There are dozens of different metals that can be applied to almost every type of jewelry. At Dunkin’s Diamonds, we provide so many options that selecting one could become overwhelming without proper knowledge. Especially with all the different metals to choose from it can get quite confusing to comprehend the differences between them and even harder to understand how they might affect your stone. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about jewelry metals and how you can use that knowledge to pick the best alloy for your next ring or cosmetic purchase. After all, jewelry reflects your personality, so wouldn't it be best to better understand the metal that you will wear every day?
Precious metal purity
First things first what is metal purity? Well, precious metal purity is the percentage of the precious metal present in the overall alloy of the metal. Almost every precious metal that you will see on a piece of jewelry is an alloy of some sort. Your selected metal will have a purity level based on how much of that pure precious metal is present in the overall alloy mixture. For example, sterling silver is 92.5 percent pure silver and 7.5 percent copper. A metal's purity is a great way of knowing how strong or malleable your metal will be and will even sometimes tell you how your alloy will look. For example, mixing a good bit of copper and gold changes the color of the metal so much that it becomes rose gold.
Something that most likely rings a bell is the term karat. This is a numerical value we assign to gold based on its own purity level. Karat is exclusive to gold alloys and is what we commonly use to price and value the rarity of gold jewelry.
Karat gold made easy:
To understand gold karats, you first need to know that 100% pure gold without any added sub metals is 24 karat gold. This gold is pure to the core and untouched by support metals like copper. This makes the metal extremely pricey but also very flimsy. Gold without any other metals to support it is very soft and malleable, but it sure does make you feel good wearing it.
Okay so we now know that 24 karat gold is the purest gold, so what about the other karats. Well, the other karat options that exist are,18K,14K, and 10K and are the most popular karat options. As the number gets farther away from 24 the number of other metals added to the alloy increase. Each individual karat is technically 4.2 percent pure gold, even though you rarely find gold with karats less than 10 it's easier to think of it that way. Below are some charts that help you understand the gold karat numbering and percentage system.
- 24K = 4.2 x 24 = 100% pure gold
- 18K = 4.2 x 18 = 75% pure gold
- 14K = 4.2 x 14 = 58% pure gold
- 10K = 4.2 x 10 = 42% pure gold
For those of you who prefer to divide number numbers this same ratio works if you divide each karat by 24
- 24K | 24/24 = 1 or 100% pure gold
- 18K | 18/24 = .75 or 75% pure gold
- 14K | 14/24 = .58 or 58% pure gold
- 10K | 10/24 = .42 or 42% pure gold
The popular kids of the metal world
Gold, silver, and platinum are three of the most sought-after metals when it comes to all things jewelry. This trio takes the cosmetic world by storm by not only being beautiful but durable as well. Below is an explanation of each of these precious metals and what they mean for your jewelry.
Gold (Au), atomic number 79, is a dense lustrous metal. Although this metal is malleable and softer the closer it gets to its purest form, it's still a durable metal. For centuries it has been used in jewelry and/or important works such as illuminated manuscripts and Egyptian tombs. Gold is naturally found in the earth and can be mixed with other metals to form different gold alloys such as rose gold, white gold, and yellow gold. Because of its more malleable nature, it is a perfect fit for those who want color and style as well as a durable metal that can flex with your body as you age.
Silver (Ag), atomic number 47, is a white lustrous metal found on the earth's crust. Silver is commonly used in jewelry of course but it is also used commonly in currency across the globe. As a more common metal than gold and platinum, it is typically more affordable than other precious metals. When considering silver as your alloy for your next jewelry purchase know it's not as durable and is prone to wear and tear. The good thing is it's a budget metal and thus allows you to get a variety of jewelry options without worrying about breaking the bank.
