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What is the difference between jewelry metals?

What is the difference between jewelry metals?

Fashion trends utilizing trendy metals come and go. There are plenty of choices when it comes to selecting the precious metal used to enhance a beautiful piece of jewelry. However, three jewelry metals have withstood the test of time and continue to have a strong presence in modern jewelry: gold, silver, and platinum.

Fashion trends utilizing trendy metals come and go. There are plenty of choices when it comes to selecting the precious metal used to enhance a beautiful piece of jewelry. However, three jewelry metals have withstood the test of time and continue to have a strong presence in modern jewelry: gold, silver, and platinum.

12 Metals Used in Jewelry

Whether you're investing in fine jewelry or purchasing some costume pieces to keep up with this year's trends, you'll encounter one or more of these metals. Knowing what you're buying is important, especially if you have metal allergies or other unique needs.

Aluminum

Some costume jewelry and artisan pieces contain aluminum, either on its own or in combination with other metals. It is silver-colored and has an attractive sheen. With anodizing technology, it can be colored in bright, pretty shades.

Brass

Brass is a common choice for costume jewelry, since it has an attractive gold color and offers an affordable alternative to precious metals. Made from a combination of copper and zinc, the properties of brass can vary depending on the amount of these two metals used in its production.

Bronze

Similar to brass, bronze is an alloy of multiple metals. Often, it contains copper, tin, and zinc. This pretty metal has a warm, brownish-gold tone that works well with a variety of stones and materials. 

Copper

The warm reddish glow of copper makes it a gorgeous choice for artisan jewelry, and it has a number of properties that also make it a practical option.

Gold

Gold is one of the most versatile and lovely metals for jewelry. According to the American Museum of Natural History, jewelers have prized gold for centuries.

Niobium

Niobium is an element on the periodic table, and it is silver-colored. It accepts anodization, so niobium jewelry components come in a huge array of colors, such as blue, red, pink, and many more.

Palladium

Palladium is a white precious metal that is becoming a popular choice for jewelry. Palladium, a platinum group metal, was first used for jewelry when platinum was declared a strategic metal and reserved for military use in 1939. Palladium alloys developed for jewelry typically contain 95% palladium and about 5% ruthenium and have trace amounts of other metals proprietary to their developers. These 950 palladium alloys are white, noble, malleable, lightweight, hypoallergenic, and are easy to finish and polish. Furthermore, they do not require rhodium plating, and have desirable, platinum-like setting and forming characteristics.

Pewter

According to the Jewelry Information Place, pewter is the fourth most popular metal used in jewelry. As an alloy of tin and copper, pewter has a soft silver color.

Platinum

As one of the most desirable jewelry metals on the planet, platinum is a popular choice for fine jewelry, including engagement rings. Platinum is a natural white metal that comes directly from the earth. Unlike white gold that needs to be alloyed with other white metals to mask its yellow color, platinum is manufactured into jewelry that is 90% or 95% pure. Platinum is extremely long wearing and is very white, so it does not need to be rhodium plated like white gold does. Platinum is a very heavy and dense metal, so a platinum ring will feel much heavier than an 18kt gold ring.

Silver

Silver is another beautiful white metal used in jewelry. According to the Berkeley.edu, silver is extremely malleable. Because it is so soft, you'll almost never encounter pure silver jewelry. Instead, you'll see sterling silver, which is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals.

Silver is a popular metal for use in jewelry such as earrings, pendants, bracelets, necklaces and fashion rings. It is best used for jewelry that will not be worn every day for an extended period. For that reason it is usually not recommend to be chosen for ladies and men's wedding rings, and is not suitable for ladies engagement rings.

You may also encounter silver-plated and silver-filled pieces. These items feature a layer of silver on the surface of the piece. Silver-plating creates a very thin layer, which is easily damaged. Silver-filled items are more durable, since they have a thicker layer of silver.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel offers an affordable choice for people who love silver-toned jewelry. According to the British Stainless Steel Association, it is an alloy of chromium, nickel, titanium, copper, and other materials.

Stainless steel is a metal not traditionally used in fine jewelry, though its popularity in men's jewelry is increasing.  Stainless steel is a very white metal and is relatively hard and durable. It is particularly popular in men's bracelets, necklaces, men's wedding bands and men's fashion rings. Many brands of men's watches are made of Stainless Steel. 

The range of stainless steel jewelry is generally more restricted than for other metals.

Titanium

Titanium is another beautiful and affordable choice. Titanium is durable and strong, so it's a good choice for items you plan to wear often. It doesn't bend easily, and it resists scratching and abrasion. Jewelry pieces crafted from titanium resist tarnishing, so you won't have to perform a lot of upkeep on these items.

Titanium is a natural element, which has a silver-grayish-white color. Titanium is the hardest natural metal in the world. It is very strong; three times the strength of steel and much stronger than gold, silver and platinum and yet is very light weight. Pure titanium is also 100% hypoallergenic, which means that it if safe for anyone to wear as it will not react to your skin.

Titanium provides several unique factors that make it a good metal for jewelry. Titanium is very strong, lightweight, and is more dent, bend and scratch resistant than gold, silver, and platinum. Also important is the exotic array of colors that titanium offers that other metals simply do not.

One factor to consider when buying titanium jewelry, is that it cannot be soldered. Since titanium cannot be soldered, titanium rings are unable to be resized. Instead, titanium rings must be completely remade.

Titanium is popular in men's wedding bands, watches, and men's bracelets.

Gold Karat

When discussing gold and its alloys, the term karat indicates the purity of the gold. The karat in gold measures the proportion of pure gold mixed with other metal alloy to make up the final metal. 

Pure gold, which contains no other metals, is termed 24-karat gold. So, a 50/50 alloy, half pure gold and half other metal or metals, is 12-karat gold. Alloys used in jewelry making range from 9-karat gold, approximately 37% pure gold, to 24-karat gold. They are required to be stamped and hallmarked according to purity.

The higher the proportion of gold used in the final metal, the more valuable and expensive the metal will be. So, all other things being the same, an 18kt ring will be more expensive than a 14kt ring and a 14kt ring will be more expensive than a 10kt ring.

A newer alloy becoming popular on the jewelry scene consists of 99% gold and 1% titanium. This allows the alloy to retain nearly all its gold color while providing improved durability.

Karat Parts Gold Percent Gold Other Marks
24 24/24 100% 1000
18 18/24 75% 740
14 14/24 58.33% 585
12 12/24 50% 500
10 10/24 41.66% 416

Colored Gold

The color of gold changes when alloyed. For example, mixing copper with gold creates a darker yellow color. Adding nickel plus zinc, copper, platinum, or manganese produces white gold. Typically, white gold doesn’t contain silver, which softens gold and gives it a green tint. Other gold alloy colors include green, red, and blue.

Gold Color Alloys
White 10% to 20% nickel, plus copper, tin, and sometimes platinum or manganese
Green Silver, sometimes cadmium and zinc
Red or Pink Copper
Yellow Silver and copper
Blue

Iron