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Let's Talk Metals
An alloy refers the mixing of two or more elements, commonly metals. Alloys are important in the jewelry industry since it allows for different metals to complement each other by contributing certain important assets. For example, an alloy of one metal might contribute to the overall color, while the inclusion of another metal contributes to the overall durability of the alloy. It is important to know about your metals when buying jewelry in order to appreciate their value and in the case of specific allergies.
A karat (kt) is the unit of measurement of gold. It describes the gold content in a metal and is expressed out of 24. 14kt means that the metal is 14 out 24 parts gold, or 58.3% gold. Therefore, a piece of jewelry that is 10kt means it is 41.6% gold, 14kt gold is really 58.3% gold,18kt means it is 75% gold, 22kt is 91.6% gold, and 24kt is 99.9% gold (pure gold). Generally, 10kt and 14kt gold are more durable gold alloys. They are perfect if you like a paler gold color. 18kt, 22kt, and 24kt gold options are increasingly warmer in color and are often more expensive due to their higher gold content. Since gold is a soft metal, it is important to handle your gold jewelry with care, since it is susceptible to nicks and dings.
Of the major metals, yellow gold is the most hypoallergenic and the purest compared to rose and white gold. Those who have allergies to certain metals should look for 14kt - 24kt gold jewelry in order to avoid allergic reactions.
If a piece of jewelry is gold and made in the US, by law, there will be a small engraving on the piece saying 10kt, 12kt, 14kt, etc. This is not a totally reliable method however, since a large amount of jewelry comes from around the world and the same engravings are not legally enforced.
Gold filled is a less expensive alternative to pure gold jewelry without sacrificing quality and durability. Gold filled jewelry is tarnish resistant and can be worn all the time. Despite its name, gold filled jewelry refers to a process in which a layer of karat gold is heat- and pressure- bonded to a layer of base metal. This process keeps the metal tarnish resistant because it completely covers the surface of the base metal. Gold filled jewelry can be 10kt, 14kt, 18kt, 22kt, and 24kt. It looks like solid gold since its outermost layer is actually gold, however, it is a harder, more durable, and less expensive option than solid gold. Compared to gold plating or vermeil, gold filled jewelry contains 100% more gold, it is generally safe for wearers with allergies to common metals, and it is tarnish resistant. Gold is generally a soft metal; therefore, it should be worn with care to avoid bending, dents, and scratches.
Gold plated jewelry refers to jewelry made up of a different metal that has been electroplated with a microscopic film of gold. The benefit of gold plated items is that it is fairly strong and less susceptible than gold or gold filled pieces to nicks, dents, or bending. However, there is the risk of the gold overlay chipping or wearing away over time. Some items may also tarnish as the gold wears away and the metal underneath becomes more exposed.
Gold filled is more valuable because it actually has a layer of karat gold, compared to gold plating which is simply a microscopic film. Therefore, gold plating can tarnish with time and wear, whereas gold filled jewelry will not.
Vermeil, or gold vermeil, refers to items that are made of sterling silver that are electroplated with gold. To be considered vermeil, a piece must be plated with a gold purity level of at least 10 karats. Furthermore, the gold plating must be 2.5 microns thick at the least to be sold as vermeil. The most valuable vermeil is 24kt gold, and thus the greater the karats, the higher the quality. With daily, rough use, it is possible for the gold plating to wear away, however, this is unlikely to happen with simple everyday use.
White gold is an alloy of pure gold and lighter white metals. It is usually plated with rhodium for additional brightness. White gold is a nice alternative and an alternative to platinum and is more durable and scratch resistant than yellow gold. Those who are allergic to nickel should take caution wearing white gold since it is commonly part of the white gold alloy.
Rose gold refers to pure gold that is alloyed with copper. The more copper used, the redder the appearance. The most common alloy for rose gold is 18kt which is 75% gold and 25% copper. Pure rose gold does not exist since its characteristics are the result of a blend of the two metals gold and copper. Since copper is a very strong metal, rose gold is tougher than yellow or white gold. Those who are allergic to copper should avoid rose gold since it does contain traces of copper.
Sterling silver is a metal alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% non-silver metal (usually copper, which gives it extra durability). Most sterling silver pieces are marked with the numbers 925. Its beautiful bright color makes it a great option to complement cooler colored stones or simply by itself. Sterling silver is considered a softer metal and should be worn with care and polished regularly.
Argentium sterling silver is a premium quality sterling silver that is tarnish resistant and stronger than normal sterling silver. It is one of a new generation of silver alloys developed specifically to combat the tarnish that occurs as silver oxidizes when it comes into contact with air. Argentium is a more expensive and finer quality silver compared to sterling silver due to its unique qualities. Compared to sterling silver, Argentium is stronger, whiter, and easier to weld. It also contains a higher pure silver composition alloyed with germanium, making it seven times more tarnish resistant.
Oxidized Silver is true sterling silver that has undergone a chemical process that creates a patina or blackened look to the silver. This technique gives the silver an antiqued or even edgy look. Oxidized finishes have the longest life on pieces that come into minimal contact with their surroundings, such as earrings and necklaces. Rings and bracelets tend not to hold their color quite as long since they rub on things we touch more frequently. Blackened finishes applied to the recesses of a design hold their color best and develop a great contrast to the raised parts of the piece which polish up over time.
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, which is what gives it its warm gold hue. Finished brass is commonly used in the jewelry industry since it is cheaper than gold and wont tarnish like silver. Unfinished brass, however, can oxidize or tarnish, but it is easy to clean with a simple water and soap solution
Rhodium is a silvery white metal that falls within the platinum family. Platinum is considered one of the most rare and precious metals. It is valued more than gold and is heavier than most metals. Both are sometimes used to plate metals such as sterling silver or white gold to protect it from tarnishing and to add sparkling white brilliance. Platinum and Rhodium plating add the additional sparkle, however, the process is expensive.