What is a Garnet?

Garnet is the birthstone for the month of January. The name garnet is derived from the Latin word "grenate" in reference to garnet's deep, rich color and its resemblance to the seeds of pomegranates. Mystical qualities have been attributed to garnets throughout history including curative powers and purported protection for the health of travelers. India, Sri Lanka and Madagascar are major sources for garnets.

Garnet has a hardness of 7 to 7.5, and is quite practical for everyday wear. Your garnet may be cleaned with a soft brush and jewelry cleaner or warm, soapy water. Ultrasonic cleaners may also be used.

What is an Amethyst?

Amethyst is the birthstone for the month of February. It is among the most highly prized gem varieties of quartz. The name amethyst comes from the Greek word "amethystos", and was believed by ancient cultures to protect its wearer from drunkenness. Brazil, Uruguay and Namibia are major sources for amethyst.

A hardness rating of 7 makes amethyst approporiate for use in many types of jewelry. Today, some amethysts are treated with heat to permanently improve their color or to remove a "smokey" look. As a protective measure, Sears recommends that you avoid storing your amethyst in direct sunlight to prevent the possibility of fading. In addition to the use of jewelry cleaner or warm, soapy water, an ultrasonic cleaner may also be used to maintain the beauty of your amethyst.

What is an Aquamarine?

Aquamarine is the birthstone for March. As the light blue variety of the mineral beryl, aquamarine is a cousin of another familiar beryl variety - emerald. Its name comes from the Latin term meaning "water of the sea". Legend holds that aquamarine protect its wearer in or on the water and soothes the soul of the wearer to impart a sense of peacefulness.

Aquamarines have a hardness rating of 8 and may be enjoyed in a variety of jewelry styles. Most aquamarines are heat treated after mining to intensify the purity of their beautiful blue hue. Care should be exercised in cleaning your aquamarine. It is best to use jewelry cleaning solution or warm soapy water and a soft brush only - avoid chemicals, heat and excessive heating and the use of ultrasonic machines to clean aquamarines.

What is a Diamond?

Diamond is the birthstone for the month of April. With a rating of 10 as the hardest mineral on earth, diamonds are known as the "King" of gems. With their extraordinary brilliance, diamonds were once believed to have fallen to earth as splinters of the stars. We know now that they form at depths of over 100 miles within the earth. Estimates tell us over 250 tons of earth must be moved to recover each carat of finished diamonds. Australia, South Africa and Russia are locations for major diamonds mines today.

Though extremely hard, a blow of sufficient force may still chip or crack a diamond if struck at a specific angle. To protect the beauty of your diamond, avoid wearing it when doing housework, gardening, playing sports or engaging in any strenuous physical activity. Your diamond may be kept sparkling clean using a soft brush with jewelry cleaning solution or warm soapy water. An ultrasonic cleaner may also be used. It should be noted that Sears does not sell fractured filled diamonds.

What is an Emerald?

Emerald is the birthstone for May. Known as the "Gem of Spring", emeralds have long been coveted not only for the beauty of their color, but also for their legendary powers. Emeralds have been said to sharpen the mind and eyesight while also providing the power to predict the future.

Despite the fact that emeralds have a hardness rating of 7.5 to 8, they still can be quite fragile and must be warn with care. Nearly all emeralds are treated with oils or resins to enhance their transparency and depth of color. Treat your emeralds with care and avoid impacts to ensure a lifetime of enjoyment. Although you may clean them gently at home with a soft brush and lukewarm water, they are best cleaned professionally by your jewelry. It is not recommended that you immerse your emeralds in cleaning solutions (never wear your emeralds in the bath, shower or when doing dishes) and ultrasonic cleaners should never be used on emeralds. Since the treatment of emeralds is not permanent, Sears recommends that you have your emeralds professionally re-oiled every 2 to 5 years.

What is a Cultured Pearl?

Cultured Pearl is the birthstone for June. Cultured pearls are the beautiful and affordable alternative to scarce natural pearls. Both are organic in nature and derive their beauty from their iridescent aura. In fact, the only sure way to distinguish cultured pearls from natural pearls is to x-ray them. Nearly all cultured pearls are treated to enhance their colors through bleaching, dyeing or safely irradiating them.

Cultured pearls are delicate, but when cared for properly, will provide years of wearing pleasure. It is important to protect them from any chemical damage, so always put pearls on after applying makeup, hairspray and perfumes. Your cultured pearls should be wiped gently with a soft, lint free cloth after each wearing. Store them separately from other jewelry which may scratch their lustrous surface. Whenever dirty, they are best maintained by professional cleaning. Never clean your pearls with Jewelry cleaners or cleaning chemicals. Mild soap and water may be used. Dry on a soft, absorbent surface, and never hang to dry. Always allow wet strands to dry thoroughly before wear, as damp strings will attract more dirt very quickly. Periodic restringing by your jeweler will also help ensure you continue to enjoy them for many years.

What is a Ruby?

