Are you a fan of the traditional jewelry base materials like gold and sterling silver, or have started appreciating the so-called modern materials like tungsten, titanium, palladium, platinum and stainless steel? There are various metals and alloys used in jewelry making, and each one has the edge above the other, and each has its own downside. It all depends on the wearer in which one would best suit his or her style and use. In this blog, we are going to identify all the various types of metals used in Jewelry. What are they and their characteristics, their pros and cons, and which are best suited for what jewelry and use?
Different types of metals used in Jewelry
Let’s start with the traditionally used base metal, which is gold.
A soft, malleable, and ductile among the elements. Resistant to tarnish and corrosion. The first metal humans have used in making pieces of jewelry that started from the time of ancient Egypt until this day. Bouillon or gold coins have been the basis for the world’s money system since World War I. Due to its naturally soft characteristics, it is combined with other metals to increase sturdiness. Aside from being used in the jewelry industry, it is also widely used in the electronics industry for its high electrical conductivity. Non-reactive to oxygen, sulfur, and chlorine.
Gold metal plating is also done using the auric or the +3 state of gold, which is more stable than the aurous state. Karats is the term used in expressing the gold content in alloys.
- 24k - pure gold or made of 100% fold metal. It’s too soft to be used in rings, bracelets, earrings, and necklace s ut it can be used don pendants.
- 22K – 91.67% gold content. One of the highest grades that a piece of jewelry can be made form. It is moderately sturdy enough for jewelry like plain and unadorned necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. It is not to be decorated with gems like a diamond or any form of heavily decorated or studded designs.
- 18K – 75% gold content. The most widely acceptable grade of gold when it comes to jewelry.
- 16K – 66.67 % gold content
- 14K – 58.33% gold content.
- 12K – 41.67% gold content.
These are considered as a low-quality gold base material that can cause skin irritation, although it is more durable due to its higher alloy content.
Types of Gold used in Jewelry
Let us compare the different kinds of gold and how they vary in color and their individual characteristics. We would use the most used and acceptable grade, which is the 18K.
18 Karat Yellow Gold
When 75% of gold is combined with 10-12% silver and 10-15% copper. Jewelry crafted form this grade exhibits a bright yellow golden hue, moderate in strengths, and retains its natural color and gloss. A material that is considered light depending on the thickness and design of the jewelry. Suitable in all types of jewelry.
- Luxurious Appearance
The yellow color of gold is highly luxurious to look at. It was and still is the face of wealth and prominence in society. Although not as popular as before, many people, including the new generation, are starting to appreciate a more understated and non-luxurious version of the jewelry. The reason may vary from the crime rate to taste. The vibrant color may be considered as half positive and half negative as of today’s world.
18K gold has 75% gold and the remaining 25% of mixed alloy. Yellow gold usually does not contain nickel, especially in crafting pieces of jewelry, because the nickel content is responsible for inducing allergic reactions on the skin. It is safe to say that 18K gold is hypoallergenic, for it is the middle grade when it comes to jewelry quality. The color also does not fade, unlike those crafted with 16K downward.
As was stated earlier, gold is still considered a monetary currency; that is why the United States still owns a large portion of gold bullion as a part of their gold reserves. As the price of gold increases with time. Investing in jewelry made of gold is advised, especially if your purpose is to sell it in the future. You are guaranteed to make money or at least get your money back when you decide to sell it at a given time.
Even though it is considered to have moderate strengths, it is still the most delicate among all the metals used in jewelry making. The material bends when pressure is applied, although easily corrected for it is pliable but has the tendency to snap and break especially delicately styles bracelet chains, necklaces, and drop or dangle earrings. Jewelry suitable to be worn on special events for its delicate nature.
Gold is highly-priced, and it is the basis of the world’s currency. This being said, It is acceptable to say that its price increase as the years go by, and not everyone can afford pieces of jewelry made from the high-quality gold base material. This is also the reason why gold metal-plated jewelry is currently offered in the market for individuals who crave the beauty of gold at a much affordable price.
