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Sears.ca>Resource Centre>Buying Guides>Jewellery> Precious Metals Buying Guide

Precious Metals Buying Guide

Strong, durable and beautiful, a precious metal provides a stage for gemstones and imparts a timeless elegance when worn on its own.

 

When thinking about a jewellery purchase it is worthwhile to consider the metal with which a piece is crafted. Metals cover a wide spectrum of qualities and effects. Some metals have an inherently precious value and mystique, while other metals offer other considerations, such as corrosion-resistance and hypoallergenic properties. This guide is meant to give you a basic understanding of some of the more popular metals used in jewellery today.

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Types of Metals

Gold

Features

Often considered the world's most precious metal, gold is well-suited to making jewellery as it is pliable, soft and its quality does not deteriorate with time. However, gold's softness is not ideal for the rigors of daily wear, thus other metals are mixed with it to increase its durability and lower its cost. This mixture of metals is referred to as an alloy.

Karat

Not to be confused with the ‘carat’ weight of diamond, the karat system describes the percentage of pure gold an item contains. The higher the karat number, the higher the percentage of gold. The term karat is often abbreviated to ‘K’ (e.g., ‘24K’). See below for a quick karat reference.

  • 24K gold is pure gold
  • 18K is 75% gold; contains 18 parts gold and 6 parts of one or more additional metals
  • 14K gold is 58.3% gold; contains 14 parts gold and 10 parts of one or more additional metals
  • 12K gold is 50% gold; contains 12 parts gold and 12 parts of one or more additional metals
  • 10K gold 41.7% gold; contains 10 parts gold and 14 parts of one or more additional metals (10K gold is often the minimum karat that can be referred to as gold)
Colours

Adding other metals to pure gold changes its colour. Yellow gold is made from a combination of gold, copper and a small amount of silver. When palladium or nickel are added the result is white gold. Adding copper produces a rose or pink colour. When choosing a colour you should consider your budget, preference, skin tone and your level of sensitivity to alloys as some people get an allergic reaction from gold less than 14K.

Electroplated, Bonded & Non-Karat Gold Jewellery

Also known as gold tone, this group refers to gold jewellery that is not at least 10K solid gold. It includes electroplated, gold-filled, vermeil and bonded jewellery. Electroplated and non-karat gold pieces offer the beauty of gold at more affordable costs. See below for a quick reference to some of these gold jewellery options.

  • Electroplated: Refers to a base metal piece that has been dipped into liquid gold while electric currents bond the gold to the metal.
  • Bonded: Made from a whole piece of karated gold bonded to a piece of silver by means of adhesive, welding, heating or other methods.
  • Gold-filled: Also referred to as gold overlay and rolled gold. Made from a hollow tube of karated gold that is filled and bonded with another metal using heat and pressure. Gold-filled jewellery must incorporate enough gold to account for 1/20th of the piece’s metal weight.
  • Rhodium: A member of the platinum family and is often used over gold because rhodium's highly reflective white surface enhances the radiance of the finished piece.
  • Vermeil: Vermeil is 1/20th of an inch of gold over sterling silver. Most expensive of the gold-over-silver metals because it contains the heaviest amount of gold.
Care

To clean gold jewellery, use a solution of warm water and detergent-free soap with a soft-bristled brush. Gold is affected by harsh chemicals such as chlorine or other cleaning products so it is recommended to avoid these. When not worn, store your gold piece in a soft cloth bag or in its original box.

Sterling Silver

Features

Sterling silver is a combination of pure silver (which is fairly soft and not ideal for daily wear) with other metals to produce a stronger alloy. The most popular of these alloys is known as sterling silver, which is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.

Care

Unlike more resilient gold jewellery silver tends to tarnish easier. To clean your silver, use polishes formulated specifically to remove tarnish. You can find fine silver polishes, solutions, or special tarnish removal cloths at most hardware stores, specialty craft stores and online. Tarnish is most easily removed when it first becomes visible.

Platinum

Features

Platinum is more durable than gold and is sold in a purer form. Like white gold, it makes white diamonds appear bright, perhaps most notably in diamond rings. Known for its durability, if scratched, platinum will not lose any metal and it does not wear away over time. Because of its purity, platinum is ideal for people who have allergic reactions to other metals.

Care

While it is a very strong metal, platinum can scratch and develop a patina (a sheen that develops on its surface, produced by daily wear and tiny scratches) over time. Many people like this patina, but if you prefer a shinier look, buffing with a soft cloth is a good idea. Soaking platinum in a mild solution of soap and warm water and gently scrubbing it with a soft-bristled brush is usually all that is required to maintain platinum’s lustre.

Stainless Steel

Features

Stainless steel is a term for a family of corrosion-resistant alloy steels containing 10.5% or more chromium, as well as nickel. It features a silvery-white colour with a mirror finish that retains its shine and resists tarnishing well. Stainless steel can be ideal for those who enjoy its silver-like and reflective shine while wishing to avoid silver jewellery’s discolouration properties or the costlier prices of white gold and platinum. This alloy has antibacterial properties, which makes it a popular metal for use in watches, bracelets, rings, earring posts and body jewellery.

Brushed Stainless Steel

In addition to a mirror-like finish, stainless steel jewellery can sometimes have a “brushed” finish, which gives its surface a non-reflective dull appearance, as if combed by a fine-bristled brush

Care

Clean stainless steel in lukewarm water with a mild soap or laundry detergent. Rub gently, following the grain of the stainless steel to avoid scratches. Air-dry on a clean cloth. Alternatively, wipe your jewellery with stainless steel polish and/or a polishing cloth used for stainless steel jewellery. Both are available at jewellery stores and online.

Tungsten

Features

Tungsten is a forged metal (a process where metal is pressed, pounded or squeezed under great pressure into high-strength parts) with an extremely strong composition. Due to its hardness, tungsten’s shine does not fade as easily as with other metals, which ensures its lustre for decades. It is created from an alloy of 80% elemental tungsten and 20% carbon alloyed with other metals. This metal features a steel grey to tin-white colour with a lustrous finish. Its hypoallergenic properties make it well-suited for jewellery that comes in constant contact with skin, such as rings.

Care

To clean a tungsten piece, use a solution of warm water and detergent-free soap with a soft-bristled brush. Tungsten is affected by harsh chemicals such as chlorine or other cleaning products so it is recommended to avoid these. When not worn, store your tungsten piece in a soft cloth bag or in its original box.

Titanium

Features

With a silvery-white metallic colour, titanium metal is as strong as steel and 45% lighter in weight. Used for armoured plating, as well as aerospace and aviation applications, this metal’s favourable strength-to-weight ratio makes it a durable choice for jewellery like watches, bracelets and rings, which are subject to frequent wear. Titanium will not tarnish, is corrosion-resistant (ships use titanium for moving components constantly exposed to sea water) and is scratched generally through more extreme conditions such as sanding or grinding.

As white gold normally commands the higher price, titanium is often regarded as a more affordable alternative when shopping for rings and other jewellery. Its hypoallergenic properties also make it an alternative for those that experience reactions to white gold.

Titanium is most often alloyed with molybdenum, manganese, iron, and aluminum.

Care

To clean a titanium piece, use a solution of warm water and detergent-free soap with a soft-bristled brush. Titanium is affected by harsh chemicals such as chlorine or other cleaning products so it is recommended to avoid these. When not worn, store your titanium piece in a soft cloth bag or in its original box.