Do you understand metal types in jewelry? Is your purchase worth the price?

Customers have asked me so many times about metal differences in jewelry.  You want to know if what you are buying is worth the price, will it last a lifetime or have to be discarded in a few years, and if it is REAL, meaning quality metal and stones. So here we go.   This is breakdown of metals used in jewelry and what you can expect.

Precious Metal Categories
Platinum - long revered for its quality and used frequently in high end wedding jewelry.  It is a densemalleableductile, highly unreactive, precious, gray-white transition metal. Its name is derived from the Spanish term platina, which is literally translated into "little silver".[3][4]Platinum is one of the least reactive metals. It has remarkable resistance to corrosion, even at high temperatures, and is therefore considered a noble metal. Consequently, platinum is often found chemically uncombined as native platinum. Because it occurs naturally in the alluvial sands of various rivers, it was first used by pre-Columbian South American natives to produce artifacts. Its resistance to wear and tarnish is well suited to use in fine jewelry
24K Gold - Not generally used for jewelry as it is too soft.24k gold is also called pure gold or 100 per cent gold. This means that all 24 parts in the gold are all pure gold without traces of any other metals. It is known to be 99.9 per cent pure and takes on a distinct bright yellow color. There is no higher form of gold than 24K and you must be aware of this before you go to a dealer who might tell you that they’re selling you 25K or 26K gold. Since this is the purest form of gold, it is naturally more expensive than 22K or 18K gold. However, this type of gold is lesser in density as compared to gold of a lower karatage which makes it soft and pliable. Hence, it is not suited for regular forms of jewelry.  

22K Gold -  Used in granulation techniques (see Etruscan Jewelry) and when a bright gold is wanted.22K gold jewelry implies that 22 parts of the jewelry amounts to gold and the balance 2 parts are some other metals. This kind of gold is commonly used in jewelry making. In 22K gold, of the 100 per cent, only 91.67 per cent is pure gold. The other 8.33 per cent comprises metals like silver, zinc, nickel and other alloys. It is this addition of metals that make the texture of gold harder thereby making the jewelry durable. However, you must know that although this can be used to make plain gold jewelry, 22K gold isn’t preferable for diamonds and heavily studded jewelry.  To obtain price per ounce, multiply the 24K gold spot price by 91.67%.

18K Gold - Typically the European Standard for Gold Jewelry.18K gold is 75 per cent gold mixed with 25 per cent of other metals like copper or silver etc. Usually studded jewelry and other diamond jewelry is made in 18K gold. This kind of gold is less expensive compared to 24K and 22K. This one has a slightly dull gold colour. Recognizing 18K jewelry is rather simple – you will see the item stamped with 18K, 18Kt, 18k or a variation similar to these. At times, 18K gold is marked by 750, 0.75 or a stamp similar to these in order to symbolize that the jewelry contains 75 per cent gold.  To obtain price per ounce, multiple the 24K gold spot price by 75%.

14K Gold - The American standard for most engagement and wedding rings.14K gold contains 58.5% gold and is the perfect compromise for a gold metal: It is still quite durable and will not easily tarnish. It also has a nice yellow gold color and in fact you won’t be able to distinguish 14K and 18K yellow gold just by looking at it.  14K gold is a premium gold and is still comparably cheap. Especially compared to 18K gold.  The difference in durability between 14K and 18K gold is noticeable. It will usually take much longer for an 14K gold ring to show visible marks of wear and tear compared to an 18K gold ring.  It is the best choice for anyone looking for the best balance in durability, price and look. To obtain the price per ounce, multiply the 24K gold spot price by 58.5%

10K Gold - Economical and strong for jewelry, however less desirable.The first striking thing about 10K gold is the fact that it contains more alloy than gold. It contains 41.7% gold and 58.3% alloy. One advantage of 10K gold compared to 14K gold is that it is cheaper. 10K gold may actually be considered discount gold.10K gold looks slightly more pale than 14K gold but usually you won’t be able to see the difference with your bare eyes.10K gold will also tarnish more quickly than 14K or 18K gold but with regular care this should not be too much of an issue.  To obtain the price per ounce, multiply the 24K gold spot price by 41.7%.

White Gold - An alternative choice in color - available in same Karating as Yellow Gold.
The main difference between yellow gold and white gold is that white gold is an alloy of gold and a white metal such as palladium, manganese, or nickel. Like yellow gold, white gold’s purity is defined in karats. White gold rings often contain nickel, which provides the strength needed for a durable setting that lasts.  The nickel alloy may be problematic to those with skin allergies.   If you are allergic,  it is best to ask about the alloy, and request white gold made with something other than nickel.

