Precious Metals

Choosing the right metal for your jewelry is all about your personality, preference, and lifestyle. What metal hue is your favorite? How heavy is the metal? Would you be interested in two-toned? The traditional metals used in jewelry are gold, platinum, and sterling silver. Today we can also find jewelry made out of ceramic, cobalt, stainless steel, titanium, and tungsten. When choosing fine jewelry for any occasion, it is essential to know the different metal types.

Gold

Gold is the most common metal used in jewelry. This element is naturally yellow in color. Gold is resistant to rust, tarnish, and corrosion. Pure gold (24K) is too soft to use as jewelry. Therefore, it is alloyed with a mixture of metals like silver, copper, nickel, and zinc to give strength for everyday wear. There is several different type of gold used in jewelry.

Types of Gold

Yellow gold - Pure gold mixed with a little silver and copper for a warm look and more durability.
White gold - Pure gold is combined with palladium, silver, nickel, copper and zinc. It is also commonly plated with rhodium to add whiteness, durability, and shine. Sometimes rhodium may wear over time and the piece might need to be re-plated to restore the whiteness of the jewelry.
Rose gold - Increasingly popular, this reddish gold option is pure gold plus copper. The more copper, the more red the metal.
Green gold - Actually yellowish-green in appearance, this is pure gold plus silver.

Purity

Gold purity is measured in karats (not carats). Karats (K) are divided into 24 parts, so 24K gold is pure. For example, 14K gold is 14 parts gold, 10 parts other metal. Jewelry must be at least 10K to be sold as gold in the United States.
18K Gold - 18 parts gold, 6 parts other metals by weight (75% pure), stamped .75 on jewelry
14K Gold - 14 parts gold, 10 parts other metals by weight (58.3% pure), stamped .585 on jewelry
10K Gold - 10 parts gold, 14 parts other metals by weight (41.7% pure), stamped .417 on jewelry

Platinum

Platinum is the most precious metal used in jewelry. It's 30 times rarer than gold and heavier (and far more scratch-resistant). It doesn't tarnish or oxidize. Most platinum jewelry is made with around 95% pure platinum and 5% platinum group metals: ruthenium, iridium, palladium, osmium, or rhodium. For a piece of jewelry to be labeled as "platinum" it has to have a minimum purity level of 90%. Due to the hardness, intricate details engraved in this metal can appear sharper and more precise. Due to its density, platinum tends to be hypoallergenic-perfect for those with sensitive skin. It is also naturally white (so it will never fade). A metal that will last for generations!

Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is a popular choice for those who prefer the look of a white metal at an affordable price. Like gold, pure silver is too soft to be used in jewelry. It's alloyed with other metals such as copper to boost its strength. Sterling silver is still much more easily scratched than other fine jewelry. Sterling silver must contain at least 92.5% pure silver. That’s why it's stamped .925. Silver can tarnish, so make sure you are storing your jewelry in a cool, dry environment. Never expose chemicals or cleaning products to your silver. Your silver jewelry can last a lifetime as long as you treat it with care!

Black Ceramic

Black ceramic is a modern alternative to the traditional gold wedding band. It is among the hardest materials known to man. There are only a few things in the world (including diamonds) that can scratch this this type of metal. It is known for its glossy and polished appearance that never fades. It also has resistance to corrosion and tends to have a hypoallergenic quality. Black ceramic cannot be resized.

Cobalt

Cobalt jewelry is made from the same material that is used to build jet aircraft engines. It is a white metal that has the same appearance as platinum; it doesn’t tarnish, and doesn't require rhodium plating. Cobalt is four times harder than platinum, but less dense. This makes cobalt extremely scratch resistant. But is another great option for people with sensitive skin for the hypoallergenic qualities that it possesses.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a metal with many uses. Stainless steel is silver in color with a mirror finish that resists tarnish and scratches. Stainless steel can be polished to take on different looks. It is normally alloyed with iron and chromium. The chromium makes the metal be resistant to staining, corroding, and oxidation. The metal is durable and light. Stainless steel rings can be difficult to resize. Stainless steel is used in watches, bracelets, and rings.

Titanium

Titanium is one of the lightest, strongest, and most scratch resistant metals. Titanium is three times stronger than steel and about a third the weight of gold. Titanium is normally a silver metallic color and is resistant to tarnishing and corrosion. This metal also provides hypoallergenic qualities in it as well. Titanium is a popular choice for wedding jewelry, since it is beyond comfortable to wear. Perfect for those with an active lifestyle. Titanium rings cannot be resized.

