Metals 101: A Guide to Jewelry Metals

If you’re new to the world of jewelry, it’s easy to feel lost with all the terms thrown around – gold alloy? Sterling silver? What’s the difference between 24 Karat and 10 Karat gold? In this post, we’ll help you understand the basics of jewelry metals so you can shop confidently.

 

Types of Gold Jewelry

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Gold is a popular choice in jewelry for a reason: it’s classic and stunning. But there are a lot of different types of gold, and the differences are more than just aesthetic. First of all, let’s talk about karats. The karat number of a piece of gold jewelry tells you how pure the gold is, or whether it’s been mixed with other metals.

 

24 Karats: 100% Gold

18 Karats: 75% Gold

14 Karats: 58.33% Gold

12 Karats: 50% Gold

10 Karats: 41.66% Gold

 
While it sounds ideal to choose only 24 Karat gold, since it’s the purest, there are more factors at play. First of all, 24 Karat gold is (unsurprisingly) expensive. Also, gold is very soft. Mixing it with other, stronger metals will make your jewelry more resistant to scratches. If you want to wear a piece every day without taking it off to do everyday tasks, look for gold that’s been mixed with other metals.

 

Gold Alloy

A metal alloy is the combination of several metals to create a more desirable product. All types of gold other than 24K (pure) gold are gold alloys. Gold can be alloyed with different metals to create different colors or different strengths.

 

Gold Plating

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Gold-plated jewelry is jewelry made of another metal that’s been covered in a thin layer of gold. This produces a more affordable product (since the entire piece isn’t made of gold) with the visual appeal of gold.

 

Rose Gold

Rose gold is an alloy of gold, copper, and silver. It’s more affordable than other gold colors because copper is inexpensive. The copper addition also makes rose gold more durable than yellow and white gold, making it a great choice for jewelry.

 

White Gold

White gold is a combination of gold and platinum (and sometimes nickel and zinc). White gold is more durable and hardier than yellow gold. It’s also more affordable than yellow gold and platinum.

 

Types of Silver Jewelry

Silver Alloy

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Just as gold is usually alloyed with different metals, so is silver. Pure silver (also called Fine .999 Silver) is duller and grayer than the silver you’re used to seeing. Like gold, it’s also soft and prone to scratching, denting, and warping. Because of that, it’s not commonly used for jewelry.

 

Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is the industry standard silver used for jewelry around most of the world. It’s an alloy of 92.5% silver. The remaining 7.5% is usually copper, but can be nickel. The other metals increase durability and create the shiny, glossy color we’ve come to expect from silver jewelry.

 

Other Jewelry Metals

Platinum

Platinum is rarer and more expensive than gold. But the price is worth it because it’s also more durable and never tarnishes. It has a color similar to silver.

 

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an open-ended term for any steel that contains more than 10% of chromium (it can also be alloyed with other metals). Stainless steel is very durable and can be given a variety of finishes, from sleek and glossy, brushed, or rough and textured.

 

Titanium

As one of the newest jewelry metals, titanium has a modern feel. It’s lightweight, durable, and tarnish-resistant, making it a great option for everyday jewelry or pieces you want to keep for a long time and wear often. In its natural grey color, it’s a popular metal for designer jewelry. However, it can also come in different colors.

 

Tungsten

Tungsten is a popular metal for men’s jewelry, especially wedding bands. It’s the heaviest and most scratch-resistant jewelry metal. It’s also much less expensive than most other jewelry metals. It’s also available in several different colors, including gray, black, and rose gold.

 

Rhodium

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Rhodium is the most expensive jewelry metal in the world, and with good reason. It’s extremely durable, non-corrosive, scratch-resistant, and highly reflective, making it both practical and attractive. However, it’s also rare, so you won’t run across jewelry made entirely of rhodium very often. Instead, it’s often used as a protective coating on white gold.

 

So, Which Metal is Best for Jewelry?

The best metal for you comes down to several factors.

 

Price

If you’re looking for luxury, rhodium, 24 Karat gold, and platinum are where you want to look. If you’re looking for affordability, look into sterling silver, rose gold, tungsten, or stainless steel.

 

Functionality

Look for rose or white gold, which are more durable than yellow gold. Platinum, stainless steel, titanium, tungsten, and rhodium are also all suitable for everyday wear thanks to their durability and resistance to tarnishing.

 

Style

At the end of the day, what matters is whether you like your jewelry. The most expensive option doesn’t always give the look you want. If you love the look of sterling silver or rose gold, don’t let the lower price point deter you.

 

If you’re stumped, start by figuring out what colors of metal look best with your skin tone. People with cool-toned skin look best in metals like white gold, platinum, and silver. People with warm-toned skin look best in yellow gold, copper, and brass jewelry. If your skin is neutral-toned, you’ll be able to wear either. Some metals, like rose gold, flatter everyone. Hold different-colored metals against your skin and see which ones pop. Start there.

 

Shopping for jewelry doesn’t have to be confusing or complicated. Armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to confidently browse any jeweler, knowing what to look for.

 

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