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.
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.
The purity of gold is measured in karats, which should not be confused with the term carat, used to measure diamond weight. The higher the karat, the greater it’s gold content and price. The K number specifies how many parts, by weight, of pure gold are contained in 24 parts of the alloy. Gold jewelry should always be stamped with the karat mark, either 18k, 750 (European marking for 18k), 14k, 585 (European marking for 14k), or 10k. In addition, to assure its quality, the piece should be stamped with the manufacturer’s trademark or country of origin.
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. This is a common practice to keep the white fresh.
- 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 the alloy is different.
White gold is alloyed with nickel, copper, and zinc–and while it looks similar to platinum, it has a vastly different content. To give white gold its white luster, in the final process of manufacturing white gold is rhodium plated. Rhodium* is a shiny, white metal, which is quite hard and durable; however, over time the rhodium plating may wear away, revealing the slightly yellowish tint of the underlying metal. To keep white gold looking its best, it may require rhodium re-plating every 12 to 18 months, depending on wear. *A hard, durable, silvery-white metallic element that is used to form high-temperature alloys with platinum and is plated on other metals to produce a durable corrosion-resistant coating.
Also known as pink gold or red gold; is a mixture of pure yellow gold with a high percentage of copper. It has a very subtle and delicate color that may intensify somewhat with age due to a slight, but attractive, tarnishing of the copper. It is created by increasing the copper-colored alloys mixed with the gold and decreasing the silver-colored alloys. 14K rose gold contains as much pure gold as 14K yellow gold but, because of the increased copper, is slightly pinker in color. Rose gold is available in 9K, 14K, and in 18K gold. Rose gold is very popular with vintage and halo settings. Rings, Pendants, Earrings, and Bracelets can all be produced in the Rose Gold metal.
Platinum is considered the “new metal” – it is rare and pure. Platinum is generally 95% pure; it is sometimes mixed with a small amount of iridium and ruthenium to add strength. Platinum is stamped PT = 950 (95%) or PLAT=900 (90%) in the United States to indicate that it is platinum. Platinum’s purity makes it hypoallergenic and ideal for those with sensitive skin. Platinum jewelry doesn’t fade or tarnish and keeps its look for a lifetime. Precious metals can scratch and platinum is no exception. However, the scratch on platinum is merely a displacement of the metal and none of its volumes is lost. When this happens, take your piece to a qualified jeweler to have it re-polished to a high gloss look. Platinum is the most popular and expensive metal available today.
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 the 950 palladium wedding band are very close to that of the 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.