The very essence of the jeweller’s craft, metal is the basis of your future jewelry. Neglecting the choice of metal for the frame is risking to have a less bright but above all a more fragile jewel. To help you to better understand, and especially to choose the right metal for your jewel, we decipher with you all these materials.
Of all materials, gold is our favourite! And we know we’re not the only ones. It’s the metal most used in jewellery. Shiny and precious, it does not oxidize, a sure value.
The history of gold
According to historians and the site someprettyjewelry.com, gold has been used and worked since the 5th century BC. Highly sought after, this precious metal was the prerogative of kings and emperors. It was already used as a base for royal finery both during Western Antiquity and on Aztec territories.
One of the major turning points in the democratisation of this coveted treasure was the gold rush in California at the end of the 19th century. The exploitation of veins and the creation of mines allowed the production of this precious ore to increase.
Nowadays, it is used both in industry, in electronic objects (Japan recovered used mobile phones to create medals for the 2020 Olympic Games), and in jewellery.
As has been said, pure gold is too soft to be used as is to create a jewel. This gold is titrated, i.e. valued at 24k (or 1,000/1,000th). It is therefore made of 100% fine gold.
The addition of other metals to make it resistant while keeping it shiny is therefore necessary. For this, silver and copper (sometimes palladium) are mainly used in different proportions. Correctly dosed, this alloy improves the properties of gold, making it more resistant, and sometimes shading its colour.
In UK, the standard alloys used in jewellery are 9k, 14k and 18k.
The 9k is very low in gold, only 37.5%. It has, according to us, only the name gold, and is paid very dearly for its quality. We therefore advise you to avoid it at all costs!
The 14k is composed of more than 50% fine gold. It is especially the alloy of our friends from across the Atlantic, so be careful with the jewels (especially white gold) brought back from the United States.
Finally, 18k gold contains 75% fine gold. More precious and ideal for high quality jewellery ready to follow you all your life.
Understanding the colours of gold
Pure gold is naturally yellow. But since it is not used as such in jewellery, its colour can be more or less accentuated or nuanced thanks to the other metals that make up its alloy.
To do this, gold will be combined with (usually precious) metals with marked colours.
To keep it bright yellow, gold is mixed with silver and copper. These metals, in equivalent quantities, do not extinguish the yellow glow of the original gold. For a more pink or red rendering, for example, it is enough to increase the proportion of copper which is already red. The same goes for white gold, with a little more silver or palladium.
White or palladium white gold
As explained above, when you want to create 18k white gold, you need to use fine, naturally yellow gold. The difficulty is therefore to attenuate this colour as much as possible, to erase it. The choice of the metals that will compose the alloy for the gold is therefore essential.
In classic white gold, fine gold is therefore mixed with silver, copper and sometimes a small percentage of nickel. Despite everything, this alloy with a “white” rendering keeps a slightly cold yellow glow. This is why it is systematically treated with rhodium plating to make it whiter.
More recently, jewellers have begun to turn to an alloy of fine gold, copper and silver with the addition of palladium. This white gold is called palladium. The main advantage of this new alloy is that it does not require rhodium plating, a simple polishing without chemical agents is enough to make it white (or very slightly grey) and very shiny. Minimum maintenance for maximum effect! A bit like platinum.
Rhodium plating is a technique that accentuates the white brilliance of white gold. The white gold jewel is then dipped in a bath of rhodium, a very white but very brittle metal.
By applying it finely on an already white gold base, the jewel remains resistant while having the desired very clear and luminous effect. The only drawback is that the rhodium plating film is thin and only deposited. In fact, over time and friction, this film will fade away. Until it disappears. It is therefore necessary to repeat the operation several times during the life of the jewel. Generally, a jewel that is very exposed to friction (such as a ring, for example) and worn very regularly, may require rhodium plating every year. A maintenance has to be taken into account when you choose your jewelry because it has a cost: between 30 and 60 euros according to the professionals.
Recycled gold VS Fairmined gold?
A beautiful jewel is good and when it is as beautiful inside as outside it is even better.
Gold is a metal that attracts all covetousness, at any price. The excesses of conventional gold are numerous: child labour, ecological disaster… This is why other alternatives have emerged to offer gold that is more responsible and ethical, more “clean” in short! The FairMined label exists since 2004 and announces a more responsible extraction, but it is not the only solution.
What about other precious metals?
Platinum: good plan?
Used only since the 19th century for the manufacture of jewellery, platinum has seduced jewellery lovers for decades and still retains an important aura today. This alloy has the advantage of having a perfect white lustre, without any particular maintenance. This makes it a very good alternative to classic white gold.
Platinum is generally sold at a higher price than 18k white gold (rhodium or palladium) because of its density (heavier than gold) and its greater complexity in shaping. In addition, this precious metal is slightly softer than 18k gold. It will move more over time, whether with minimal deformation or wear and tear. Your platinum jewellery will therefore require special attention from you. Think about this when you are about to invest!
Known for its price records, palladium is also used in jewellery for exceptional ornaments. Fairly close to platinum, it is less dense than the latter, so for an equivalent jewelry model, it will take less palladium than platinum to make the same piece.
Moreover it is naturally silvery, no need for treatment to keep its natural shine.
But the advantages of palladium stop here. Not very fluid, it is difficult to work with thin and narrow pieces. Moreover, palladium is made of certain volatile chemical elements that will vaporize under the effect of heat, eventually making your jewelry porous. For such an expensive alloy, it is necessary to think intelligently about the quality/price ratio, that’s why we don’t work it, we prefer 18k palladium white gold.
Many so-called costume or entry-level jewellery items are made of silver. Unfortunately, silver is not suitable for jewellery, not because of its price, but rather because it is far too malleable to be durable over time. Your silver jewellery becomes more refined and deformed. Silver also has the unfortunate tendency to oxidize, unlike 18k gold.