Rose Gold - Becoming more popular, particularly for people who want a romantic look.
Rose gold is a gold and copper alloy that is sometimes referred to as red gold or pink gold. As it was popular in Russia at the turn of the nineteenth century, was once commonly referred to as Russian Gold, although the term is rarely heard these days. Like yellow gold and white gold, rose gold is a very popular choice for rings. Though it is seen less often, it is gaining popularity, particularly among people who want their wedding and engagement rings to have a unique, romantic look. Rose gold works well in all types of settings but is particularly appealing in vintage-inspired engagement rings and wedding rings. It can be combined with white or yellow gold to create a unique multi-colored setting that appeals to the wearer’s artistic side. Durability is another consideration to keep in mind when comparing rose gold vs. yellow gold vs. white gold. Incredibly, this softly romantic colored gold is the strongest of the three, as copper is very sturdy and the resulting alloy is tougher than yellow or white gold. On the downside, copper can cause allergic reactions in some individuals, and is not considered to be a hypo-allergenic metal. If shopping for someone with very sensitive skin, yellow gold may be your best choice.

Fine Silver - Very soft and malleable - not used for rings but okay for pendants/earrings
Fine silver, sometimes stamped .999, is at least 99.9% pure silver, which means it is softer and more malleable than sterling. It also tends to take longer to tarnish. 

Sterling Silver - Extensively used for jewelry, Tarnishes.
Sterling silver, sometimes stamped .925, is an alloy of at least 92.5% silver, and (usually) copper. It is a soft, easy to work with metal, which can be antiqued to a dark black or polished to a bright shine.

Argentium Silver - Harder, Less tarnish, great for all jewelry
Argentium® sterling silver is a tarnish-resistant variety of sterling that consists of 1.2% germanium, 6.3% copper and 92.5% silver. For the end user, Argentium's main attraction is its tarnish-resistance which requires much less maintenance than traditional sterling silvers. For metal workers, Argentium offers additional benefits. It does not develop firescale, which both saves artisans time and makes it environmentally friendlier than traditional sterling. Argentium can be made nearly twice as hard as standard annealed sterling silver by a simple heat treatment, and it is laser weldable. These properties allow for expanded design possibilities. 

Filled Metal Categories

Silver Fill - Used in a lot of costume jewelry.
Silver fill is made by using heat and pressure to apply a layer of .925 sterling or .999 finer silver to a base of less costly metal. This produces a surface of sterling silver or fine silver that is hundreds of times thicker than a silver plating. There are no industry standards yet for silver fill.

Vermeil - Gold Colored- Used in costume jewelry.
Vermeil, pronounced "vehr-MAY," is a plating of karat gold over sterling silver.  

Gold Fill - Used in costume jewelry
Gold fill (also called gold overlay) is made by using heat and pressure to apply a layer of karat gold to a base of less costly metal. This produces a surface with karat gold. The minimum layer of karat gold must equal at least 1/20 of the total weight of the item. 
Gold-filled tubing and wire are usually seamless, so only gold touches the body. Gold-filled sheets of base metal, used to make other findings, can be either single clad (gold on visible side only) or double clad (gold on both sides and sometimes the edge). Seamless and double clad gold-filled items are less likely to discolor, since the base metal is sealed inside the gold. However, the layer of gold on a single clad 1/20 gold-filled item is as thick (and the same total weight) as the two layers of gold on a double clad 1/20 gold-filled item. Use care when buffing gold-filled items, to avoid removing the gold layer.

The surface layer of karat gold on gold-filled items is usually 10kt, 12kt or 14kt . To know the thickness of the layer, look for a fraction, such as 1/10 or 1/20. It will be 1/20 unless otherwise stamped. Examples:

  • 1/10 10kt GF: 1/10 of the total weight must be 10kt gold.
  • 1/20 12kt GF: 1/20 of the total weight must be 12kt gold
Platings - a fine layer of precious metal over base metal - used for inexpensive costume jewelry
A plating is a thin deposit of metal that is electro-chemically or otherwise applied to the surface of a different metal base. Other materials, like plastic, can also be plated. Many plated items are plated with copper first, then the final color.   The following are some platings available to you:

White Plating  White plate is the "silver" color most often see on costume jewelry and base-metal findings. White-plated components are generally grayer, but also more durable, than silver-plated components. They generally do not tarnish. The plating is typically an imitation rhodium made of copper, tin, zinc, and/or nickel. 

