Precious metals decoded

One of the most common questions I get on Etsy is a variation on ‘what is gold-filled? Is it real gold?’. Precious metals and their various purity ratings can be a real minefield, when all you really want is to know you’re buying something that won’t turn your skin unexpectedly green or tarnish the second you wash your hands…

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Source: tenor.com

That’s why this week I’m going to break it down for you, with a handy guide on some common metal purity ratings and how to select the right one for your needs and your budget…

I’m going to decode precious metals, if you will… (Yep, you guessed it – I’ve been watching a LOT of Ancient Aliens while fulfilling your orders this week! Sorry not sorry…)

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Source: gfycat.com

What are precious metals?

Precious metals are rare, naturally occurring metallic elements, prized for their scarcity. The two precious metals you’re most likely to come across when buying jewellery are silver and gold, so let’s focus on them for now (I might do a follow up post on other metals like palladium and platinum in the future).

The purity (and therefore value) of these metals is measured by how much of the metal is made of the precious metal, and how much is made up of ‘base metals’, or other precious metals (e.g. silver is often used in gold alloys). Base metals is the term used for any non-precious metal, such as copper, nickel and zinc. These are added to the relatively soft precious metals following mining, in order to strengthen them, and sometimes they form naturally-occurring alloys with precious metals.

Silver purities

There are three main types of silver alloy which you are likely to come across when shopping for jewellery: fine silver, sterling silver, and silver plated metal. There are other variations in fineness available, but today I’ll focus on the three main options you might come across while doing your holiday shopping…

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Source: giphy.com

Fine silver

Fine silver has a purity of 99.9% silver by weight. This means it is virtually pure silver (100% silver is extremely difficult to create, as the purer the metal, the harder it becomes to remove impurities).

Pure silver is also what is created when silver clay is fired, because the binding agents of paper, cloth and water in the clay burn away.

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Pure silver sewing scissors pendant

Sterling silver

Good old sterling silver is one of the most popular metals for less expensive jewellery designs. To be classified as sterling silver, an alloy must be at least 92.5% silver by weight, and maximum 7.5% other metals.

Many of the items I make in silver are crafted from sterling silver, because it’s affordable for most customers, good to work with, and has a high enough purity level that it’s suitable for all but the most sensitive skin.

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Sterling silver hoop & necklace gift set

Silver-plated metal

In cheaper jewellery pieces, silver plated metals are often used. Silver plating is where base metals are plated with either fine silver or sterling silver by being dipped into an electrolyte bath.

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GCSE Chemistry, anyone? (Source: Wikicommons)

Plated metals can give you the dreaded green-skin effect over time, as the layer of silver begins to rub off and the internal alloy (often copper) is revealed and comes into contact with your skin. How fast this happens depends on how thick the layer of silver on top is, and whether there’s a barrier layer between the base metal and the precious metal on top.

Gold

Gold comes in various different colours, but the purity ratings are the same for yellow, white and red/rose gold. Sometimes high-quality rose gold will be referred to as ‘red gold’ in jewellery stores, which can be a bit confusing, but it has the same pinky-gold colour that you would expect from rose gold

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Source: karryon.com.au

As you probably already know, gold is measured in carats – but what does that actually mean? Well, the carat rating system measures the amount of gold per 24 ‘parts’. So 24 carat gold is virtually pure gold (999/1000 parts gold), whilst 18 carat gold is 75% gold and 25% other metals. Gold jewellery is also commonly sold at 9, 10 and 14 carats, although 15, 20 and 22 carats are sometimes available (20 and 22 being used more widely for gold coins).

So, the higher the carat rating, the higher the percentage of gold in your jewellery, and the more you’re likely to be spending on it.

But how do I pick which purity I want?

An important thing to consider when buying jewellery is that 24 carat gold is much too soft for jewellery which will be worn regularly, particularly wedding and engagement rings.

For durability, 18 and 14 carat gold has the best balance of pure gold and other metals, so this is the one to pick if you’re choosing a wedding or engagement band, or another piece you expect will get a lot of wear over the years.

For affordability, as long as you’re not planning to wear the item on a daily basis for a long period of time, 9 carat gold is well worth considering, since it is still very durable, and a lot easier on the purse strings than other options, without sacrificing quality!

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9ct gold love knot ring

Gold-plated metals

In much the same way as silver-plated metals tarnish over time, gold-plated metals are not the best pick for durability, although they are more affordable than pure gold or gold filled options. Gold plating is generally done via the same method as silver plating, but because gold is a softer metal, it wears even less well than its silver cousin. Not recommended for any jewellery you’re planning to wear a lot, but fine for more costume pieces or less frequent use.

Gold-filled metals

To be labelled as gold-filled, an alloy’s weight must include at least 5% gold. Gold-filled metal is made up of a solid layer of gold which is mechanically bonded to a base metal or sometimes to silver. Because the gold is bonded rather than just layered on top of the other metal(s), gold-filled metal is a more durable option than gold-plating, but still has the bonus of being much more affordable than purer, carat-rated gold.

