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 jewellery gifts

Picking jewellery for someone else can be a bit daunting – it can be hard to judge the tastes of even your closest friends when it comes to the sparkly stuff, not to mention be an expensive mistake if you choose wrong!

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However, jewellery is a long-lasting, personal and often treasured gift for the special people in your life, so here are a few tips to help you get it right…

First things first: what item of jewellery to choose

Think about what you’ve seen them wear before – do they wear studs or dangly earrings more often; rings or bracelets; or perhaps they only wear necklaces? It’s also worth thinking about whether they have one particular piece they wear often; for example, if your recipient always wears their grandma’s earrings, it might be wise to stick with a necklace or bracelet, as they’ll get more enjoyment and wear out of it.

Style

People’s personal style is just that – personal! Jewellery style can also differ from clothing preferences; what if your human wears minimalist clothes with statement jewellery? How do you know what to go for? Again, it’s best to go off what they already wear, perhaps adding an unusual flourish or different stone to what they usually choose to make the gift interesting as well as useful.

Some different styles of jewellery to consider are…

• Minimalist and modern – simple shapes, clean lines •

• Vintage (or vintage-inspired) •

• Dainty/delicate – small, elegant and subtle •

• Statement – large sizes, bold colours and shapes •

• Boho/natural – rough gemstones, curved shapes •

Colour

What colours do they wear in clothes or accessories? When you’re wading through the thousands of beautiful pieces on a site like Etsy or in a big jewellery store, colour can be a really useful starting point. If you’re refining by style, size, or something else, or you’re stumped on what colour they might like, there’s an easy solution: go for simple metal!

Hobbies and interests

A lovely way to give a personal jewellery gift is to search for jewellery that represents one of the recipient’s interests, something I discussed in a post a couple of months ago. This is where somewhere like Etsy is brilliant, because whatever niche thing your human is into, someone, somewhere will have made jewellery referencing it!

If in doubt, start small!

Etsy has tons of affordable, handmade and thoughtful designs available (including mine!), meaning that a heartfelt jewellery gift doesn’t have to be a bank-breaking gamble…

If you’re stumped for last minute gifts, I have a few last pieces ready to ship. For my lovely UK readers, tomorrow, Wednesday 20 December is my last recommended shipping date on standard 2nd class shipping, but I also offer upgrades to 1st class and guaranteed delivery, and I guarantee to ship within 24 hours for any ready-to-ship pieces. Available at the time of publishing are…

And for all my overseas friends, you can always get ahead of Valentine’s Day planning, or just treat yourself!

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