Silver Plating Silver plate is a thin surface layer of actual silver. It nicely matches the color of sterling silver; it doesn't quite match our white findings. Like sterling silver, silver plate can tarnish. For this reason, it's frequently lacquered to prevent tarnish (until the lacquer wears off). 

Antique Silver Plating Antiqued silver plate is a thin surface layer of silver that has been darkened to provide a "distressed" (oxidized) appearance.

Antique Pewter Plating Antiqued pewter plate is a pewter-colored plating that has been darkened to provide a "distressed" (oxidized) appearance. Some antiqued pewter beads and findings are matte, while others are shiny.

Yellow Plating Yellow plate is a gold-colored plating that is slightly brassier than gold plate, and is sometimes longer lasting. Yellow finishes go best with raw brass.

Gold Plating  Gold plate is a very thin deposit of actual gold (about 1/1,000 - 1/1,000,000 of an inch). The color matches 14kt gold. Heavy gold electroplate might be 2 or 3/1000s of an inch thick (this can also be written as 2 or 3 mils). Many gold-plated items have a white nickel plate under the final gold plate. Warning: hand lotion will accelerate tarnish on gold plated components, and can result in a black color within days of handling. 

Antique Gold Plating Antiqued gold plate is a very thin surface layer of actual gold (about 1/1,000 - 1/1,000,000 of an inch) that has been darkened to provide a "distressed" (oxidized) appearance. Warning: hand lotion will accelerate tarnish on gold plated components, and can result in a black color within days of handling.

Antique Brass Plating Antiqued brass components typically have a brass or zinc base with a brass plating. The crevices of antiqued brass beads, charms and findings are darkened to give them a "distressed" (oxidized) appearance.

Copper Plating  Copper plate is a bright, shiny copper plating. Because the metal underneath the plating is usually a harder metal than copper, copper-plated components tend to be more durable than solid copper parts.

Antique Copper Plating  Antiqued copper plate is a copper plating that has been darkened to provide a "distressed" (oxidized) appearance.

Gunmetal Plating  Gunmetal plating varies in color from gun blue to matte dark gray to shiny black metal. It often consists of black nickel plated over brass, but we also carry gunmetal components that meet the EU Nickel Directive. It's also possible to find gunmetal coated Czech glass beads.
What's the Difference between Gold Plate and Gold Fill?
Gold fill is 50 to 100,000 times thicker than regular gold plating, and about 17 to 25,000 times thicker than heavy gold electroplate. Similarly, silver fill is 100's of times thicker than a silver plating.

What are Base Metals?

Base metal is a catch-all term in the jewelry industry for metals used in costume jewelry. In metal working, base metal is any metal that is not one of the noble or precious metals. In costume jewelry, base metals are often plated with a very thin layer of gold, silver, nickel, rhodium or other metal on the surface of the bead, finding, chain or other component. 

Common base metals include:

Brass is an alloy of copper, zinc and sometimes other metals. It is typically 70% copper and 30% zinc. Our red brass wire is 90% copper, and 10% zinc, which gives it a slightly warmer color. Raw (unplated) brass components are usually the same color as yellow (plated) findings, although they will vary in color and may also work with gold plate. Their surfaces may be imperfect and their finish may change with age. 

Anti-tarnish brass (a proprietary alloy) looks very close to the color of 14kt gold. Another name for it is tarnish-resistant brass. 

Copper is an element that's bright reddish-orange in color. Over time, it will darken and gain a patina, sometimes with a greenish hue. Copper can also discolor skin, most commonly when it is worn snugly like a finger ring or tight-fitting bracelet. Copper is a soft metal, which makes it great for wire wrapping. Because of copper's softness, solid copper components are less durable than copper-plated beads and findings. 

Nickel silver is sometimes also called German silver. It is a base-metal alloy of nickel, copper and zinc. While nickel is silver in color, it does not contain any sterling silver. Nickel silver wire is 65% copper, 18% nickel, and 17% zinc. The relatively inexpensive cost of nickel silver compared with sterling makes it an attractive option for jewelry components. Just be aware that some people are allergic to nickel.

Niobium is highly resistant to corrosion and other reactions, and is used in medical implants. Niobium jewelry findings come in several anodized colors. Anodizing is a way to color metal by dipping it into an electrically charged "bath" that creates bright colors without plating or painting the surface. The colors don't flake or chip like plated or painted surfaces can. The main drawback of anodized niobium is that it doesn't match basic silver and gold colors. On the upside, niobium is an inert element, with no nickel, lead, or other additives, most people with metal allergies can safely wear niobium. 