18 Karat White Gold
When 75% of gold is combined with 18.50% silver, 1% copper, and 5.50% zinc or nickel. This is considered as an affordable substitute for platinum jewelry where the silver lends it white color to the gold for a period as well as rhodium plated for a bright white metal color.
- Aesthetically appealing
Yellow gold is a thing of the past, and the new generation finds yellow gold tacky. The clean and lustrous finish of white gold is preferred by men and women of today’s age.
White gold is usually purchased by people who cannot afford pieces of jewelry made from platinum material. The closest looking metal to platinum is white gold.
- Readily Available
Because of the high demand for white colored jewelry, white gold is widely available in the market in different styles and forms.
- High Maintenance
Pieces of jewelry made from white gold are quite tedious to maintain its white color. Gold is naturally yellow, and white gold returns back to its browning or pale yellow color. To achieve a platinum white gold color, it usually undergoes rhodium plating.
- May cause skin irritation
Even 18K white gold may cause skin allergies because of its nickel content. It depends on the amount of nickel and if it has been plated with rhodium. The rhodium plating not only serves as added aesthetics, but it also serves as a barrier between the skin and nickel-containing base material. Have in mind that any coating fades.
18 Karat Rose gold
When 75% of gold is combined with 2.75% silver and 25.25% copper. The high copper content is responsible for its unique pinking color. This is a version of gold that is gaining popularity is not just jewelry but also as a color used other accessories and even mobile phones. A color that signified love and fidelity, making it a popular base for couple rings and other accessories.
- Tarnish resistant
Rose gold, like any piece of jewelry made from high-quality material, does not tarnish, but it deepens in color. The copper component would later r become darker and therefore results in a more reddish gold that may give a vintage appeal.
- Unique Aesthetic Appeal
Like any other gold jewelry, rose gold is highly lustrous luxurious to look at. Aside from this, it exhibits a unique hue that you can only see in this material. It’s ultra-feminine, clean, and highlights whatever type of skin it drapes on.
- Changes color
Copper is reactive to salt and has the tendency to oxidize, thus changing the color from light pink to a deeper to reddish color.
- Skin sensitivity
As a rule, an 18K gold base material is hypoallergenic and non-reactive, but in this specific type, we must factor the high copper percentage, which may lead to copper skin sensitivity. The skin reaction is not the same for everyone, for some have allergies to nickel, while some develop a skin reaction to copper materials.
99% of silver is also known as fine silver and is soft in its purest form. Initially used in coins and silverware. Non-reactive to oxygen. Therefore, it does not rust, but it reacts to the sulfur in air and salt; this is why instead of rust, you would see a black tarnish s time goes by.
Types of silver
- Sterling silver
A variety of silver that contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper is widely used in crafting different kinds of jewelry.
- Britannia silver
This contains about 95.8% silver and 4.16% copper. A higher grade than sterling silver
- Argentinium Sterling Silver
93.6% -96% silver, and the remaining percentage is made up of germanium. A type of sterling silver that is way more hypoallergenic than the copper version. It does not tarnish, which is one of the downsides of sterling silver.
- Coin silver
.900 fine silver and 10% copper.
- Pound silver
83% silver and 17% copper
80% silver and 20% copper
- Weighted silver
Silver-plated or any core material encapsulated in silver skin.
High-quality silver is hypoallergenic and is an alternative metal base for individuals who experience skin allergies with nickel. Argentinium Sterling Silver is best used by people who are allergic to nickel and copper for both materials, silver and germanium are highly hypoallergenic to skin.
Silver is much more realistically priced than gold and platinum, which is why it is commonly offered at an affordable price.
- Variety of Style
The high demand resulted in a variety of types of jewelry in a different style. It can be polished to an excellent and finely lustrous and smooth surface that resembles white gold and platinum. It is also strong enough to hold gemstones for a heavy studded design.
