Why Precious Metals Matter in Fine Jewelry
When you’re shopping for jewelry, what catches your eye first: the stone or the metal?
More often than not, it’s the stone. And, we can’t blame you! That stone, particularly if it’s a diamond — let alone a Fire Polish Diamond — can be absolutely breathtaking.
But, that doesn’t mean you should completely discount the metal.
Metal types, especially those deemed precious for jewelry, can affect everything from the overall quality of a piece to its durability and cost. It’s just as important as the stone. And, that means that before you buy, you’ll want to understand which work best for you.
Learn more about your options in our jewelry metal guide below!
Precious Metals in Jewelry
What makes metals “precious?” Mainly, it’s their rarity, though precious metals share many of the same characteristics, such as durability and luster.
There are only a handful of precious metals, and even fewer are used in jewelry: gold, silver, platinum and each of their alloys. Let’s do a deeper dive into each.
Pure gold (24 karat) is actually very malleable, allowing jewelers to easily mold it into different shapes. Because of that pliability, gold is often combined with other metals, which is denoted by anything less than 24 karats. As an example, 14k gold — the most popular in the U.S. — is at least 58.3% pure.
The mixing of metals also allows for color varietals — white gold and rose gold. White gold requires an additional plating, typically with rhodium, for its lustrous finish, which also makes jewelry of this type a little higher maintenance. Over time, white gold jewelry will start to yellow and will need to be replated to get the ultimate shine.
You’ll also want to look for other key terms that tell you what exactly you’re getting in your jewelry. Gold-filled, for example, is jewelry in which a layer of at least 10k gold is mechanically bonded to another metal, whereas gold-plated jewelry are other metals coated in a layer of gold. The last, vermeil, is gold-plated sterling silver.
Like gold, silver in its purest form is too soft to use alone and is often combined with another metal, usually copper. Still, in the U.S., “silver” or “sterling silver” jewelry must have at least 92.5% purity to don those descriptions.
Unlike gold, silver tends to tarnish over time, particularly as it’s exposed to oxygen. You can prolong your silver jewelry by storing it in an airtight container, but you’ll also want to polish these pieces regularly to maintain the luster.
Of the three precious metals, platinum is by far the most durable, so it’s typically mixed with other metals to make it more malleable for different types of jewelry. To be marked as “platinum” in the U.S., jewelry must be at least 50% pure, but most jewelry sold is at least 85% pure. This metal’s purity level also makes it naturally hypoallergenic, serving as a great option for those with sensitive skin.
Jewelry made with this precious metal will not tarnish and will maintain its luster for a longer time than gold or silver. With wear, platinum jewelry will develop a patina, but it’s nothing that a simple repolish can’t fix. Some have even come to cherish the worn look of platinum patina.
Which Precious Metal Fits Your Jewelry Style?
Getting a better idea of what you like? If you’re picking out new jewelry, you’ll have an easier time choosing what you like, as most pieces already have a stone set in place. Many brands also offer the same design with different metals.
But, If you’re wanting a custom-designed piece, you’ll have a few more things to consider. For the most part, our jewelry designers don’t recommend repurposing older metals into a new design, as just one contamination can show more impurities. Your choice in metal will also depend on the type of gemstone(s) and design you want. Gold, for example, is more versatile, whereas platinum — which weighs more than gold — is most often used in rings.
Whichever you choose, know that our experts are here to help. Come see us to start shopping your favorite metals (and gemstones) or to talk to us about custom design!