This is why many Tiding of Magpies designs feature gold- or rose gold-filled materials – pretty, durable jewellery, without the hefty price tag!

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Moonstone and rose gold fill gift set

How to choose your bridal jewellery in 5 easy steps

It’s an undeniable fact of life that weddings in the Western world are overwhelmingly focused around the appearance of the bride and, let’s face it, that’s a lot of pressure. There are so many things to consider, and that’s before you start looking at wedding magazines or websites for inspiration. When you’re busy obsessing over every aspect of your dress/makeup/bouquet/hair/shoes, it’s easiest to leave the jewellery till last.

I’ve done exactly this, and only just chosen what I’m going to wear, although my wedding is in just over three weeks. Like a lot of brides, I had a couple of family/sentimental pieces in mind early on, but then I got stuck making it work as a whole ‘look’. (To be fair, it probably didn’t help that I changed my mind about my wedding dress three months before the wedding and had to find one to exchange it for… More on that in a different post, probably.)

Anyway, now I’ve (pretty much) finalised what jewellery I’m going to sport on the Big Day™, I’ve got five quick tips for any other brides-to-be who find themselves in similar circumstances…

1) Consider the style of your dress

This sounds obvious, but it’s worth saying anyway. The dress is, naturally, the focal point of your appearance, and it will look better in photos if the jewellery works well with the dress. For example, my dress has a relatively high neck and a very embellished bodice, so I’m not having a necklace because it would be too much, and would get lost in the beading. If your dress is in a vintage style, it might also be worth considering jewellery (real or replica) which suits the era you’re wearing.

2) Stay true to your own tastes and dress sense

If there’s a style or piece of jewellery you see cropping up on wedding blogs or Pinterest, it’s easy to start thinking ‘well perhaps I should wear something like that, too’, but if you wouldn’t wear something similar in every day life, think twice about whether it’s right for you. Of course, I don’t mean if you wouldn’t wear a huge tiara every day you shouldn’t wear one for your wedding, but if, say, the tiara is heavily jewelled and you usually favour clean, simple lines, look for a tiara that fits those tastes.

3) Consider wearing jewellery for sentimental reasons…

‘Jewellery reigns over clothing not because it is absolutely precious but because it plays a crucial role in making clothing mean something.’ –  Roland Barthes

Because jewellery is valuable, it’s often handed down through the generations, imbuing it with memories and emotions, so it’s no wonder many brides wear at least one piece that has sentimental value. I’m mixing old with new for my wedding by wearing three sentimental items combined with a new ring I’ve made myself, and a hairpiece I sourced from another Etsy seller.

If you’re struggling to pull your pieces into a cohesive look, consider choosing one material, style or era to make things go without having to be matchy-matchy. For example, I’ve decided to feature pearls in many of the pieces I’m wearing in order to tie the different styles together. I’m also wearing an heirloom brooch on my bouquet because it doesn’t match the wedding colours; including a piece you like but which doesn’t go with your dress on your bouquet is a great way to wear your treasured pieces without compromising on your style.

4) …but don’t feel bound by tradition if you want a shiny new set of jewels

Conversely, if you’re determined for your look to come together seamlessly, or want to create new heirlooms and memories with some brand new pieces, don’t feel you have to wear something old just because it’s ‘expected’ of you. (Let’s face it, there are enough expectations around you as a bride without adhering to tiny ones like this…) This tip is kind of an extension of point 2; essentially, you do you.

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(Source: pedestrian.tv)

5) Try not to obsess over it

I feel this should be the last point on any wedding advice list, and it’s one I’m terrible at following, but it’s so important. Your wedding outfit will never be perfect (especially in years to come when you look back and your gorgeous mermaid gown looks like those puffy-sleeved 80s monstrosities do now), but you should be so happy on the day itself that it won’t bloody matter. The best you can do is to make the choice you’re happy with now, and then try and forget about it (she says, with incredible hypocrisy).

And what am I wearing, after all that? Well…

  • My mum’s pearl and haematite earring and bracelet set (from Cellini)
  • A new diamanté and pearl hairpiece from this Etsy store
  • A new ring I’ve made to match my bouquet, with an asymmetrical setting of two garnets, a pearl and a cubic zirconia
  • A brooch The Goblin gave me when he proposed (an actual goblin family heirloom, which doubles as my ‘something blue’ and my ‘something old’)
  • My wedding ring, which I also made

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Yes, these are my actual wedding flowers (Goblin with allergies= silk all the way)
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The iridescent blue is from the butterfly wing behind the glass

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Of course, true to indecisive form, I’m thinking of swapping out the garnet ring I made with the one The Goblin gave me for our first anniversary (what a lovely Goblin he is):

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Like I mentioned earlier, the dress is seriously embellished, so it’s got to be one or the other. Any ideas? Let me know in the comments…