- High maintenance
Silver is prone to tarnish; therefore, it must be cleansed with a silver cleaning solution to liven up the dull and blackened worn self commonly seen during the summer season where people sweat more. The salt in our sweat affects the copper material in silver, thus oxidizing into a black colored surface instead of rusting.
As the chemical element is a robust metal that is used in steel to lend its toughness and strength. It is a heavy stone which has a high melting point of 3,410 degrees centigrade and is non-reactive to most acids except for nitric and hydrofluoric acid. A material with a high refractory index that is used in satellites, cutting tools, and propellers. It has a 9.5 hardness based on the Mohs scale, which is only 0.5 less than diamond.
There are two types of tungsten carbide:
- Cemented Tungsten Carbide
Tungsten carbide is a grayish to a bluish metal-like substance usually combined with black carbon ad fastened using a cobalt binder to take form and pressed to a designed shape. This is used in jewelry making.
- Cast Tungsten Carbide
A harder and more brittle version of cemented tungsten that is used to coat anvils and edges of teeth and jaws of excavating equipment.
One of the hardest alloys that are used in crafting pieces of jewelry. This is commonly used in rings for men due to its durability. Scratch-resistant and exhibits a highly glossy surface.
One of the modern materials used in the jewelry that is considered affordable or sold at a reasonable price. Most of the modern materials are a cheaper version of the traditional ones that can resemble the same luster and aesthetics but is more durable and offered at a lower price.
- Cannot be resized
Since tungsten carbide are mostly used in men’s rings, you should make sure that the ring fits the wearer well for once purchased, it can never be resized. Due to its hardness, it may shatter when pressure is applied, unlike the traditional metals which can soft, pliable, and have a lower melting point.
The weight might be one of the causes of why this type of base material is preferred by men but not women. Women love slim and delicate looking jewelry, especially ring to enhance or elongate their fingers and make it look more womanly. Thick and heavy rings are a no-no for most women; however durable the material might be.
- Modest designs
As it is hard to craft and maneuver, rings made from tungsten carbide are made by molding it into a plain and straightforward back, usually enhanced by colored carbon fiber with a different design. It cannot be paved with precious stones and would only be engraved and plated in different colored tones.
A precious heavy metal with a silver-white color that is used in crafting wedding rings. It is resistant to corrosion, non-conductive, and used as a catalyst in refining petroleum products. Platinum was found in Mexico, Columbia, Russia, South Africa, and other parts of Northern America. There are two naturally occurring variety of platinum that can be mined. Platinum is the leading material used in wedding rings, preferred by couples who can afford this highly exquisite and luxurious base metal. It can be extracted in two different organic forms.
A variety of platinum contains 80-90% of platinum with a mixture of metals like iron, gold, copper, and nickel.
A variety of platinum mined in South Africa that is rare and composed of arsenic and sulfur.
It is rare to experience contact dermatitis with platinum, but there were cases where some people have experienced light itching duet the nickel component of platinum.
- Beautiful and Low Maintenance
A white silvery, glossy, and smooth surface is what you can expect from jewelry made with platinum. This is why it is sought after next to gold, and for some reason, it is a material that is gaining popularity these past few years.
- High Reselling Value
Due to its rarity, a piece of platinum jewelry will fetch a high price when pawned or sold in the future. Although the rate may swing depending on the market demand.
It is assumed to be the most valuable material in the year 2019, as it was priced as 1,524 USD per ounce in weight. It was more costly than white gold and palladium. But then this year, it was taken over by pallidum, which is considered as a rare metal with the same properties as platinum but is whiter in color. It is also more sturdy and durable than platinum.
