Precious Metals Education
Guide of common metals
used in jewelry
In our modern world of jewelry there are endless combinations of
gemstones paired with precious and non-precious metals available to choose from. It is easier than ever to find something that fits both your personal style and your lifestyle. Below is a basic guide of common metals used in jewelry and the benefits of each that can help you decide what will be best for you!
Gold is the most popular metal in the US and has the longest and most storied history of all the precious metals. Gold is timeless, elegant, and is also the most popular metal for jewelry to be worn and cherished everyday. Traditionally it is also the preferred metal option for bridal jewelry. Gold in its pure natural state is 24 Karat and is a rich yellow color. As it is, 24k gold is not used in jewelry because it is too soft and does not hold form well. To solve this issue, pure gold is alloyed (mixed) with other metals to increase its durability.
There are various grades of gold purity ranging from 10K, 14K, 18K up to 24K (considered pure gold). 18K gold is made up of 75% gold and 25% other metals. The lower the karat weight becomes the more durable the metal is, but this also produces a lighter, and lighter yellow tone. Lower karat weights are usually plated (thin layer of gold covering over a stronger base metal) to some degree to enhance the color. Yellow gold is natural and resistant to rust, tarnish and corrosion. The following chart shows the standard marks required on gold jewelry, this shows what the karat (or percentage of pure gold) is of the marked piece.
Quality Marks on Karat Gold Jewelry
Beyond Yellow: The Gold Alloys
When discussing metals, the term alloy is commonly used. It simply means a metal that is made by combining two or more metals. This is done to increase the strength and/or resistance to corrosion of the base metal. The ratio of each component metal, determines the properties of the alloy. Alloys are also used to create a variety of colors.
One of the most popular gold alloys is white gold. It is an affordable and fashionable white-metal option and is created by alloying gold with nickel or palladium, zinc and copper. White gold alloys are never truly “white” in color, so most white gold jewelry is plated with rhodium, a platinum group metal. White gold jewelry requires a little more extra care during its lifespan, because the rhodium plating may show signs of wear. A simple re-plating at our jewelry store can easily restore its brilliant white finish.
Fine jewelry and bridal customers are having a love affair with the beautiful shades of rose gold. It is made with similar properties to white gold, but is mixed with copper to give it that rose color which actually comes in a variety of shades. It blends well with the many colors of gemstones and also white and yellow metals for a look that is very versatile.
Platinum is a popular metal choice for engagement rings and wedding bands. It’s naturally white and will never fade or change color. Platinum is also durable and is low maintenance (never needs plating), enhancing its value despite the initial price difference between it and gold. Platinum jewelry has a high level of purity that makes it naturally hypoallergenic and, thus, the perfect choice for people with sensitive skin. In the United States, platinum jewelry generally contains 85- to 95-percent pure platinum. By comparison, 14-karat gold is only 58.3-percent pure gold. Jewelry marked only “Platinum”, “Pt” or “Plat” contains at least 95-percent pure platinum. Platinum content can also be marked by 999 for 99.9% pure platinum, 950 for 95% and so on. In the United States, jewelry containing less than 50-percent pure platinum cannot be marked with the word “Platinum” or any abbreviation thereof. People love to purchase Platinum because it will last forever and is the ultimate symbol of their everlasting love!
Palladium is one of the rarest metals in the world and part of the Platinum Group of Metals. Hypoallergenic and extremely light in weight, Palladium is considered a “Noble Metal” due to its superior ability to withstand corrosion and oxidation.
From the ancient worlds 4,000 years ago, to Medieval Europe, to the New World mines of Mexico and Peru during the 17th and 18th centuries, silver’s qualities have fascinated kings and conquerors throughout the ages. Today, sterling silver is a favorite metal for creative and innovative designers due to its affordability and malleability. Sterling silver is an alloy of silver containing 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of other metals, usually copper, which makes it harder than silver and more suitable for jewelry making and wearing.
Sterling silver jewelry may be marked with a .925, 92.5 or “Ster” on the inside of the jewelry piece. Not typically used for engagement ring settings, sterling silver is primarily used for fashion jewelry and accessories. It is a soft metal and tends to tarnish, which are two reasons we don’t typically recommend it for holding a precious diamond or expensive colored gemstone for an engagement ring. Sterling silver jewelry is occasionally rhodium plated to increase durability and prevent tarnishing.
Gold-Filled, Vermeil, and Gold-Plated
Gold-plated, gold-filled and vermeil jewelry are affordable alternatives to jewelry made completely with karat gold. These pieces have the look of solid gold, but their durability and value are significantly less. These are great options for those wanting to save money or looking for trendy pieces. These gold alternatives are distinguished by minor differences..
