coat any substance to prevent it from appearing to infrared goggles or cameras. That makes it the real “One gem to rule them all”!

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