Tungsten Carbide

The name of this metal is derived from the Swedish words "tung sten" meaning "heavy stone." Tungsten is a metallic silver color and is very strong! It is four times harder than titanium and two time harder than steel. Despite the hardness, tungsten can shatter with pressure upon impact. When tungsten is alloyed with carbon, it is one of the hardest metals-a 9 on the Moh's Hardness Scale. Tungsten is a scratch resistant, tarnish resistant, and chemically resistant metal. Tungsten has hypoallergenic properties. It has a similar weight to platinum and has a beautiful shine. Tungsten rings cannot be resized.

Metal FAQs

What is the difference between carat and karat?

Carat is a measurement of weight. The actual word carat came for the carob bean. In ancient times, the carob bean was used to measure weight. Today, when we want to measure the actual weight of a diamond or other gemstones, we refer to their weight in carats. Each carat equals 1/5 of a gram or 5 carats equal 1 gram.

The word karat is used to indicate the percentage of pure gold in an article of jewelry. Gold in its pure state is considered too soft for ordinary jewelry applications; it is generally alloyed with other base metals chiefly copper (but also nickel, silver and zinc). Pure gold is 24 karat; other alloys are simply a percentage of 24 karat.

18 karat gold jewelry is actually 18/24 pure gold or ¾ pure gold and is often stamped .750
14 karat gold jewelry is 14/24 pure gold and often stamped .585
10 karat gold jewelry is 10/24 pure gold and often stamped .417

What do the markings on the back of jewelry actually mean?

The stamping of gold in the United States with a mark declaring its quality is governed to be the U.S. Stamping Law. The U.S. Department of Commerce, along with the National Bureau of Standards, has set the regulations, violations, and punishment for the stamping of precious metals. The United States requires jewelry gold articles to be accurately marked in reference to karat content.

Markings For Fineness of Gold Karats
Karat% of Pure Gold
10kt.4167
14kt.5833
18kt.7500
Sometimes instead of “kt.”, gold jewelry will be marked with “KP”, this stands for karat plumb.

Markings For Platinum
The markings for platinum are different. The National Bureau of Standards states in its Commercial Standard that articles of platinum may have the quality mark for the metals stamped on them if the articles contain at least 985 parts per thousand of platinum. In general use, a majority of the stamped parts will have a 90% platinum content. There are no karat marks to identify platinum. In the United States platinum, is usually marked PT or PLAT. In Europe, platinum is identified by the following marks: 950 or PT950.

Markings For Silver
Silver is also different. As you may have noticed, the word “sterling” is always used to designate quality silver jewelry. Fractional marks .925 or 925/1000 also appear. Any other mark is a sure guarantee of either plated jewelry or jewelry with no silver content at all.

Many states and large cities have trade practices designed to promote honesty in quality markings and advertising. But regardless of the sincerity of these organizations, massive frauds are perpetrated on the unsuspecting public. As recently as two decades ago in England, that was punishable by losing an ear or up to a year in prison.

10k to 14k H.G.E (Hard Gold Electroplated)
10k to 14k O.B. (Outer band only for appearance)
10k to 14k I.B. (Inner band only for wear)
10k to 14k R.G.P. (Rolled Gold Plated)
10k to 14k Bezel (Rim of article is only solid alloy)
10k to 14k Head (Prongs for stone are only solid alloy)
10k to 14k Gold-filled (Typically 1-4 percent actual gold)

Why is there a color difference in gold?

Pure gold (which is always yellow) is too soft for jewelry use. The metals that are mixed with pure gold for strength can also modify the color of gold. Modern alloys are available in many colors and shades. Below is a listing of popular gold alloys and their compostion.

Description of Karat Gold Colors
ColorElements Added
YellowSilver and Copper
Red25% Copper
Green25% Silver
Blue25% Iron
WhiteNickel, zinc or palladium

Why does gold sometimes darken your skin?

Whether or not your skin has a reaction to gold depends largely on the purity of gold itself. As a matter of fact, 24kt gold will almost never have a reaction on anyone. However, skin secretions containing chlorides and sulfides will darken skin when pure gold is alloyed with other base metals like copper, nickel, silver, and zinc.

So when it comes to selecting your next style, use your knowledge of precious metals to choose with confidence. Follow along to read our Gemstone Guide or head back to the Education Center