Did you know there are over 90 known metals that exist on this planet? While most of them are not used in the jewelry industry, there are about 10 metals that jewelers typically work with.
Solid Gold, also known as karat gold, is one of the most precious and coveted metals on the planet. But did you know that almost all of the gold used in jewelry is NOT actually 100% pure gold? Because pure 24 karat gold is soft and highly susceptible to damage, it is usually alloyed (mixed) with other metals such as copper and silver to make it stronger and more durable. The majority of the population can wear gold with no problems, but highly sensitive individuals should stick to 14k and higher because of the mixture of other metals in lower karat gold.
What is a karat?
A karat is the measure of gold content in a piece of jewelry or any other item made of gold. While most people are familiar with 10, 14, 18, and 24 karat, there are quite a few karat options out there, which vary depending on the country you live in.
24K = 99.9% or higher solid gold content
22K = 91.6% gold + 8.4% metal alloy
21K = 87.5% gold + 12.5% alloy
20K Gold = 83.3% gold + 16.7% alloy
18K Gold = 75% gold + 25% alloy
14K Gold = 58.3% gold + 41.7% alloy
12K Gold = 50% gold + 50% alloy
10K Gold = 41.7% gold + 58.3% alloy
9K Gold = 37.5% gold + 62.5% alloy
Gold-Filled metal, also known as “rolled gold” refers to a base metal, usually brass, that has been mechanically bonded to a thick layer of solid gold. This process is completely different from plating and results are much longer lasting.
In order for an item to be classified as gold-filled, the total weight of solid gold must be no less than 5% of the total weight of the piece.
The two types of gold-filled metals are; single-clad and double-clad.
Vermeil is the term used to describe plated sterling or fine silver, and is usually considered to be of higher quality than gold plated brass or copper.
In order to legally be classified as “vermeil” gold plating on an item MUST be at least 2 microns thick, and the base metal must be sterling or fine silver.
Gold vermeil jewelry does not contain nickel, is safe for sensitive skin, and perceived to be of higher quality because it is made from 100% “precious metals”. It should be noted that the gold layering in vermeil jewelry does fade much more quickly than gold-filled jewelry.
Gold Plated jewelry is composed of a very thin layer of gold that has been bonded to a base metal or alloy, such as brass, copper, or stainless steel. Plating can last days to weeks to months depending on the plating thickness and after-care.
Nickel is usually used in the plating process to ensure the gold adheres properly to the base metal. Those who have ” sensitive skin” are usually allergic to nickel, and should be sure to ask if any plated item is nickel-free before purchasing.
Gold tone jewelry is composed of metal that has simply been plated with a gold color and contains zero gold content.
Fine silver (999), is the purest form of silver and considered to be a precious metal. It experiences minimal tarnish and is safe for sensitive skin, however, it is extremely soft and is not commonly used for jewelry fabrication.
In order to make silver more durable, it is commonly mixed with copper or other metals.
Argentium silver is a silver alloy composed of 93.5% recycled silver, 5.5% copper, and 1% germanium.
It is highly tarnish resistant and requires minimal upkeep, so you don’t have to go through the effort of constantly cleaning your jewelry.
Sterling SIlver (925) is a silver alloy composed of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
It is 100% hypo-allergenic, however it WILL tarnish with exposure to air and moisture.
While the word “tarnish” strikes fear in the heart of the passive jewelry collector, tarnish is actually 100% removable and shine can be restored with minimal effort.
Yellow brass is a copper alloy that contains 60-70% copper and 30-40% zinc, tin, and lead. Because it contains copper, it is prone to tarnish and skin discoloration, but this is completely harmless.
Red brass is just what the name suggests, brass that has a red tint.
It contains a higher copper content than yellow brass, usually more than 80%, and is mixed with 8-10% tin, 2-4% zinc, and a tiny bit of lead.