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Jewelry and Gemstones Buying Guide: Colored Gemstones
Term used to describe optical effects in faceted and non-faceted gemstones
Physical properties of colored stones are often described in terms of the way light travels through them, their unique visual effects and the way they are cut. Here are a few terms you should know:
Transparent. Light travels easily through the stone with minimal distortion, so you can easily see through it.
Transparent. The stone transmits light but diffuses it, giving an effect like frosted glass. If you tried to read through such a stone, the print will darken and blur.
Opaque. Sends no light. You can’t see through it even at a tin edge.
Special optical effects
Adularescence. An undulating, moving, colored cloud effect seen in some gems, such as moonstone; and inner, moving luster.
Asterism. Used to describe the display of a star effect (four- or six-rayed) seen when a stone is cut in a non-faceted style. Star ruby, garnet and sapphire.
Chatoyancy. The effect produced in some gemstones (when cut in a cabochon style) of a thin, bright line across the stone that usually moves as the stone is moved from side to side; sometimes called a cat’s eye effect.
Iridescent. A rainbow color effect produced by a thin film of air or liquid inside the stone. Most iridescence in gemstones is the result of a crack breaking their surface. This detracts from the value, although it looks beautiful.
Shine. Usually refers to the surface of a gemstone and the degree to which it reflects light. Seen as the shine on the stone. Diamond, for example, has much greater brilliance than amethyst. Pearls are also valued for their luster, but pearls have a softer, silkier reflection than other gemstones. The luster in pearls is often called “orient”.
Color game. Often used to describe the fire seen in opal.
Colored gemstones can be faceted or cut in a cabochon or non-faceted style. In general, the preference in the United States until recently was for faceted gemstones, so the finest material was usually faceted. However, this was not always the case in other eras and other countries; in Roman times, for example, wearing a faceted stone was considered vulgar. Preferences also vary with different cultures and religions, and the world’s finest gemstones are cut in both styles. Don’t make any conclusions about quality based solely on the cut style.
Cabochon. A chamferless cutting style that produces smooth rather than chamfered surfaces. These cuts can be almost any shape. some are round with high domes; others resemble square domes (the popular “sugarloaf” cabochon); others are “buff-topped”, showing a somewhat flat top.
Many people around the world prefer the quieter, often more mysterious personality of cabochons. Some connoisseurs believe that cabochons produce a richer color. Regardless, today we see much more interest and appreciation for cabochons around the world, and more beautiful cabochons than have been seen on the market in many years.
Faceted. A cutting style that consists in giving the stone many small faces at different angles in relation to each other, as in different diamond cuts. The placement, angle and shape of the faces or facets are carefully planned and executed to show the inherent beauty of the stone; fire, color, brilliance, to the fullest advantage. Today, there are many faceted styles, including “fantasy” cuts, which combine rounded surfaces with sculpted backs.
The importance of cutting
Cutting and proportioning in colored stones is important for two main reasons:
They affect the depth of color seen in the stone.
They affect the liveliness that the stone projects.
Color and cut are the main criteria to determine the beauty of colored stone, after which the carat weight must be taken into account; the higher carat weight will usually increase the price per carat, generally in a non-linear proportion. If a colored gemstone was a good quality material to begin with, a good cut will enhance its natural beauty to the fullest and allow it to display its finest color and vibrancy. If the same material is cut poorly, its natural beauty will be diminished, making it look dark, too light, or even “dead”.
Therefore, when you examine a colored stone that looks vibrant to your eye and has good color; not too dark and not too pale, you can assume that the cut is reasonably good. If the color of the gemstone is poor or if it lacks vibrancy, examine for correct cut. If it has been cut correctly, you can assume that the base material was bad. If the cut is bad, however, the material may be very good and may be recut into a beautiful pearl. In his case, you might want to consult with a knowledgeable cutter to see if it’s worthwhile to cut again, considering the cost and weight loss.
Evaluation of the cut of a colored pearl
When examining the gemstone for proper cut, a few considerations should guide you:
Is the shade pleasant, and is the stone alive and radiant?
If the answer is yes to both questions, then the basic material is probably good, and you have to make a decision based on your personal preferences and budget.
Is the color too light or too dark?
If so, and the cut looks good, the basic uncut material was probably too light or too dark to begin with. Only consider buying if you find the stone appealing and only if the price is right ie. significantly lower than gems of better color.
Is the gem’s luster even, or are there dead spots or flat areas?
Often, the luster in colored gemstones is not uniform. If the color is exceptional, subdued gloss may not have a dramatic effect on its appeal, desirability or value. But the less fine the color, the more important the gloss becomes.
