A glossary of ethnic jewellery terms


Abalone is a mollusk whose shell is iridescent on the inside; abalone is a source of mother of pearl, which is used in jewelry making.Continue Reading


Acrylics are a type of thermoplastic, and include transparent and opaque in varied colors. Some commonly-known acrylics are lucite and plexiglas.Continue Reading

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Agate is a variety of chalcedony (a family of microcrystalline quartz). Agate is a very common stone that is often used in jewelry. It is found in a wide range of colors, including black, gray, brown, reddish, green, pink, blue, and yellow. Agate can be flecked with color and is often banded, exhibiting layers of…Continue Reading


The Albanians are believed to be descendants of the Illyrians, who were the original inhabitants of the western Balkan Peninsula. In the sixth century, migrating Slavs began to settle on Illyrian territory and pushed the Illyrians into what is present-day Albania. The Albanians are divided into two major groups, the Gheg and the Tosk, according…Continue Reading


An alloy is a combination of two or more metals. Common alloys used in jewelry are: gold under 24 Kt (mixed with silver, copper, and/or other metals), sterling silver (92.5% silver, 7.5% copper), brass (roughly half copper, half zinc), bronze (at least 60% copper with tin and perhaps other metals), and pewter (tin, lead, antimony,…Continue Reading


Alpaca (also spelled alpacca) is an alloy consisting of mostly copper (roughly 60 percent), and approximately 20 percent nickel, about 20 percent zinc, and about 5 percent tin. This metal is a a silver substitute.Continue Reading


Aluminum is a lightweight, silver-white metal. When aluminum was first discovered in the 18th century, it was more valuable than gold. Now inexpensive, aluminum is used in many alloys. Some inexpensive jewelry was made using aluminum.  Continue Reading


Amazonite is an iridescent stone that ranges in color from green to blue-green. Its composition is potassium aluminosilicate (KAlSi3O8), and is a type of feldspar (a green variety of microcline). Amazonite is usually set as a cabochon (since it breaks easily if faceted). This mineral was named for the Amazon River, where it was first…Continue Reading


Amber is translucent fossilized tree resin (from conifers), a natural hydrocarbon that comes in many colors, including yellow, reddish, whitish, black, and blue. Amber is flammable. Rubbing amber produces static electricity. The word electricity comes from the Greek word for amber, “elektron.” It used to be thought that amber possessed magical powers that protected the…Continue Reading


Amberoid, or “pressed amber,” is produced by fusing together small pieces of amber under pressure. Parallel bands, or flow structure, in amberoid help to distinguish it from natural amber.Continue Reading


Amethyst (Greek for “not drunken”) is a form of the mineral quartz, and is a relatively common gemstone. Amethyst is usually purple, but can range in color from pale lavender to a very deep, reddish purple to a milky color to green. Deeper-colored amethysts are more highly valued. The ancient Greeks believed that amethyst made…Continue Reading


Amorphous means without form. An amorphous gem, like jet, amber, or ivory, does not have a regular internal structure, like those gems that fall within the seven crystal systems.Continue Reading


An amulet is a protective charm that is worn . It is worn in the hope of protecting the wearer from evil or illness or to bring the wearer good luck.Continue Reading

Angelskin Coral

Angelskin coral is a pale pink coral, from deep sea coral. Angelskin coral is one of the most valued colors of coral (red is also highly prized). Coral is an animal that grows in colonies in the ocean. Coral polyps secrete a strong calcium structure that is used in jewelry making. Coral ranges in color…Continue Reading


Annealing is the process of heating a metal and then cooling it to make it more workable. As metal is worked (hammered, rolled, etc.), stresses make the metal brittle (the metal molecules are pulled into random structures during the working). Annealing the metal make the metal re-crystallize, putting the molecules in an orderly structure. The…Continue Reading


Anodized metal has been through an electrochemical process which changes the molecular structure of the surface layer, giving it a thin, protective film. In the anodization process, the metal is placed in an acid bath (at the “anode” or positive end of the electrical circuit) and an electrical current is passed through the tank. This…Continue Reading


The Argobba are a Muslim people group that is spread out through isolated village networks and towns in the northeast and east of Ethiopia.Continue Reading


An assay is a test of the purity of an alloy. A tiny piece of metal is scraped from the piece and the percentage of gold or silver is determined. Official assay offices determine whether a piece qualifies for an appropriate hallmark.  Continue Reading

Aurora Borealis

In 1956, Swarovski created the aurora borealis glass coating, which was originally called the aurore boréale. The new finish was named after the shimmering colours of the Northern Lights, and beautifully enhanced glass beads with a rainbow-like coating. It was an instant hit, and very quickly the designer Christian Dior (who had been collaborating with…Continue Reading

Aventurine glass

Aventurine glass has many alternate names. It may be called Sommerso, monkstone, Stellaria, or goldstone, and it is visually quite stunning. It is sometimes confused with several minerals like feldspar or quartz, which may have tiny flecks of glittering material that add shine and sparkle. These are called aventurine, though this is not aventurine glass.…Continue Reading