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Metals Used in Jewelry

What metal is best for me?

There are several metals used in the creation of fine jewelry. By knowing information about the different metals, their benefits compared with each other and their unique qualities you will be able to make a better and more informed decision about purchasing your jewelry.

The metal types commonly used to make jewelry include Gold, Platinum, Palladium, Titanium, Silver, Tungsten and Stainless Steel.

Below you will find information about each of these metal types, together with information about which metals are best for particular types of jewelry.

Most recent gold pricesGold is the most popular metal choice for fashion rings, earrings, pendants, necklaces and bracelets.

There are two things to consider when looking at gold. First, which color of gold (yellow or white).  Second, which karat (10K, 14K, 18K).  14 Karat gold is the most widely used Karat in the USA jewelry industry.

Gold Karat/Purity

There are several karats available for gold.

The karat in gold measures the proportion of pure gold mixed with other metal alloy to make up the final metal.

The karat of gold is represented in the USA by the abbreviation K or Kt.  Other countries might use Ct.

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.

  • 10kt gold contains 41.7% pure gold (417 parts per thousand).
  • 14kt gold contains 58.5% pure gold (585 parts per thousand).
  • 18kt gold contains 75% pure gold (750 parts per thousand).
How Gold is Marked/Stamped

The remainder of the metals is made up of a combination of alloys.  Alloys are different metals which help to give the metal a unique appearance, such as a different color.

Jewelry is normally stamped with a marking to show the type of gold.

  • For 10kt gold the stamp will normally be either the number 416 or 417, 10kt, or 10K.
  • For 14kt gold the stamp will normally be either the number 585, 14kt or 14K.
  • For 18kt gold the stamp will normally be either the number 750, 18kt, 18K.

 

The stamps only indicate the karat of metal. They do not indicate the color of the metal. So for example an 18kt yellow gold ring would have a stamp of 750 as would an 18kt white gold ring.

10kt, 14kt and 18kt gold are each relatively hard and durable metals and are suitable for use in all types of fine jewelry. Gold is also suitable to be used in jewelry that is worn on an every day basis.

When choosing jewelry, particularly rings, many people consider the hardness and durability of gold to be used in their ring.

There is another difference that should be considered when comparing 10kt and 18kt. 10kt is more difficult to bend and is a little more springy and therefore a fine 10kt ring may be less likely to bend out of shape than a fine 18kt ring. However, if the ring is of a good sturdy construction neither metal will be likely to bend out of shape.

Gold Colors

Gold is available in several different colors. The most popular is yellow and white gold, followed rose gold.  Other gold colors are sometimes available, such as pink, red and green gold.

Jewelry can also be made using a combination of different gold colors. These jewelry items are sometimes called two-tone, three-tone or multi-colored gold.

The difference in color between yellow, white and rose is determined by the metals used in the alloy mix.

As the color difference is due to the metal components in the alloy mix, the color of yellow gold and rose gold will not fade or wear off with age.

Yellow gold is made by mixing pure gold with alloy metals such as copper, silver and zinc.

Rose gold is made using a mix of pure gold with alloys including copper. The copper provides the rose-reddish color.

White gold is an alloy of pure gold and some white metals such as silver, nickel, tin and palladium.

Traditionally, nickel was used in white gold, however, nickel is not used in most white gold made today. Nickel can cause reactions with some people.

When white gold rings are new they are generally plated with another white metal called Rhodium. Rhodium is a white metal in the platinum family. Rhodium shares many of the properties of platinum including its white color.

The rhodium plating is used to make the white gold look whiter. The natural color of white gold is actually a light gray color with undertones of yellow.  The yellow color in white gold comes from the pure gold used to alloy the metal.  The rhodium is very white and hard, but it does wear away eventually. To keep a white gold ring looking its best, it should be re-rhodium plated approximately each 6 to 18 months. Most local jewelers are able to rhodium plate jewelry.

There can be a difference in color between the different karats of gold.

18kt yellow gold is more yellow than 10kt yellow gold with 18kt yellow gold having a richer golden color.

When comparing the price of the gold colors in the same karat, 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 karat types there are three things to consider.

  1. The metal's performance with every day wear.
  2. The difference in color between the 10kt, 14kt and 18kt gold.
  3. The difference in price between the gold karats.

In practical terms, 14kt and 18kt hold up to everyday wear better than 10kt.  They also tend to look better than 10kt as it ages over the years. This is one of the reasons why when selecting gold for an engagement ring most people will opt for 14Kt or 18Kt.

 

 

Quick Reference - What Types of Jewelry are Suitable for Gold?
 Ladies Wedding Ring  14 K or 18 K
 Men's Wedding Ring  14 K or 18 K
 Ladies Colored Stone Ring  14 K or 18 K
 Men's Fashion Ring  14 K
 Pendant or Earrings  14 K
 Bracelets and Necklaces  14 K

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]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.

