Guide to Metals Used in Jewelry-Making
Metals have been around for thousands of years, dating back to when human civilization first began. They have been used by ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks for all sorts of purposes, including making jewelry. Gold was first discovered around 6000 B.C. and Silver around 4000 B.C.
There are many different types of metals but only some are used to make jewelry . Gold, silver and platinum are all types of precious metals, also known as noble metals. Precious metals have a high economic value and are seen as valuable and even rare compared to non-precious metals.
All other metals outside of gold, silver and platinum are known as non-precious or base metals and these are much cheaper to buy and easier to get hold of. Both precious and non-precious metals can sometimes be classed as alloys – this is when metals are mixed together to change the color and strength of a metal.
Below we’ve outlined some of the main characteristics about some of the common types of metal that you’ll come across in the jewelry industry.
Precious or noble metals
Gold is one of the best metals to use for jewelry-making as it’s very soft and easy to work with and of course it looks very beautiful too! Gold is often mixed with metals like zinc or copper as in its purest form, it can be too soft to use.
Gold is measured in weight with 24 Karat being the purest form of gold (99.9%) right down to 10 Karat (41.7% pure gold). Some costume jewelry is made with gold plate, which is a base metal covered with a very thin layer of gold. Gold plate is much less expensive than pure gold and is more readily available for that reason.
Silver is also very soft to work with in its purest form, so it’s often mixed with copper to make it more pliable. There are several types of silver metals, such as fine silver, sterling silver, nickel silver and silver plate. Fine silver is the purest form with a .999 level of purity. The next purest silver is sterling silver which is made up of 92.5% pure silver. Silver plate is made in the same way as gold plate and is very cheap compared to fine or sterling silver. Both silver and gold plated metals can tarnish easily.
This is a rare very expensive metal which is even more precious than gold. It looks like silver in appearance and is a very heavy metal. Platinum, paired with diamonds and other precious gems, is a popular choice for engagement and wedding rings.
Non precious or base metals
This is a reddish / orange metal that is often used for jewelry findings. Copper that has been oxidized will take on a green patina appearance and this is known as antiqued copper plate. This look is quite popular when it comes to fashion jewelry trends today.
Another base metal, brass is made up of copper and zinc alloy. The color of brass is a yellow / gold and is often used in steampunk jewelry. Brass will tarnish to a brown color eventually.
Pewter is made up of tin ore and mixed with small amounts of other metals such as copper and antimony. It looks like darkened silver in appearance and is relatively inexpensive. There have been some health concerns about the dangers of lead in antique pewter, but these days most pewter products are lead free.
This is a strong, industrial-looking metal that is popular in fashion jewelry and watches. It’s pretty much scratch-resistant and looks a bit like silver (although close up you will be able to tell the difference between them). Some stainless steel metals may contain nickel which some people are allergic to.
Titanium, like stainless steel, is very strong and doesn’t corrode or rust. It’s slightly more expensive than stainless steel metals but much cheaper than any of the precious metals described above.
Even though non-precious base metals don’t hold the same value or prestige as precious metals, they can still be moulded and shaped into very attractive pieces, making them a popular choice for jewelry-makers and hobbyists. Take a look at our collection of plated Jewelry here!
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