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Precious Metals: Gold, Platinum, Palladium and Sterling Silver

In the creation of fine jewelry there are several types of precious metals to choose from. The metals commonly used to make jewelry are gold, platinum, and sterling silver. By knowing more about these different metals and their unique qualities you will make a better and more educated decision when purchasing your jewelry. Below we feature information about each of these metal types: Gold, Platinum and Silver.

Gold

Throughout history, gold has been used for monetary systems and still today remains an important part of our economy. Gold has also become a popular precious metal that is used to make jewelry, because it can be molded, shaped and carved into intricate jewelry designs. Gold also does not rust, tarnish or corrode. Gold is mainly imported from South Africa.

Gold is the most popular choice for wedding and engagement rings, it is also very popular in right-hand rings, earrings, pendants, necklaces and bracelets. There are two things to consider when looking to purchase gold jewelry. First, which gold karat to choose and second, what color of gold color or combination of gold colors for the jewelry.

Gold Karat

An interesting thing about gold, is that pure gold is rarely used in jewelry because it is so soft. Therefore, it is mixed with another metal, usually copper or silver, to make it stronger and more versatile. The amount of pure gold in an alloy, or mixture, is described in karats (different from the carat weight of diamonds and other gems). The higher the percentage of pure gold in an alloy, the higher the karat. Pure gold is 24K, and 10K gold is the minimum amount of pure gold that can be called karat gold in the United States.

There are several karats available for gold, see below:

  • 24K gold is pure gold.
  • 18K gold contains 18 parts gold and 6 parts of another metal, this makes it 75% gold.
  • 14K gold contains 14 parts gold and 10 parts of another metal, this makes it 58.3% gold.
  • 12K gold contains 12 parts gold and 12 parts of another metal, this makes it 50% gold.
  • 10K gold contains 10 parts gold and 14 parts another metal, this makes it 41.7% gold.

While the karat weight drops, the metal becomes more durable, and also less yellow. There are times when a gold piece has a lower karat weight, that it is plated with high-karat gold to enhance the color. You must keep in mind, that gold plating does wear off with time and you may have to get it re-plated.

Gold is Yellow, Isn't It?

Yes, pure gold is yellow but is rarely used in its pure form because it is so soft. When gold is mixed with other metals it becomes more durable and the color can be changed from yellow to white, rose and even green. The reason why different colors of gold have been developed was to give a new and different look to jewelry. The most popular color of gold in jewelry is yellow gold, followed by white gold and then rose gold. Gold jewelry is also made using a combination of different gold colors. When more than one color of gold is used in a jewelry item it is called two-tone, three-tone or multi-colored gold jewelry.

The difference in color between yellow gold, white gold and rose gold is determined by the metals used in the alloy mix.

  • Yellow gold is made by mixing pure gold with metals such as copper and zinc.
  • White gold is made by mixing pure gold and some white color metals such as silver and palladium. Often times, platinum and white gold are confused, but platinum is much rarer and much more expensive. White gold is coated with a very thin layer of rhodium. White gold will require re-coating of rhodium every 1 to 2 years.
  • Rose gold is made by mixing pure gold and rose-reddish color metal such as copper.

The karat weight system that is used for yellow gold is also used for white gold and rose gold. 18K yellow gold and 18K white gold have the same proportion of gold, but the remaining 25% of alloy is different.

Platinum

Unlike gold, platinum is a white metal and is used in jewelry in almost its purest form! It is almost always 95% pure. Platinum is extremely long lasting, tarnish-resistant and white in color, therefore not needing rhodium plating like white gold. Platinum is 95% platinum (950) - alloyed with 5% ruthenium. Since platinum is so dense, a platinum ring will feel heavier than an 18K gold ring. But, platinum is more expensive than gold because of its rarity. With all things being equal, a platinum ring will be almost twice the price of an 18K gold ring. Since there is such a significant price difference, platinum is not used for the full range of jewelry products.

Palladium

Palladium offers many of the same desirable characteristics of platinum but at a much lower price. It is as white as platinum and whiter than white gold. Palladium is lightweight, hypoallergenic, easy to finish and polish, it does not require rhodium plating, (like white gold), and is one of the whitest of all metals. Palladium is one of the "sister" metals of platinum and shares many of the same unique characteristics and physical properties of platinum.

950 Palladium jewelry typically contain 95% palladium and about 5% ruthenium and have trace amounts of other metals. The weight and feel of 950 palladium wedding band is very close to that of 14k white gold wedding band.

So why choose palladium? If your budget allows, platinum is still the king of all metals. However, palladium offers many of the same desirable characteristics of platinum but at a lower price.

Sterling Silver

Silver is a popular metal for use in jewelry such as earrings, pendants, bracelets, necklaces and certain rings. Silver is a softer metal than gold and platinum and is usually not suitable for wedding rings and engagement rings. Although it looks grey, silver is considered a white metal. Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and usually mixed with copper. Silver is prone to oxidation which can cause the silver to turn a blackish color. You can easily make silver look like new again if you use a silver jewelry cleaner or have it cleaned by a local jeweler.

Stainless Steel is a popular metal. All forms of stainless steel contain some amount of chromium to give it its stainless properties. Nickel is also a constituent in all stainless steel, but the metal is present in smaller amounts in jewelry. Almost all stainless steel jewelry is made from one group of alloys known as 316L steel. This alloy contains little carbon, relatively high chromium levels, and a small amount of nickel. With its bright, silvery finish and its resistance to tarnish, stainless steel has become an increasingly popular choice for fashion jewelry. For certain kinds of body jewelry that require a hypo-allergenic finish and a non-reactive surface, it is the metal of choice. Stainless steel is strong enough for daily use as household objects and industrial parts, and this same strength makes it an excellent choice of material for jewelry.

As you can see, precious metals are integral to any diamond and jewelry setting that you may choose. There are different metals to choose from according to your personal taste and budget!