Platinum (Pt), atomic number 78, is a very dense precious metal that is quite rare to find on earth. It is malleable, ductile, highly unreactive, and has a silvery-white color. Because of its dense attributes, it is more durable than gold and thus it is a very appealing jewelry metal for those who are active and don't want to worry about damaging their jewelry or ring. This is also due to the fact that platinum rings are not plated so you don't have to worry about taking them back to your jeweler to get them replated. The benefits don't stop there, platinum is also hyper-allogeneic, so if you have sensitive skin, you won't have any irritation. However, platinum is typically more expensive than gold, so if you’re looking for a platinum ring be sure to budget accordingly.
The wallflower metal
Often overlooked as a precious metal is palladium. A lot of jewelry buyers either never heard of the metal or are too unfamiliar with it to give it a try. Like all wallflowers, all you need to do is give them a chance. Palladium is a secret weapon when it comes to jewelry as it is remarkably like platinum but more durable. It's a newer metal in the jewelry business as it started becoming a part of the jewelry world in the 1920s. However recently this metal has gained some momentum, whereas a few years back it was half the price as platinum, they now go for about the same price as white gold and platinum. You can expect the value of this metal to go up as more people discover its practicality and beauty. Palladium won't be a wallflower for long!
Different gold colors:
White gold is made from a mixture of gold that has a rich yellow color and other white metals like nickel and zinc. The white gold color and appearance come from the other white metals added to the gold alloy. As we all know, gold is a saturated yellow color, so you may be wondering, how does white gold look so white? Well, the answer lies with rhodium plating. That rich white and silvery luster of white gold comes from the rhodium coating that makes it look almost identical to platinum metal. An 18-karat gold and nickel alloy alone won't give us that bright silver shine, it will still have a yellowish appearance. A rhodium plating is necessary to give it that added pop. Just know if you choose the gorgeous white gold metal option for your wedding ring you might need to get it replated every 2-3 years depending on your lifestyle. Nonetheless, consider white gold as it is a clean, sheik, and classy addition to your jewelry collection.
A little side note: Sometimes you can get 18 Karat gold with 25% palladium added to the alloy. This makes for a much more durable alloy than pure 24 Karat gold and it can make for a gorgeous color for earrings and diamond rings.
You may be wondering, isn't yellow gold just pure gold. Although they are both yellow in color, pure gold alone is too soft and malleable to be wearable jewelry, so other metals are mixed in not only to strengthen the metal but to enhance its color and shine. Yellow cold is made from a mixture of pure gold, copper, brass, and silver. These metals mix together to enhance the natural yellow coloration of mined gold. One bonus of yellow gold alloy is that it has a very rich yellow saturation and thus there is no need for a metal plating of any kind. That means that yellow gold jewelry is easier to maintain as you won't be taking it back to the shop to get replated. Plus, as the most common gold alloy, yellow gold can be slightly less expensive than white gold but that doesn't make it any less special. If you are looking for that traditional and classic jewelry look, go for yellow gold, you can't go wrong with it.
Side note: yellow gold looks exceptional with emeralds and rubies. So, if you are planning to get a piece of jewelry with one of those stones consider setting it in yellow gold.
As the name suggests, rose gold is a pinkish rose-colored gold alloy. The beautiful rose hue comes from 75% gold and 25% other metals. Copper makes up 22.5% of that 25 percent with that extra 2.5% typically being silver. The more silver added to the mixture the pinker the rose gold will look. The more copper added to the alloy the rosier the gold looks; after all, copper is the main reason the gold has that rosy hue. Due to these vibrant hues rose gold doesn't need to be platted. As an added bonus rose gold doesn't tarnish either, making it yet another low maintenance option to add to your jewelry collection. As a result, rose gold is a great way to switch things up in your cosmetics and put something on that is a little different. Yellow and white gold are beautiful too, but everyone needs to change things around once and a while, rose gold is a great way of achieving that.
Side note: Rose gold looks extravagant alongside any skin tone. So, if you are worried about how it looks on you, don't be! Plus, the whole, “this color looks better on you” thing is overrated.
Many more metals!
To find out about all the metal options not mentioned in this article check out our “all about alternative metals” article.