Lightweight silvery-gray metal discovered in 17921 by William Gregor. It is a durable and corrosion-resistant metal that can be found in rocks, clay, and soil of the Earth. A metallurgist was able to extract a pure form of titanium in 1910 with the use of sodium and a hermetically sealed cylinder. Titanium, in its purest form, is very unstable. For this reason, it's alloyed with carbon and oxide to form a compound known as titanium carbide, which is very stable and can be readily produced.
Low electrical conductivity, non-reactive to saltwater, corrosion-resistant, and can create a passive oxide film. It also has low thermal conductivity making it a suitable material for aircraft, ship, and spacecraft. One of the most unreactive metal that is safe to use as metal implants for it does not react with flesh and bones. It has the same characteristics as that of stainless steel, where it is affected by high-temperature striping the material of its passive oxide coat with nitric acid.
- Extremely hypoallergenic
As we have tackled earlier, it is even non-reactive even when placed inside the body. Thus, it is also hypoallergenic on the skin.
Lightweight and durable are two of the best characteristics of this base material. Imagine something that’s exquisite looking, but it feels like it’s not there, like a dream within a reality. That is how a platinum ring feels like.
- Can be Anodized
Like any other metal that does not contain iron, Titanium jewelry can undergo an anodizing process. Anodizing creates a thicker coat that improves its resistance to corrosion and is dyed in several colors.
The material itself is not costly bit because it is hard to work with and the amount it takes to craft jewelry made from this base material, the final product is sold at a higher price than white gold.,
Even though it is considered the 9th most abundant naturally occurring element that can be found on the Earth’s crust, it is still considered as a rare element; therefore, the use and availability are limited.
Lightweight, gray-white metal with a high conductivity property. An associate of the platinum family making it a very excellent substitute for the precious platinum n jewelry making. Palladium can also be used to combine with gold to create as they say the best white gold that can be formed. Although not as famous as Platinum in the jewelry industry, it is highly used in that automotive industry that serves as a catalyst in converting hydrocarbons to water and carbon dioxide. Mining palladium in its native state is very rare and is mostly produced as a by-product of raw materials of copper and nickel.
- Luxurious and does not tarnish
Lighter in color than platinum, and it does not tarnish for a very long time. It needs low to no maintenance, for it is non-reactive and corrosion-resistant.
Palladium comes from the same group as the platinum metal and therefore resembling some of its property like being hypoallergenic.
It is not widely known that this material exists in the jewelry industry; thus, the availability of finding pieces of jewelry made from this base is quite unique. It is considered a newly discovered base, for it was only officially recognized in the year 2010as a precious metal.
It is considered as durable metal and was more affordable than its brother, platinum. It is the closet among the metals used in jewelry that can be a perfect substitute for platinum at a much affordable price. But due to its rarity, it’s now priced higher than white gold. Again let me reiterate, it WAS, as of 2020, it is almost twice more expensive than platinum.
- Difficult to resize
It is challenging to craft and more difficult to resize, especially when it comes to rings. Like any other hard metals or alloys, hard materials are durable but are not easy to maneuver. It is possible to resize, but some marks would be visible to the naked eye, unlike those soft base material that can be seamlessly adjusted.
A black metal alloy that contains about 7% tin and 30 % lead in ancient times, it becomes black as the lead leeks when the material is exposed to acids. As you may know, lead is a toxic metal that can induce vomiting and tremors. For this reason, Pewter had a bad reputation and was not popular in the jewelry industry.
Modern pewter contains 91% tin, and they exchange lead with 7.5% antimony and 1.5% bismuth, making the material sturdier and brighter. It also has a distinctive bluish-white color and resistant to tarnish. This is mostly used in cutlery as a substitute for silver, they have a resemblance in hue and gloss. It’s an affordable version of sterling silver when it comes to jewelry.
Since pewter is just made of tin and antimony/bismuth. It is more affordable than other metal base material.
Pieces of jewelry made from peter belong to fashion accessories that do not cost and weigh much. Its purpose is for glam rather than quality; therefore, it is the best base for some fashion pieces of jewelry that are huge in size and heavily adorned.
