Whether you’ve bought jewelry before or not, it’s good to understand the basics of precious metals. Understanding the basics between metal purity and colors is not only a good way to make sure you’re buying at the right price, but it’s a sure way to make sure the jewelry you buy stays valuable for years to come.
So spend the next five minutes and read the following guide to understanding precious metals!
From beaming gold to radiant platinum, precious metals have been a long standing form of currency usually taking form in various pieces of jewelry. The following article will walk you through the basics of metallic qualities and important information you should be looking out for to fully understand the value and quality of precious metals.
Gold – The most famous metal of them all
Arguably the most famous of all metals, gold is known for being luxurious nature and a sound investment. The purity of gold (or quality) is measured in karats, a term you’ve most likely heard before. However, this is not the same as carats, a similar term used to measure the size and weight of diamonds. You’ll most likely see the term ‘karats’ abbreviated. “k” or “kt” is most common when referring to this. These have various levels of karats.
Pure gold is naturally very soft, so it’s often mixed with other firmer metals – silver, nickel, copper etc… This helps in making solid and long lasting jewelry.
- 24 kt (karat) gold is globally known as gold in its’ purest form. Very soft and very malleable, gold isn’t usually made this pure as it can easily lose shape or be dented. Though it can sometimes be seen plated on top of other metals as a gleaming luxurious finish
- 18 kt – Excellent purity. Mostly gold (about 75%) mixed with another metal (about 25%). Jewelry made with 18 kt gold is very pure but is strong enough to hold its shape.
- 14 kt is the most common you’ll find in fine jewelry (around 60% gold, 40% other alloys). It holds its brilliant radiant gold appeal while being very strong. This is also the most popular choice because of it’s affordable pricing.
- 10 k gold is the lowest amount of purity gold can have before it’s no longer considered gold in the United States. At around 40% gold and 60% other metals, this is the most affordable option for those who still want the appeal of having real gold.
The Various Colors of Gold
That’s right, true gold can come in more than one color! In its most recognizable and natural form gold is a yellow-ish color, but it can be combined with other metals to achieve both strength and different shades of color. Most commonly gold is altered into white gold and rose gold, both of which are measured in the same karat unit as natural gold.
- is often a pink or red form of gold. Various shades and intensities are possible depending on how mixed it is. To achieve this it is mixed with copper and other white metals. Copper it known to change color over time, but fear bot! This effect is actually embellished when it comes to rose gold, often a well liked feature as it creates a rich and intense color.
- , a form of gold which was alloyed with white metals, commonly nickel, to form it’s brilliant color. Though this alloy does not create a pure white so it is almost always plated with rhodium. This creates a shining mirror like finish. However over time it is possible for rhodium to wear away.
The Gold Metal Finish!
As mentioned before, a gold finish is a common practice to add a to common non-precious metals. This finish takes the form of gold plating, gold vermeil, and gold fillings.
- These plated pieces are made of a non-precious metal covered with a thin lining of gold. Often very thin (sometimes as thin as 20 millionths of an inch), this layer doesn’t always last as long as other forms of finishing. When this technique is used, the maker must also include the karat finish of the gold used – so this plated gold layer still is able to have various levels of purity.
- Gold Vermeil. A similar technique to that of plated gold mentioned before, however is a faintly thicker layer of gold on top of sterling silver. This application process is the same as plated gold only using a precious metal rather than a common metal.
- Gold filled, also known as a rolled gold plate, is a different way of fitting gold to other metals. Using heat or a pressure bonding system, a thicker layer of gold is added onto a precious or non-precious metal. This form of gold plating usually amounts a layer of gold one twentieth the weight of the piece it’s plating. This form of plating provides a long lasting finish and is often very hard to distinguish from solid gold cousins. This finish, like the others, must also state the karat of the gold used.
Other than the fact that gold is universally sought after, gold is available in the most varieties when compared to any other precious metal. Also, gold will never tarnish when properly cared for. If you’re unsure how to do this, read
Silver – Gold little brother
While often looked at as a step down from gold (most likely due to the common Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals), silver is beautiful and often more striking in it’s own regard. While not quite as valuable as gold, silver is just as common in the world of jewelry and is used to create striking pieces.
- Like its golden counterpart, pure silver is also a very soft metal. Silver is often mixed with other metals to create a stronger, more durable piece. These varying forms of purity actually count as different forms of silver. The most common of which is considered sterling silver.
- Sterling silver is very close to pure silver, containing close to 93% pure silver and 7% other various metals. Copper is commonly mixed to give sterling silver its durability, though as copper is exposed to the elements it begins to tarnish over time – meaning sterling silver with copper infused may do the same. Good care, however, can prevent this and sterling silver can often be restored to its shining former glory. This metals affordable price makes it one of the most popular metals available today. Keep your eyes out for it’s purity. Sterling silver jewelry should have a stamp containing its manufacturer, country of origin, and purity (seen as ‘ster.’ or ‘sterling‘.
- The highest concentration of silver is fine silver. At 99.9% pure silver, it has an incredible shining appearance. Though it sacrifices strength and durability for this. It’s not advisable for fine silver to be an everyday piece, as it will be susceptible to wear and tear.
- Also used as a common plated material, Silver-plating is the same technique used as gold plating. The end result is almost the same (other than the obvious material difference) and is similar in terms of durability
Qualities of Silver
As the most readily available precious metal on earth, silver is a natural abundant luxurious metal making it the most affordable and economical choice of any precious metal. It is commonly picked over it’s golden competitor due to it’s brighter shine.
- This metal is very, very dense, making it’s pure form the most durable of all the metals. Platinums dense nature also has other benefits (aside from it’s natural beauty) such as its incredibly long lifespan.
- For those with sensitivity to certain materials, platinum would also be the optimum choice. It’s hypoallergenic, allowing for those with metallic sensitivities to wear it.
- To be labelled as platinum jewelry must be at least 95% pure. Anything less is required to note this. For example; if a piece is 90% platinum, it will be noted as 900 parts per thousand of platinum, or 900 pt or plat.
- As with most , platinum pieces should be marked to show its level of purity – manufacturer and country of origin may be included but are not required for platinum pieces.
Qualities of Platinum
- Platinum is a rare element. It weighs much more than gold, as much as sixty percent, and is much more durable. This durability allows it to resist corrosion, though it can be scratched (which can be simply buffed out in most cases). It’s natural white color is often paired with diamonds to enhance their sparkling nature.
So there’s an overview of the 3 most common precious metals you’ll encounter when buying a piece of jewelry. Always make sure to note the quality and purity of the piece to make sure you’re getting good value, but most importantly like the piece you’re getting!