The Metals of Jewelry Making

The three basic metals of jewelry making are identified primarily by color. Silver, of course, is known for its shiny “silver” hue when used in its polished state, but also is gaining popularity in a duller matte finish or a combination of the polished and matte. When you are purchasing sterling silver look for the stamp of “925” which indicates the item has a silver content of almost 93 percent silver. The seven percent alloy gives the silver hardness and durability. Without the alloy, the silver piece would be too soft to wear.

Silver Jewelry /

Gold is best known in its bright yellow color. Platinum is a rarer, valuable whitish metal that resembles silver. What many people do not realize is that gold actually comes in a variety of colors from white to pink, depending on which alloy is added.

Fine gold, that which is 99.9 percent pure, is called 24 karat gold. Though it is a beautiful bright yellow color, 24 karat gold is too soft to work with and too soft to hold up under regular use, making it inappropriate for most jewelry. Most goldsmiths prefer to work in 18 karat (18K) gold which consists of 75 percent pure gold and 25 percent alloy. The stamp mark you should look for when purchasing 18K gold jewelry is “750.” Fourteen karat (14K) gold jewelry has a gold content of 58.33 percent gold and the remaining metal content is alloy.

The stamp mark you should look for when purchasing fourteen karat gold jewelry is “585.” When customers ask their jeweler to melt down their 14k gold jewelry for reworking it into a new piece, they are often surprised to find out the yield in gold is only about 50% of the weight of the piece. Ten karat gold is the lowest karat content that, by US standards, can legally be called “gold.” It has a gold content of 41.76 percent. The term “solid gold” does not mean 100% gold, but rather that there is gold content throughout a piece of jewelry (though the gold will still include alloy) and not just on the surface, as with a gold plated item. White gold has the same gold content as yellow gold, but the alloy used to strengthen it gives it a silvery color. Platinum is the most valuable and most durable of all the jewelry metals and is especially popular for engagement and wedding rings.

The color of the metal you select to wear, whether enhanced with gemstones or just by itself, is a very personal decision, based on coloring of the wearer, taste and budget. In the last ten years sterling silver jewelry has rocketed in popularity. Today jewelry stores are full of stunning pieces of silver crafted with colored gemstones and even with diamonds. Sterling silver is particularly appropriate for daytime wear or to accent casual sportswear. It is the simple elegance of silver which has gained great favor in the fashion industry. In the winter worn with black, navy and dark colors sterling silver stands out and accents a winter wardrobe well. Yet in the summer, worn with pastels and lightweight clothing, silver looks “cool” against bare skin and comfortable. Silver, white gold and platinum lend the same steely hue and complement gray hair very well. It is not uncommon for a woman to switch from yellow gold jewelry to silver or white gold when her hair changes color.