- Bad rep
Pewter had a lousy reputation concerning lead leaking. This is why most jewelry made of pewter would have tags saying lead-free. Even the internet is full of negative reviews with regards to pewter as jewelry.
- Not as lustrous
Usually coated with a silver or gold metal color to make it look expensive and glossy.
- No resell value
As with any fashion jewelry, it has no value once bought and used.
Lightweight and pliable, a great electric conductor, and non-magnetic. Pliable and easy to shape by welding. Pure aluminum is soft and brittle, undergoing an annealing process makes aluminum material stronger. It’s mostly used in reflectors and other electronic parts. It’s also commonly used in the Jewelry industry in the alloyed form.
Aluminum is about one third lighter than steel and copper-based materials.
- Does not tarnish and Hypoallergenic
In its purest form, it is hypoallergenic due to the formation of an oxide layer that is seen on stainless alloys. It also does not contain copper in its alloyed form.
- Substitute for silver
The silvery metal color of aluminum resembles silver, it can also be polished to a lustrous and smooth surface. When you put a silver and aluminum base jewelry side-by-side, you won’t be able to tell the difference.
- Recyclable material
One of the most commonly used metal in the beverage in the food and beverage industry that is considered as an eco-friendly material for it can be recycled and used in a different form.
- Can be Anodized
Like any other metal that does not contain iron, aluminum jewelry can be enhanced after undergoing the anodizing process. Anodizing creates a thicker coat that improves its resistance to corrosion and is dyed in several colors.
- Bad reputation
Aluminum cookware had a bad reputation regarding its connection to Alzheimer’s disease; thus, most people are hesitant about even using it as a base material for accessories.
- Reacts with acids
Aluminum does undergo passivation, but heavy acids can corrode aluminum.
Copper is a soft metal that is commonly used in jewelry making since the eight century BC. It is alloyed with other metals to create a more study and skin-friendly form retaining its affordable price. Brass and Bronze are the two highest containing copper alloys used in the jewelry industry.
Brass is a hard alloy of copper and zinc. The higher the zinc content, the whiter it is, although it makes it harder to work with. White brass is produced when brass is mixed with zinc. Sometimes, even nickel is mixed. Pieces of jewelry made from brass materials were used by the ancient Romans, such as brooches and hooks. To the untrained eyes, brass jewelry is commonly mistaken as bronze.
Zinc makes the alloy hard, and copper makes it soft. The right balance between the two creates a durable and malleable material perfect for jewelry making.
- Easy to clean
Because of the oxide film. Brass is naturally glossy and can be cleaned with plain water and dried with a soft cloth.
Brass also undergoes passivation, which creates a copper oxide film that protects it from corrosion. The copper material can create a green discoloration of the skin due to oxidation. The green film is responsible for protecting the brass from corrosion. The patina can be clean this discoloration by using household ingredients like baking soda and others.
- Deepened color
Brass has a high copper content, and like rose gold material, the copper content contributes to the deepening of color after a period of time making it look older or vintage than it actually is.
- Skin Sensitivity
Low-quality brass jewelry is often mixed with nickel that causes skin irritation. Be sure to inquire about the quality of the brass used in your jewelry. Even the brass material itself can cause skin allergies or more. It hinges on how allergic you are to brass.
An alloy with mixed 88% copper and 12% tin. A material that dates back from 3500BC. It looks similar to brass, especially in color. Some additives may include phosphorus, silicon, and manganese. When mixed with tin, it becomes non-reactive to salt.
- Resistant to corrosion
Like brass, the passivation of copper makes a film that resists corrosion as well as its tin content making it resistant to salts like salt water and sweat.
- Unique color
A reddish-brown color that is distinct from brass, unlike brass that is polished to a light yellow color, the brownish color of bronze jewelry creates an original vintage appeal.