Ruby is the birthstone for July. Ruby is composed of the mineral corundum, the same mineral which forms sapphire. Sapphires can occur in numerous colors, but the name ruby is reserved exclusively for the red variety. Just as sapphire, ruby has a hardness rating of 9 and so, is very durable. Knights often wore rubies into battle to fortify their courage and provide them with the reserve of strength necessary to ensure victory. Significant sources of ruby today are Thailand, Burma and Myanmar. Nearly all rubies today are enhanced using heat to permanently improve their color and reduce any "silky" appearance.

Your ruby may be safely cleaned using a soft brush with jewelry cleaning solution, except for heavily included gems. An ultrasonic cleaner may also be used.

What is a Peridot?

Peridot is the birthstone for August. Peridot is a gem variety of the mineral olivine, and comes in varied shades of yellowish green. It was referred to by the Romans as the "Evening Emerald" since its intensity tends to increase in lower levels of light. The beauty of peridot is natural and it is not routinely enhanced.

Although it is rated 6.5 to 7 in hardness, peridot should be handled with more care than some other gemstones. Avoid sudden changes in temperature or contact with caustic household substances. Use a soft brush with warm soapy water to clean your peridot and avoid use of ultrasonic cleaners.

What is a Sapphire?

Sapphire is the birthstone for September. Though sapphires occur in a variety of colors, blue is by far the most popular. In fact, the ancient foundations of the word "sapphire" translate to "blue stone" in several languages. Sapphires are mined in various places around the globe, including deposits in Thailand and in the state of Montana.

Sapphires have a striking luster due to their hardness, rated as a 9 on the Mohs hardness scale. Today, virtually all sapphires are treated with heat to improve their appearance. Your sapphire may be safely cleaned using a soft brush with jewelry cleaning solution, except for heavily included gems. An ultrasonic cleaner may also be used.

What is an Opal?

Opal is the birthstone for October. Opal's lively play of color is reminiscent of autumn, making it the perfect stone for October. The flashes of color in opal are provided by unique formations of tiny spheres inside the stone. Australia is the most highly recognized source for opal, but other sources include Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and Poland.

Opals have a hardness rating of 5 to 6.5, and so must be protected from impact, abrasion and stress. It is also important to prevent opals from being exposed to sudden changes of temperature and high heat. Though enhancements are rare, opals may occasionally be treated to prevent cracking or to improve play of color. Opals may be cleaned with a soft brush and warm, soapy water, but never use harsh chemical cleaners or immerse your opal in an ultrasonic cleaner. You may apply a thin film of light oil with a swab or cloth to the surface of your opal (never soak it) at 6 month intervals to provide an extra measure of protection against dryness and cracking.

What is a Citrine?

Citrine is the birthstone for November. Citrine is a gem variety of the mineral quartz. Because of a striking similarity in color, citrine is often confused with another gemstone species - topaz. Strangely, citrine rarely displays the bright yellow of the lemon, from with its name is derived, but usually has a warm golden yellowish orange color. Brazil is the most significant source for citrine, although some is also mined in Bolivia and Spain.

As a relative of amethyst, citrine also has a hardness of 7, and is quite easy to wear in a variety of styles. The color of almost all citrine is enhanced by treating it with heat after it is mined. Citrine may be safely cleaned using a soft brush with jewelry cleaner or warm, soapy water and may also be cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner.

What is a Blue Topaz?

Blue Topaz is the birthstone for December. Not only does blue topaz have a stunning depth of color, it is also frequently free of inclusions, making it one of the earth's purest gems. The curative power to cool heated tempers is among the qualities believed held by topaz. Major topaz mines are located in Nigeria and Brazil.

Though topaz has a high hardness rating of 8, it can still be fragile and care must be taken to protect it from falls and sharp blows and sudden temperature changes. Nearly all blue topaz is treated with heat and is safely irradiated to permanently enrich its color. You may clean your blue topaz with a soft brush and jewelry cleaner or warm, soapy water. Ultrasonic cleaners should not be used to clean blue topaz.

What is Black Onyx?

Another popular gem is Black Onyx. A popular favorite as "basic black", black onyx is actually a form of chalcedony.

It has a hardness of 7 and is always permanently dyed black. It may safely be cleaned with a soft brush in jewelry cleaner or warm, soapy water, and is safe to clean in an ultrasonic cleaner.

What is Jade?

A gem with an oriental mystique, jade is a gem represented by the minerals jadeite and nephrite, both with an exceptional resistance to breakage. It is common for both to be treated with waxes and dyes to enhance their beauty.

Jade may be cleaned with a soft brush and warm, soapy water and is safe for immersion in ultrasonic cleaners, though harsh solutions should be avoided.

What is Smokey Quartz?

Often referred to by its misnomer "Smokey Topaz", smokey quartz is a popular, rich brown gem often available in larger sizes. To improve their color after mining, some smokey quartz stones may be heated or safely irradiated.

Smokey quartz can be cleaned with a soft brush and jewelry cleaner or warm, soapy water, and ultrasonic cleaners may be used. To provide an extra degree of protection for your smokey quartz, avoid exposure to abrupt temperature changes.