Rarity

Platinum is 30 times rarer than gold and is found in very few places in the world, mainly South Africa and Russia, and to a lesser extent in Zimbabwe, Canada and South America. Every year only 88 tons of platinum is made into jewelry, compared with 2,700 tons of gold. It takes eight weeks to produce one single ounce (31.1 grams) of platinum. There are also fewer platinum mines. For every 10 gold mines there is just one platinum mine.

Platinum is more expensive than gold. With all other things being the same, a platinum ring will be approximately twice the price of an 18kt white gold ring.  This is because of three factors.  Platinum is much denser, so, in turn, the platinum ring will weigh about 25% more then 18kt. The cost of platinum is over double the cost of gold and platinum is 15% to 20% more pure in metal content then 18kt gold.

Platinum is a prestigious selection, often chosen for its sophisticated appeal and popularity among the rich and famous.

Platinum Purity & Alloys
  • 950 platinum contains 95% pure platinum (950 parts per thousand parts).
  • 900 platinum contains 95% pure platinum (900 parts per thousand parts).

Alloys used with platinum are Iridium, Cobalt, Palladium, Tungsten and Ruthenium

How Platinum is Marked/Stamped

Jewelry is normally stamped with a marking to show the type of platinum.

  • * For 950 Platinum the stamp will normally be either the number 950 or Platinum, Pt or Plat.
  • * For 900 Platinum the stamp will normally be either the number 900 or Platinum, Pt or Plat.
Platinum Jewelry

Platinum is not normally used in the full range of jewelry products due to weight of the metal, and price.

Platinum is mainly used in ladies engagement rings, ladies wedding rings and men's wedding rings.

Platinum can also be used to make fashion or colored stone rings, though it is not commonly used to make earrings, pendants, bracelets or necklaces, mostly because of the weight of the metal.

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]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.

 The 950 palladium will stay white, never requiring the "renewed whitening" via rhodium plating white gold does.

Palladium versus Other Jewelry Metals

Alone or alloyed with silver or gold, palladium offers some of the same metal working properties as other jewelry metals, and remains tarnish free. It also offers the consumer a different pricing point than platinum. It is more precious than silver and whiter than platinum. Because it is also lighter than platinum (nearly half the weight), more intricate necklaces and bracelets can be made.  These items are capable of bearing larger gemstones with no gain in overall weight. For the same reason, Palladium can be an especially good choice in earrings. With the price of platinum and gold reaching all-time highs, use of palladium for jewelry has seen renewed interest domestically and abroad.

Palladium Used in White Gold

Palladium is starting to be used for alloying with gold in the USA. Alloying Palladium with white gold avoids allergic reactions such as skin rashes, dermatitis, and eczema that may otherwise result from wearing white gold jewelry made with nickel. A white gold alloy content is typically 75 percent gold and 15 percent palladium for an 18kt gold piece of jewelry. While other metals, including nickel and zinc, traditionally have been used as the whitening agent for white gold, the most skin sensitive gold alloy is made with palladium.

Other Uses

Palladium has many uses besides jewelry.  Palladium is used in Autocatalysts, Electronics, Dentistry, Chemical Industry, Fuel Cells & Coinage.

Due to its white color and price point, palladium is gaining popularity in men's wedding bands, as well as ladies engagement rings and wedding bands.  Palladium is not yet widely available in other jewelry within the USA.

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]Sterling silver is a white-grey colored 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 of the other metals.

Sterling Silver is 92.5% pure silver and is usually stamped as 925.

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.

Silver is also more prone to oxidization, sometimes causing the silver to turn black. The silver jewelry can easily be made to look like new again if you use a silver jewelry cleaner (available from most department or hardware stores) or if you have your jewelry cleaned by a local jeweler.

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 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% 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 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 rings made using pure titanium can normally be cut off the finger in the event of an emergency, though they are more difficult to cut off than gold, silver or platinum rings. Aircraft grade titanium rings normally cannot be cut off in the event of an emergency.

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

Tungsten carbide, also referred to simply as tungsten, is a very hard, strong and durable metal. It's also quite heavy.

Tungsten has a unique characteristic: High scratch resistance.

Unlike gold, platinum and even titanium, tungsten rings do not scratch with everyday wear.

It is technically possible to scratch tungsten, though only with objects that are harder than tungsten. So that leaves diamonds, sapphires, rubies and ceramic. Though unless you dragged the tip of a loose diamond along the tungsten, the metal will stay scratch resistant.

Having a wedding band that is scratch resistant offers a lot of advantages:

* Tungsten always looks new, bright and shiny. It doesn't need the polishing maintenance that gold, platinum and titanium rings do.

* Tungsten stands up to the wear that even the roughest husbands can dish out, making it a popular choice for men's wedding rings.

* Tungsten has an appealing color which almost all men like. The tungsten color is a grey-white color, similar to that of white gold or silver.

* Tungsten is particularly popular in men's wedding rings.  

* Tungsten can also be inlaid with other metals such as gold and platinum.  This makes for a great looking two-tone combination for men's wedding rings.

The range of tungsten jewelry is more restricted than for other metals. At this time, tungsten is generally only available in men's rings, bracelets and some watch lines.