Beliefs that bronze helps with people who suffer copper element deficiency. It is also believed to help with arthritis although studies have proven that it’s more advisable to take supplements than rely on bronze jewelry for therapy. This roots between naturopathic and modern treatment.
- Prone to tarnishing
Daily use of bronze jewelry leads to tarnishing, that is why most bronze jewelry may have a clear coating to protect and lengthen the life span of its gloss and shine. Reapplication is also advisable to bring back its beautiful luster.
Gray, in its pure form, soft and has a high conductibility property. A by-product of tantalum that has a semblance to steel and platinum with regards to physical aesthetics. Used in the construction industry in its alloy form wherein it is added to steel to minimize the use of manganese and carbons. Niobium increases the durability and sturdiness of the steel compound.
Like titanium, it is hypoallergenic on the skin, considered to be biocompatible, thus is being used in implants and earrings.
- Can be Anodized
Like any other metal that does not contain iron, Titanium jewelry can undergo an anodizing process. Anodizing makes it possible for the jewelry to be dyed in various vibrant colors.
Scratch and corrosion-resistant. In its alloy form, it is more durable than stainless steel.
Niobium is hard to extract from tantalum; therefore, the availability and the variety of designs are limited.
A whiter and harder version of platinum in a mild and minimal sense that is almost non-recognizable. Lustrous, hard, and expensive by-product of platinum that was once a cheaper version but as 2020 came, jewelry made from palladium exceeded its predecessor platinum and even white gold.
Palladium, as a by-product of platinum, exhibits the same durability. It is almost an exact replica of platinum with regards to its characteristics except for its whiter color.
Platinum family elements all exhibit hypoallergenic property.
- Rare and expensive
Higher demands resulted in a higher price. It is quite challenging to work with making labor cost a contributor to a higher jewelry price. Its whiter metal color also contributes to why increasing demand in wedding rings thus affecting its rate.
Iron-based jewelry date back from 1804 in Berlin. Medallions were made of iron as well as plaques and knives. It was coated in black to prevent the jewelry from rusting. At present, iron is an alloy of steel and not fashioned in its pure form.
As the material is commonly found, pieces of jewelry made from iron are really affordable.
When exposed to air and water, iron oxidizes to ferric oxide or more commonly known as rust.
Jewelry made of iron is responsive to sweat and water that can cause skin irritation.
14# Cobalt / Chrome
A strong and hard metal that is widely used in wedding rings. Magnetic, in its pure form but when mixed with other metals, it loses its magnetic property. Cobalt is commonly combined with chromium to heighten its durability, it also has a beautiful white-gray color that can be polished to look like white gold. Molybdenum, silicone, and is also alloyed to increase its strength.
Most cobalt-based jewelry does not contain nickel. Cobalt alloys are even used in knees and hips implants.
Scratch-resistant and tough wearing due to its chrome content but not at par with tungsten and titanium jewelry materials.
- Limited design
Hard materials are challenging to form resulting in limited models as well as the difficulty to resize.
The price of cobalt chrome rings is higher than titanium.
15# Stainless Steel
An alloy that consists of 11.5-30% chromium in weight, it was first discovered in the early 1800s by Pierre Berthier. He revealed that chromium combined with other metals is impervious to rusting. This concept has been refined that led to the innovation of the different types of stainless steel available today, such as ferritic, stainless, nickel, and then later, stainless, nickel, and molybdenum combination.
A highly corrosion-resistant alloy that is also called the superman of modern metals. You can read more about the properties of stainless steel and why is the up and coming material of jewelry making with its pros and con on this article.
Now that you have an overview of some of the properties of the different metals used in jewelry making, you may now decide which material is best suited for you and take advantage of their strength rather than focus on their weakness. The only rule in choosing your base material with regards to jewelry us the purpose. Is it for daily wear? Is it for parties and socializing? Is it a form of investment? Then style and aesthetics follow suit with this question, and you would be able to choose the best pieces of jewelry for you.