Pewter includes any of the numerous silver-gray alloys of tin with various amounts of antimony and copper. TierraCast products are made with a lead-free pewter called Britannia pewter, which consists of tin, antimony, and copper. Most TierraCast Britannia pewter beads and jewelry findings have a surface finish ( plating) of a different color over the pewter base. Other base-metal items marked "antiqued pewter" may be brass or zinc with an antiqued pewter plating. In nearly all cases, these zinc or brass alloys meet lead-free criteria. 

Steel is a blanket term for a wide variety of iron-based alloys that are very tough and hard. 

Cold-rolled steel is shaped when the metal is below its recrystallization temperature (usually room temperature). The metal is literally pressed between rollers in a mill to flatten and thin the steel. This cold processing method work hardens the metal and strengthens it up to 20% more than hot processing. It also creates a very smooth surface with a uniform finish. It allows for the creation of small products with great strength. 

AFNOR XC45 steel is a specific type of cold-rolled steel, and is a combination of XC45 and XC75 (AFNOR) steel — also known as 1045 steel and AISI 1078 steel, respectively. The alloy is a carbon steel with no nickel added, meaning it meets the strict standard of the EU Nickel Directive. Jewelry findings made of AFNOR XC45 steel include superior-quality French barrette backs and shoe clips.

Stainless steel (a.k.a. corrosion-resistant steel) is a generic name for any steel alloy with a minimum of 11.5 wt% chromium. Common types or grades include 440, 304L, 316L and 904A. In all types of stainless steel, the chromium creates a very thin chromium-oxide layer on the surface of the metal which prevents it from rusting. 

The advantage of stainless steels over plated steels is that, if scratched or damaged, the stainless steel 'self-repairs' as a new chromium-oxide layer is formed. In plated steels, scratches in the plating can lead to corrosion of the steel underneath. In general, the higher percentage of chromium, the stronger the corrosion resistance of the steel. Other metals are added to the alloy to give the steel other properties, such as strength and malleability. Nickel is added to strengthen the protective oxide layer. 

Stainless steel findings are slightly more gray than white findings, but the difference is barely noticeable, especially on finished jewelry. Stainless steels do not match sterling or silver plate well. 

304 stainless steel is the most popular grade of stainless steel. It is 18-20% chromium, 8-10.5% nickel, 0.08% carbon, plus iron and the trace elements listed above. It is commonly used in the food industry (sinks, coffee urns, dairy storage and hauling, beer/brewing, citrus and fruit juice handling, etc). The same corrosion and stain resistance that make it great for food handling, also make it popular for jewelry. 

304L stainless steel is almost the same as 304, but has a lower carbon content (0.03%), and may contain a slightly higher amount of nickel (8-12%). This alloy has increased weldability and resistance to corrosion (great for men's jewelry). 

430 stainless steel contains less than 0.75% nickel, and some forms of 430 stainless steel meet the EU nickel directive (less than .05% nickel ion migration). 430 stainless steel has good corrosion resistance compared to non-stainless steel, but not as good as the 304 and 316 alloys. This makes it less popular for jewelry than you would expect from its low nickel content.

Surgical stainless steel is a specific type of stainless steel which, while wearable by the majority of the population, does contain a small amount of nickel (to which some people are allergic), usually 8% in jewelry. 

316 and 316L surgical stainless steel contain 2-3% molybdenum for even greater resistance to harsh corrosives (both industrial, and in the body). 316L is a low carbon version of 316, with extra corrosion resistance, and is frequently used for stainless steel watches and marine applications. Like most other stainless steel, it contains 8-10.5% nickel, making it unsuitable for people with nickel allergies

Titanium is a very strong metal that's resistant to corrosion. Because of this, it's frequently used in medical implants, and it's an excellent choice for people with nickel allergies. Our titanium ear wires and earring posts are Grade 1 ASTM F67, which is unalloyed commercially pure titanium, and meets the EU Nickel Directive. 

"White metal" and "pot metal" are terms for tin-based alloys used in low temperature casting of base-metal jewelry components. White metal is the "silver" color that you most often see on costume jewelry and base-metal findings. White metal castings are usually three-dimensional rather than flat and are often plated. The exact composition of white metal varies, because each casting foundry and shop uses its own proprietary formula. 

Print this sheet and keep it handy when shopping for jewelry.  Don't forget to call Anita ROKS by Analece, 251-929-3620,  for all your Jewelry needs or shop online in my store!  Hope this was helpful and answered many of your questions about metals!  Peace, Anita

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