Weight, as with diamonds, is the weight in colored gemstones measured in carats. All gemstones are weighted in carats, except for pearls and corals. These materials are sold by grain, mm and millimeter. A grain is 1/4 carat; a mother is 18.75 carats.
Normally, the greater the weight, the greater the value per carats, unless the gemstone reaches unusually large sizes, for example over 50 carats. At that point, the size may become prohibitive for use in some types of jewelry (rings or earrings), it may be difficult to sell such large gems, and the price per carat may decrease. There are genuine cut topazes weighing 2,500 to 12,000 carats that can be used as paperweights.
As with diamonds, don’t confuse weight with size. Some gems weigh more than others; the bulk density (density) of base material is heavier. Ruby is heavier than emerald, so a carat ruby will be a different size than an identically shaped and proportioned emerald; the ruby will be smaller in size as it is heavier. Emerald weighs less than diamond, so a 1 carat emerald cut in the same shape and proportion as a diamond will be larger than the diamond because it is lighter and more mass is required to achieve the same weight.
Some gemstones are readily available in large sizes; tourmaline, for example, often occurs above 10 carats. For other gemstones, sizes above 5 carats can be very rare and therefore considered large and will also command a proportionately higher price. Examples include precious topaz, alexandrite, demantoid and tsavorite garnets, ruby and red beryl. With gemstones that are rare in large sizes, a 10 carat stone can command any price.
Scarcity of certain sizes among different colored gemstones affects the definition of “large” in the colored gemstone market. A fine 5 carat alexandrite or ruby is a very large stone; an 18 carat tourmaline is a “good size.”
As with diamonds, gems under one carat sell for less per carat. carat than stones over 1 carat, but here it becomes more complicated. The definition of “large” or “rare” sizes varies enormously, as does the price, depending on the type of gemstone. for example, an 8 carat tourmaline is an average sized stone, fairly common, and will be priced accordingly. A 5 carat tsavorite is extremely rare and will command a price proportionally much greater than a 1 carat stone. Precious topaz used to be available in 20 carat sizes and larger, but today even 10 carat stones of very fine color are practically non-existent and their price has skyrocketed.
Certificate for colored gemstone
Systems for grading colored gemstones are relatively new and standards have not yet been established worldwide. As a result, certificates or grading reports for colored gemstones are not yet widely used. While diamond grading reports are largely dependent on describing and confirming diamond quality using precise, universally accepted standards, reports for colored gemstones are of much more limited value. Nevertheless, reports of colored gems are becoming much more important. Today’s synthetics and other newly discovered gemstone materials create a need for reports that confirm both identity (the type of gemstone) and authenticity (whether synthetic or not). For any expensive colored gemstone today, especially gemstones of unusual size or exceptional quality and rarity, we recommend obtaining a report from a recognized laboratory. The most recognized reports for colored gemstones include those issued in the United States by American Gemological Laboratories, Inc. (AGL) and GIA Gem Trading Laboratory; in Switzerland, leading companies are Laboratory Gubelin and Schweizerische Stiftung fur Edelstein-Forschung (SSEF).
Colored gemstone reports should at least identify the gemstone and verify whether it is natural or synthetic. You can also request a grading report which, in addition to the identity, provides a full description of the gemstone and an assessment of color, clarity, luster and other characteristics. This information is always useful for insurance purposes and can also be useful if you are comparing multiple gemstones for purchase.
Where sufficient gemological data can be gathered from careful examination and with proper testing, some reports will also reveal whether the gemstone’s color is natural or enhanced and, if enhanced, by what method. reports issued by Laboratory Gubelin, one of the most respected gemstone testing laboratories in the world, will not, as a matter of policy, disclose treatments. They believe that since most colored gemstones have been routinely treated in some way for centuries, it doesn’t matter and that comparative quality, beauty and rarity are the important considerations. Depending on the information, some laboratories will also provide the country of origin if requested. Laboratory Gubelin and AGL will indicate origin where possible; GIA will not indicate country of origin.
Fees for colored gemstone reports vary depending on the type of gemstone, the type of report requested, and the time, skill, and gemological equipment needed to perform conclusive testing.
When considering a colored gemstone that is accompanied by a report, keep in mind the different types of reports available. Also remember that the information in the report is only as reliable as the gemologist doing the evaluation, so make sure the report is issued by a respected laboratory; if in doubt, check with another of the respected labs to see if they are familiar with that particular lab. Then ask yourself what the report is actually telling you; does it only confirm identity and authenticity? If so, remember that quality differences determine value; a genuine one-carat ruby, sapphire or emerald can sell for $10 or $10,000 or more, depending on the quality of the gemstone in question. Being real does not mean a gemstone is valuable. Only by taking the time to look at many gemstones, ask questions and make comparisons can you develop and understand the differences that affect quality assessment, beauty and value.
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