Today’s post is a guest piece from Metalicious, an environmentally-friendly and sustainability-focused jewelry company founded by Stephanie Maslow-Blackman.
For the uninitiated, shopping for fine jewelry can be quite confusing. Not only are
there several different metals to choose from, but there are several odd terms that go hand
in hand with them.
What does it mean for silver to be sterling? What do karats mean when it comes to
gold? What’s tarnishing?
Well no worries, because I have an easy guide to help teach you the ins and outs of
how to pick the perfect metal for your jewelry.
Silver is fantastic because it’s gorgeous and more affordable than metals like gold
and platinum. It’s perfect if you are looking for a beautiful piece while still wanting to stay
A term you might hear thrown around a lot is sterling silver. Pure silver is too soft
for jewelry so it is mixed with another metal to make it harder and that creates sterling
silver. Sterling silver must contain a minimum of 92.5% silver. Even with other metals
added, sterling silver can still be pretty soft as far as metals go, so be prepared that your
sterling silver jewelry will show wear and tear fairly quickly..
One of the other downsides to silver is that it tends to tarnish. Tarnishing happens
when sulfur, which is found naturally in the air, interacts with the metal and creates a dark
coating on the surface of your silver. The good news is that tarnishing can be combated by
storing your silver in anti-tarnish pouches and keeping it in a cool, dry place. So hanging
your necklaces out in the open air is a quick way to have them turn black (tarnish). :-(
I use a special alloy of sterling silver, which uses silver mixed with germanium.
Germanium is fabulous because it helps prevent the metal from tarnishing and also gives it
a brighter, whiter color. If you want to know more about this kind of silver then check out
my previous blog post on it.
Gold is an absolute classic in the jewelry world and bonus: it comes in many colors.
Like silver, pure gold is very soft and must be mixed with other metals. How much metal is
mixed with it can be determined by what karat it is labelled as. Pure gold is 24k (24 out of
24 parts of it is composed of gold)--which is too soft for jewelry. In the US you can find all
the way from 22k down to 10k (10 out of 24 parts of it is gold), which is just over 40% gold.
For rings it is usually best to get one made of 14k to reduce the risk of scratches and
damage while keeping that beautiful, warm color.
Additionally, the lower the karat the less expensive it will be. Do you have allergies
to any metals? Then it may be better to go for a higher karat of gold to reduce the risk of
being irritated by the other added metals. For example most white gold has nickel-- which
many people are allergic to. I use a special alloy that doesn’t contain nickel and is a higher
quality white gold than most other jewelers use. I like my jewelry to be wearable everyday.
There are also quite a few varieties of gold: yellow, rose, white, peach and green
gold. These varieties are determined by what other kinds of metals are mixed with it.
Yellow gold can have silver or copper in it. Rose gold has even more copper, and the more
copper it has added then the rosier it gets. Lastly, white gold can contain palladium, silver,
nickel, copper and zinc. A lot of traditional jewelers add a layer of rhodium on top of their
white gold-- this can wear off and make your ring look like it’s peeling. So that’s why I use a
different alloy and I don’t plate my jewelry.
This bright white metal is about 30 times more rare than gold, and almost twice as
heavy-- making it more expensive. For a piece to be labelled as platinum it must contain at
least 90% of that metal, so you are in for quite a few dollars if you want this metal. But
platinum will last for generations and is my choice for heirloom quality jewels.
So if it’s so expensive, then what are the advantages of it? For starters it is way more
durable than silver or gold. You also don’t have to worry about it tarnishing or growing dull
over the years. It’s also a beautiful, naturally white metal. If you are looking to create a
heirloom piece to be passed down for generations, then this metal could be right for you.
Just be aware that it comes at a cost, which is worth it in my opinion.
So when it comes to deciding which metal to get for your jewelry ask yourself a few
questions: what is my budget? If it is for a ring, do I work with my hands a lot and put the
metal at risk of being scratched or damaged? What color do I want? Do I want warm colors
or cool ones? Do I want to be able to pass down this jewelry someday? When in doubt,
sterling silver or 14k gold are both great options for your jewelry! There are also several
other alternative metals that are much less common but still valid options, so feel free to
look into metals such as stainless steel or cobalt as well!