Metal Talk Monday - An Introduction to Jewelry Metals

Let's talk about metals! Because I love sustainability so much, I wanted a reason to talk more about the sustainability and ethics in jewelry making. Our first one will just be an introduction on the most common metals and the differences between them. 

When I started offering semi-permanent jewelry this year, I did a lot of research on the best quality chains for the budget I know my customers have. I also learned about a lot of the myths behind jewelry quality and metals and wanted to share them with you.

Gold and rhodium are both noble (precious) metals, along with silver and platinum. 

Gold Alloys are golds mixed with other metals to retain the good properties of gold and adding the physical stability that it lacks. Metals most frequently mixed with gold are silver, copper, nickel, iron, zinc, tin, manganese, cadmium, and titanium. These are the types of gold we see in jewelry, because solid gold is too soft to make long-lasting pieces. 

If you’re a serious jewelry shopper, you probably see 14k, 18k and 24k mentioned often, but do you know what it means? Yes, everyone knows 14k means 14 karat, but these numbers actually indicate the percentage of gold in the material. So a 24k gold piece is 100% gold, while a 14k gold piece is 14/24 parts or approx. 58% gold.

Most gold pieces in jewelry are either gold vermeil, gold-filled, or gold-plated. Gold vermeil is gold-plated silver, so you get the best of both worlds. Silver is strong and durable and won’t tarnish when it’s covered in gold. Most vermeil is electroplated, which binds the gold and silver together. The US has standards for gold vermeil, one of which being that it has to be a minimum of 10 karats. 

Gold-plated jewelry is also electroplated, but it’s with a less coveted metal like brass or copper. Gold-plated is less expensive than gold vermeil but could be more valuable depending on how thick the plating is and the karat weight. Gold-filled is also using a lower quality metal BUT the gold can be up to 100% thicker than gold-plated or vermeil, so it is far more durable. This is why we choose gold-filled for our permanent jewelry chains!

Silver is less expensive than gold, but it also tarnishes much more than gold or platinum. Tarnishing doesn’t indicate poor quality or cheap jewelry, it’s just something that can happen when metals interact with other chemicals. If you’re a fan of silver, I recommend keeping your pieces in protective pouches or containers when you aren’t wearing them. If you’re someone who likes to wear your pieces for a long time, you’ll have to make an effort to clean them on occasion. 

Sterling silver is the most common silver alloy and is most often 92.5% silver (this is why sterling silver often has 925 before it).

Most jewelry under $25 is going to be gold-plated and silver-plated or rhodium-plated. The Karat in the plating rarely changes the price, but if you get gold vermeil or gold-filled, or sterling silver, it will be a little more expensive. Solid gold and white gold is far more expensive, but we'll talk about that another time!


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