Precious Metals 101: What’s in Your Fine Jewelry

Jewelry can be made from a variety of different materials—plastic, glass, leather, twine, string—the sky’s the limit. However, when it comes to crafting my pieces, I only use precious metals as the base for all my work. I find they are the best materials to work with, as they’re durable, beautiful, and timeless.

When it comes to creating a new piece, I consider the properties of each precious metal and select the best one to use based on my idea. Here’s a look at silver, gold, and platinum:

Silver

Curly bark necklace 1 - Made of Argentium silver and 22k bimetal

Curly bark necklace 1 - Made of Argentium silver and 22k bimetal

More abundant than gold, silver provides a bold, dramatic look to any piece of jewelry.

Oftentimes people confuse the difference between fine silver and sterling silver. In its raw state, fine silver is very soft and will easily bend. Because of this, most jewelers prefer to use sterling silver, which is an alloy (or mixture) of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% stronger metals. Adding another metal to the silver strengths the jewelry so it doesn’t bend out of shape with use.

Most of my work uses Argentium silver, which is a modern sterling silver that has a higher percentage of fine silver than regular sterling does. It is much more resistant to tarnish than traditional sterling silver. It also has some other properties that make it a good choice for my work, like fusibility and malleability. 

Even though I purposely oxidize it, Argentium offers several advantages over fine silver. For example, it is easily fused and does not conduct heat in the same way that regular sterling does, allowing me to solder lots of pieces with the same temperature solder. The ductile qualities allow for easy forming to create volume and depth to the work.

Gold

Whirlpool necklace - Made of oxidized silver and 18k gold necklace with champagne diamond

Whirlpool necklace - Made of oxidized silver and 18k gold necklace with champagne diamond

The classic look of gold is a timeless addition to your jewelry collection. Since pure 24kt gold is a very soft, malleable metal, jewelers will alloy gold with other metals to strengthen the form of your jewelry. Alloying gold with other metals also can transform the color of the gold. Some of the most common gold colors include:

  • White gold: Stripped of its yellowish hue, white gold is similar in look to silver.
     
  • Rose, red and pink gold: The reddish hue of rose gold is achieved through a copper alloy.
     
  • Green gold: Usually a greenish-yellow, this is alloy is made of silver and gold.
     
  • Grey gold: This color is created by an alloy of gold and palladium.

Gold has long been an international symbol of wealth, and for good reason—this beautiful metal insists on admiration. However, if you want the timeless appeal of gold, but don’t want to break the bank, there are a few alternatives that will help you achieve the look without the high price tag:

  • Gold-fill: This option adds a solid layer of gold to another metal that’s used as a base. The base metal is generally a non-precious metal.
     
  • Vermeil: This is plating of gold over sterling silver. The plated metal can be any karat of gold.
     
  •  Gold plating: A thin layer of gold is added to the surface of another metal to recreate the look of solid gold.
     
  • Gold bimetal: This is what I use most in my work. Not to be confused with an alloy, which is a mixture of two different metals, a gold bimetal is a fusion of two different metals together. The layer of gold is 1/20 the thickness of the silver that it is fused to. It is extremely durable, and it can be soldered. You can also cut through the gold to reveal the silver, allowing for some very interesting effects.
     
  • Gold leaf:  Gold leaf utilizes 24k gold in very thin sheets that is adhered to the base metal with sizing (glue). It is applied as the last step in a piece, as it will not withstand soldering.
     
  • Keumboo: This also uses very thin sheets of 24k gold but it is fused onto silver with heat. Again, because this layer is very thin, it cannot withstand the heat of soldering (the heat used to fuse it comes from a hotplate at a temperature that is much lower than soldering temperatures).

Platinum

While platinum is a relatively newcomer to the precious metal jewelry scene, this rare, dense, and valuable metal is in high demand. From a jewelry stand-point, platinum is not as easy to work with as gold or silver, but it is malleable and makes for some really interesting pieces.

This metal is one of the rarest and purest precious metals on the planet—and as such, it is expensive. Because of its density, it’s also a very strong metal so it’s an ideal choice for those who may expose their jewelry to a lot of use or wear and tear.

Have more questions about the type of precious metals I use in my jewelry? Let me know - I am happy to answer your questions!

 

Lori Gottlieb