Jewellery metals: a glossary
Jewellery has been an integral component of virtually every culture for millennia. Ancient civilisations crafted primitive jewellery from wood, feathers, and bone. Stones were prized for their beauty and durability, and, as craftsmen developed the tools, they were able to forge exquisite rings, pendants, and other pieces as symbols of wealth, status, and simply as methods for self-expression.
Today, techniques and materials have expanded even further, offering endless variety. Jewellery metals play a central role in creating timeless pieces. What should buyers and aficionados know? From traditional favourites to contemporary choices, here is a look at some of the most prominent jewellery metals:
This metal has been the traditional ‘gold standard’ in jewellery. While not the rarest or most costly metal, it has a caché that is hard to match. Its lustrous, rich, yellow tones exude warmth and luxury, while its malleable and pliable properties make it a natural fit for applications such as jewellery. Pure gold, however, is too soft for use in jewellery. It would simply not withstand use and wear. This is why metallurgists mix it with alloys. It promotes greater durability and strength, and depending on the alloy, it lends gorgeous colour. For example:
- Yellow gold is a blend of pure gold, silver, and copper. This lends the resulting metal a warm hue.
- White gold combines pure gold with palladium and silver or with nickel, zinc, and copper.
- Pink and rose gold are up-and-comers in the jewellery world. This is a result of pure gold and copper. To achieve a deeper red, more copper is introduced to the mix.
Gold’s purity is measured in karats. Karats are divided into units of 24. So 24-karat gold is 24 parts gold. While it may be valuable as bullion, it is not going to be a great choice for a wedding band or engagement ring. Look for 12 karat (12 parts gold, 12 parts other metals) or 14 karat (14 parts gold, 10 parts other metals).
Most of the British Crown Jewels are crafted from platinum, and for good reason:
- It is incredibly durable and heavy. Its weight allows intricate and detailed carving or embellishments.
- It is 30 times rarer than gold and 40% heavier than 14-karat gold.
- It does not tarnish or oxidize.
The platinum used in jewellery is 90-95% pure and offers a soft white appearance. Platinum pieces stand the test of time – and look just as gorgeous after decades.
Silver is a valuable metal, but not as expensive or rare as platinum and gold. For this reason, it is a very popular choice for a wide range of jewellery applications. Its affordability is unmatched by other ‘precious metals’. Like gold, though, silver is too soft for practical use in jewellery, so it must be mixed with another, harder, metal, such as copper. Sterling silver must contain 92.5% pure silver; the alloy increases its strength.
Exciting contemporary metals
In addition to these traditional choices, metals like cobalt, titanium, stainless steel, and tungsten are making their mark in the jewellery world. They offer modern appeal and incredible strength and durability.
Choosing jewellery metals is a matter of taste, preference, and budget. Given the selection, there is certainly a choice for everyone.