A Short Lesson on Metals
What you need to know about jewellery metals
There are several metals used in the creation of fine jewellery. By knowing information about the different metals, their benefits compared with each other and their unique qualities you will able to make a more informed decision about purchasing jewellery.
The metal types commonly used to make jewellery include gold, platinum, titanium, silver and stainless steel.
Metals including rhodium and palladium are also used with jewellery.
Below you will find information about each of these metal types, together with information about which metals are best for particular types of jewellery.
Gold is the most popular choice for men's and ladies wedding rings and engagement rings. Gold is also very popular in dress rings, earrings, pendants, necklaces and bracelets.
There are two things to consider when looking at gold. First, which gold carat to choose and second, the combination of what gold colours available.
There are several carats available for gold. The carat is the gold content of the metal. The carat measures the proportion of pure gold mixed with other metal alloy to make up the final metal.
The carat of gold is represented in many countries by the abbreviation ct. Carat can also be called karat, represented by kt or K. You may notice that carat or ct is also used to measure the weight of diamonds and gemstones. Although the same name is used, the two measurements are measuring different characteristics of jewellery.
The higher the proportion of gold used in the final metal, the more valuable and expensive the piece will be. So all things being equal, an 18ct ring will be more expensive than a 9ct ring.
9ct gold contains 37.5% pure gold (375 parts per thousand parts).
18ct gold contains 75% pure gold (750 parts per thousand parts).
The remainder of the metals is made up of a combination of alloys, different metals which can help to give the metal its unique appearance, such as a different colour.
Other gold carats are used in different parts of the world including 10ct, 22ct and 24ct. It is generally considered that 22ct and 24ct gold are too soft to be used to make men's wedding rings.
10ct gold (417 parts pure gold per thousand parts) is very similar to 9ct gold and the reason why some countries use 9ct and other countries use 10ct is due to historical reasons, rather than one being superior to the other.
Jewellery is normally stamped with a marking to show the type of gold.
For 9ct gold the stamp will normally be either, the number 375, 9ct, 9kt or 9K.
For 14ct gold the stamp will normally be either, the number 585, 14ct, 14kt or 14K.
For 18ct gold the stamp will normally be either, the number 750, 18ct, 18kt or 18K.
The stamps only indicate the carat of metal. They do not indicate the colour of the metal. So for example an 18ct yellow gold ring would have a stamp of 750 as would an 18ct white gold ring.
9ct, 14ct and 18ct gold are each relatively hard and durable metals and are suitable for use in all types of fine jewellery. Gold is also suitable to be used in jewellery that is worn on an everyday basis.
When choosing jewellery, particularly rings, many people consider the hardness and durability of gold to be used in their ring.
Gold is available in several different colours. The most popular is yellow gold, followed by white gold and rose gold, though other gold colours are sometimes also available such as bronze, red and lime gold.
Jewellery can also be made using a combination of different gold colours. These jewellery items are sometimes called two-tone, three-tone or multi-coloured gold.
The gold content of yellow gold is measured in the same way it is measured in for example white gold. So, an 18ct white gold ring contains 75% pure gold, just as 18ct yellow gold contains 75% pure gold.
The difference in colour between yellow, white and rose is determined by the metals used in the alloy mix. The colour difference is due to the metal components in the alloy mix, the colour of yellow gold and rose gold will not chip, fade or wear off with age. Yellow gold is made by mixing pure gold with alloy metals such as copper and zinc.
Rose gold is made using a mix of pure gold with alloys including copper. The copper provides the rose-reddish colour. White gold is an alloy of gold and some white metals such as silver and palladium.
Traditionally nickel was used in white gold, however nickel is no longer used in most white gold made today as nickel can cause reactions with some people. JW Schwarz does not use nickel in our white gold. When white gold rings are new they are coated with another white metal called Rhodium. Rhodium is a metal very similar to platinum and rhodium shares many of the properties of platinum including its white colour.
The rhodium plating is used to make the white gold look more white. The natural colour of white gold is actually a light grey colour. The rhodium is very white and very hard, but it does wear away eventually. To keep a white gold ring looking its best it should be re-rhodium plated approximately each 12 to 18 months.
There can be a difference in colour between the different carats of gold.
18ct yellow gold is more yellow than 9ct yellow gold with 18ct yellow gold having a richer golden colour making 18ct yellow gold a more popular choice of yellow gold than 9ct for ladies engagement rings.
9ct rose gold has a darker rose-copper colour than 18ct rose gold which has a more subtle rose colour. 9ct white gold and 18ct white gold have a similar white colour as both have a rhodium plating finish.
When comparing the price of the gold colours in the same carat, white gold is normally a little more expensive than yellow gold and rose gold. Yellow gold and rose gold normally have approximately the same price.
When trying to decide between the gold carat types there are three things to consider.
The metals performance with every day wear
The difference in colour between the 9ct and 18ct gold
The difference in price between the gold carats.
In practical terms, 18ct generally holds up to everyday wear better than 9ct and tends to look better than 9ct as it ages over the years. This is one of the reasons why 18ct is normally preferred for ladies engagement rings rather than 9ct.
18ct is the superior metal for lady's and men's wedding rings provided that the ring is not a lightweight construction.
Titanium is a natural element which has a silver-greyish-white colour. 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% hypo-allergenic 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 jewellery. It is very strong, more dent, bend and scratch resistant than gold, silver and platinum, is lightweight and importantly offers an exotic array of colours which other metals simply do not.
One factor to consider with titanium is that titanium cannot be soldered, which means that titanium rings cannot normally be resized.
Platinum is a white metal, but unlike gold it is used in jewellery in almost its pure form (approximately 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 very dense and heavy metal, so a platinum ring will feel heavier than an 18ct gold ring.
Platinum is, however, significantly more expensive than gold. With all other things being the same, a platinum ring will be approximately twice the price of an 18ct white gold ring.
Platinum is mainly used in ladies engagement rings, ladies wedding rings and men's wedding rings.
Platinum can also be used to make dress rings, though it is not commonly used to make earrings, pendants, bracelets or necklaces.
Palladium is a white metal which is has a silver-grey-white colour and is similar to platinum. Palladium is one of the metals that is part of the platinum group of metals. The platinum group metals share similar chemical properties.
Palladium is well suited to use with engagement rings and wedding rings.
A few short years ago the price of palladium was actually higher than platinum, however, the price of palladium is now lower than platinum, making it a more affordable option.
Sterling silver is a white-grey coloured metal which is less expensive than gold, platinum and titanium. Silver is a softer metal than gold, titanium and platinum and does not have hardness that the other metals do.
Silver is a popular metal for use in jewellery such as earrings, pendants, bracelets, necklaces and dress rings. It is best used for jewellery 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.
Silver is also more prone to oxidisation, sometimes causing the silver to turn black. The silver jewellery can easily be made to look like new again if you use a silver jewellery cleaner.
Stainless steel is a metal not traditionally used in fine jewellery, though its popularity in dress jewellery is increasing. Stainless steel is a relatively hard and durable metal. It is particularly popular in men's bracelets, necklaces and men's dress rings.
The range of stainless steel jewellery is generally more restricted than for other metals.