Gold-filled jewelry is jewelry composed of a solid layer of gold typically constituting at least 5% or 1/20th of the item’s total weight. It is mechanically bonded to a base of either sterling silver or another base metal. Most high quality gold-filled pieces have the same appearance as high karat gold, and even with daily wear can last over 10 years, though the layer of gold will eventually rub off exposing the metal underneath. The layer of gold on gold-filled items is 5 to 10 times thicker than that produced by regular gold plating, and 15 to 25 times thicker than that produced by gold electroplate. 14k Gold-filled products are stamped most commonly as 14kt 1/20 GF.
Vermeil (pronounced “vermay”) is a thicker level of gold plating always over sterling silver rather than a base metal. The plating must be at least 100 millionths of an inch thick or 2.5microns, and be of 10k gold karatage or higher.
Gold-plated is the cheapest alternative, in which a thin layer of gold covers a low-quality base metal, normally copper or brass, through an electroplating process. These pieces will be the quickest to tarnish and the finish will wear off and the price will vary in price depending on the karatage used. The stamp or mark on the inside of a ring that is 18kt electroplated is 18K HGE.
With the advancement in technology, alternative metals have made a big impact in the jewelry industry, particularly in the category of wedding bands and cutting-edge jewelry. From the scratch resistant and durable alt metals of Tungsten, Cobalt Chrome and Black Zircon to the unique patterns that Damascus Steel offers, as you will soon see the unique options are endless and can satisfy every taste, lifestyle, and even include inlays that incorporate specific passions and hobbies. Examples of inlays available include precious metals, gemstones, exotic wood, meteorite, antler, and even dinosaur bone! Below we created a list and short explanation of popular alternative metal options that two of our favorite wedding band designers, Lashbrook and TRITON, utilize in creating unique and personalized men’s and women’s rings. Keep in mind this is only a small sample of the options available, please talk to one of our sales professionals to make sure you find what you are looking for and will love to wear!
Triton’s Tungsten Carbide TC.850 is a patented formula consisting of approximately 85% Tungsten Carbide, which is strong, tarnish and scratch-resistant, heavyweight, and hypoallergenic. Tungsten’s natural color is a rich, dark grey. Black Tungsten Carbide results from a durable Black Titanium Carbide deposit that is applied using a state-of-the-art process called PVD (physical vapor deposition), which deposits thin layers of color in a high temperature, vacuum environment. Triton’s White Tungsten Carbide obtains its lustrous color through a patented nano-technology multi-layered coating applied to the surface of the metal. Triton’s Yellow and Rose Tungsten Carbide obtain their colors through a proprietary metal blend that includes yellow & rose gold using the same patented multi-layer technical bonding process as White Tungsten Carbide.
Damascus is made by blending two different kinds of stainless steels. It becomes stronger and more durable as skilled artisans twist and fold these metal layers, uniting them to create a one-of-a-kind pattern.
Zirconium and Black Zirconium
In its natural state, zirconium is a silver-grey color. It earns its stark black appearance through our proprietary heating process, in which a layer of hard black oxide grows on the metal. This black layer is much harder than raw zirconium, but it is very thin. Unlike oxidized silver and black rhodium, this layer does not rub off over time. It is also more durable than black-coated rings, such as black titanium and black tungsten.
Cobalt chrome is a bright white metal with a brilliant luster. This metal’s weight is similar to precious metals, but many times harder and more durable. Cobalt chrome rings are an ideal choice for both plain bands and complex designs. It is a very versatile metal, and is often chosen for these reasons. Meteorite, carbon fiber, hardwood, precious metal inlays and mosaics can be incorporated to create a truly unique, one-of-a-kind wedding ring.
Titanium is an element on the periodic table. Although there are many different grades of titanium alloy, ninety-nine percent pure titanium is a common choice for jewelry. It is hypoallergenic, has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metallic element, and titanium rings are an ideal choice for both plain bands and complex designs. In addition to the endless possibilities of inlays, titanium rings can also be personalized with various engravings and sleeves.
Tantalum is an element on the periodic table and is considered a technology critical material. It is a beautiful gray color with a hint of blue which gives it a great gun-metal tone that’s darker than titanium but not black like zirconium. It is quite dense, with a weight similar to platinum. While many alternative metals create difficulties with resizing, tantalum is quite malleable and easily resized up to one size depending on customization. Tantalum is hypoallergenic, and will not corrode or react with exposure to everyday use or chemicals.