Jewelers, both professional and amateur, have used just about every type of metal in existence in their creations. As new alloys and metals are adapted to jewelry making, such as titanium and stainless steel, they are also eagerly embraced and worked into beautiful creations for men and women. While fashion trends using unique and trendy metals come and go, three jewelry metals have stood the test of time and continue to have a strong presence in modern jewelry. They are Gold, Silver, and Platinum.
These three metals and the alloys that utilize them are referred to as the Noble Metals. Noble Metals have four properties in common.
- They are precious metals and are also used as currency (a store of value) because of their intrinsic value.
- They are found worldwide, but not in large enough quantities to render them less valuable.
- Noble Metals have properties that lend themselves to jewelry making, including malleability and corrosion resistance.
- These metals are considered beautiful, sensuous, and glamorous, which increases their appeal. Because of all of these properties, the Noble Metals – gold, silver, and platinum – are frequently used in jewelry making.
Coveted for its beauty, gold has long captivated the human psyche and is considered the most sensuous metal. Jewelry designers and makers find gold easy to work with and prefer it to other metals because it never tarnishes. Gold is perhaps the most workable metal, which is another reason designers enjoy working with it. A single ounce of gold can be stretched into a thread more than 50 miles long or rolled flat into a sheet that covers 100 square feet in area!
Another reason gold is coveted by both consumers and designers is that it lasts indefinitely, especially if properly cared for. Recent studies show that gold originated in the far reaches of the universe billions of years ago and arrived on earth in its infancy. It does not oxidize or corrode and only a handful of rare acids or hot chlorine bleach can damage gold. Gold can also be reused by melting down old gold objects and reforming the gold into new pieces. For example, old coins and broken pieces of jewelry can be melted down and reused to make a brand new piece of gold jewelry.
Despite gold’s desirable properties, it does have one significant drawback. It is soft, which means it wears easily. By mixing gold with other metals, or alloying it, gold is made stronger, which makes it durable enough to wear more often without experiencing wear. A variety of metals are commonly used to alloy gold, including silver, copper, nickel, iron, zinc, tin, manganese, cadmium, and titanium. Along with enhancing gold’s strength, alloying gold with other metals changes some of gold’s other properties as well. This is why some gold alloys stain people’s skin or cause an allergic reaction. The reaction is not caused by the gold itself, but by the other metals it is mixed with.
While pure gold is also used in jewelry making, it dents and shows wear easily, which is why most people choose not to wear 100% gold jewelry on a regular basis. When discussing gold and its alloys, the term karat is used to indicate the purity of the gold (Not to be confused with carat, which is a unit of measurement used to describe gemstone weight). Pure gold, which contains no other metals, is termed 24 karat gold. A gold alloy that is 50% gold and 50% other metals is 12 karat gold because it is only half pure gold. Alloys used in jewelry making range from 9 karat gold, which is approximately 37% gold, to 24 karat gold, and are required to be stamped and hallmarked according to purity. A newer alloy becoming popular on the jewelry scene is made of 99% gold and 1% titanium, allowing the alloy to retain nearly all of its gold color while providing improved durability.
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