Precious Metal Guide
Before you start jewelry shopping, you need to have an in-depth understanding of what you’re buying. This guide expands your knowledge on precious metal, so you can choose fine precious metal jewelry for yourself and your loved ones.
History of Precious Metal
About Precious Metal
Metal is a solid mineral element that usually has a shiny surface and generally a good conductor of heat and electricity, and can be melted or fused, hammered into thin sheets, or drawn into wires. Metals form positive ions and basic oxides and hydroxides. Many metals are quite hard, with high physical strength. When polished, metals tend to be good reflectors of light. Common metals include bronze, copper and iron whereas metals used for making jewelry, such as gold, platinum, and silver are called ‘Precious Metals’.
Alloy is a mixture containing two or more metallic elements or metallic and nonmetallic elements usually fused together or dissolving into each other when molten. For example, brass is an alloy of zinc and copper. Metals easily form alloys with other metals. The presence of even a small amount of another element in a metal severely affects its properties.
Historical Timeline of Precious Metal
Metals are as old as human civilization and their history can be traced back to 6000 BC. Currently there are 86 known metals but before the 19th century only 24 of these metals had been discovered and, of these 24 metals, 12 were discovered in the 18th century. Therefore, from the discovery of the first metals, such as gold and copper, until the end of the 17th century, some 7700 years, and only 12 metals were known. Four of these metals, arsenic, antimony, zinc and bismuth, were discovered in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, while platinum was discovered in the 16th century. The other seven metals, known as the Metals of Antiquity, were the metals upon which civilization was based. These seven metals were:
• Gold, discovered in approx. 6000 BC
• Copper, discovered in approx. 4200 BC
• Silver, discovered in approx. 4000 BC
• Lead, discovered in approx. 3500 BC
• Tin, discovered in approx. 1750 BC
• Iron, smelted, discovered in approx. 1500 BC
• Mercury, discovered in approx. 750 BC
These metals were known to the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and the Romans. Out of these seven ancient metals, five can be found in their native states. These five metals are gold, silver, copper, iron (from meteors) and mercury.
Precious Metal Facts
A precious metal is a metal with rare metallic chemical element and due to that high economic value. Precious metals are less reactive than most elements, have high luster, and have higher melting points than other metals.
Types of Precious Metal
Historically, precious metals were widely used in making jewelry, ornaments, idols, temples, currencies, and war equipment, but are now regarded mainly as jewelry, investment and industrial commodities. Following three metals are widely traded and considered as precious metals due to their rarity and beauty.
Gold is an extraordinary and rare precious metal, with an unmatched combination of chemical and physical properties. It is the only yellow metal and the name gold derives from the Old English word for yellow, ‘Geolu’.
Gold is the most non-reactive of all metals and it does not oxidize under ordinary conditions, meaning that it will never rust and never tarnish. Gold’s physical properties of high electrical conductivity and chemical inertness make it an excellent and reliable conductor, particularly in harsh environments, where temperatures can range from -55°C to 200°C. No other metal is as malleable as gold. A single ounce of the metal can be drawn into a wire five miles long. Gold is also an excellent conductor of thermal energy. Due to all these specialties, gold is used in various other industrial applications along with jewelry manufacturing.
Gold is widely dispersed through the Earth’s crust and is found in two types of deposits:
These are found in solid rock form and are mined by using conventional mining techniques.
These are gravelly deposits found in stream beds and are the products of eroding lode deposits. Since gold is found uncombined in nature, early goldsmiths would collect small nuggets of gold from stream beds etc., and then weld them together by hammering.
Gold’s purity is measured in karats. The term ‘Karat’ is different from the term ‘Carat’, which is used to measure weight in gemstones. The purity of gold in karat determines its value. The term ‘Karat’ is derived from ancient bazaars where ‘Carob’ beans were used to weigh precious metals.
Pure gold is very soft and pliable, and alloys of different precious metals are combined with pure gold to enhance its durability and strength, as well as creating a blush in the gold’s appearance with different color tones. 24 karat is 100 % pure gold, and is more expensive and less durable than gold that is alloyed with other metals.
Gold purity for the mostly used Karats:
24 Karat – 24K Gold with 100% purity
22 Karat – 22K Gold with 91.6% purity
18 Karat – 18K Gold with 75% purity
14 Karat – 14K Gold with 58.33% purity
12 Karat – 12K Gold with 50% purity
10 Karat – 10K Gold with 41.67% purity
24 karat gold is soft pure gold without any alloys and it has a deep yellow color and a rich luster. Gold of lesser karats (22K-10K) are all alloyed with a combination of silver, copper, nickel and zinc. This adds strength, but if too much is added (in the case of 10K and less) it can dull the color. For beauty and durability, 14K and 18K gold are highly recommended.
In its pure form, gold has a metallic luster with deep yellow in color, but when mixed or alloyed with other metals, such as silver, copper, zinc, nickel, platinum, palladium, etc. then it creates various color hues like white, pink/ rose, green and the seldom found blue, purple and black.
Yellow gold is the most frequently seen and timeless color. It is usually alloyed with silver and copper. Depending on the karat gold (14K, 18K or 22K), the color of yellow gold may vary from a softer shimmering yellow to a bright rich yellow. This is due to the varying alloy combinations. The color contrast of yellow gold is most suitable to diamonds and other delicately colored gemstones, as they can appear brilliant and vivid.
The metal in white gold is harder than yellow gold with a bright lustrous white tone. It is most commonly alloyed with a significant percentage of silver, or a mixture of other white precious metals. Palladium and nickel are other precious metals which are alloyed to create white gold. Due to the presence of nickel in the white gold alloy, it tends to be harder than yellow gold. The percentage of gold naturally varies, according to the quantity of additional precious metal, which is included in the formulation of the alloy. White gold is highly reflective and not subject to tarnish.
Pink / Rose Gold
Pink / Rose gold is alloyed with copper, and at times possibly even with silver. The proportions are about three parts of 24-karat gold to one part of copper. These alloys blush and accentuate the gold with a pink hue, which varies in color depending upon the amount of copper blended with the pure gold. The quantity of copper determines whether the gold is pink or more rose colored in tone and highlights.
Pure gold is mixed with silver to get green gold. Although this color is not very popular but still it gives wearer an opportunity to look different.
Other Gold Colors
To get the blue or black colors, iron is alloyed with pure gold whereas to get purple color, pure gold is alloyed with specific percentages of aluminum, tin, and thorium.
Some examples of alloying formulas to achieve gold color variances are:
18K Yellow Gold: 75% fine gold, 15% copper, 10% fine silver.
14K Yellow Gold: 58.5% fine gold, 29% copper, 12.5% fine silver.
18K White Gold: 75% fine gold, 2 % copper, 17% nickel, 6% zinc.
14K White Gold: 58.5% fine gold, 23% copper, 12.5% nickel, 6% zinc.
18K Green Gold: 75% fine gold, 25% fine silver.
18K Pink/Rose Gold: 75% fine gold, 25% copper.
Raw, un-worked gold pricing is based on the karat ratio and the gold weight. But Gold pricing, in finished jewelry or decorative item, is based on a number of factors, including karatage, gram weight, design and craftsmanship. The techniques of construction can make a piece more durable and flexible for added comfort and it may increase the gold price for that piece. Gold jewelry is mainly produced by machine. Any additional hand finishing or textural interest may also raise the cost.
Solid gold is the most frequently seen gold type available in the market but buyers should also be aware of the other gold types available, which deliver comparable beauty at lower value. Naturally, the higher the gold proportions or weight in the other types, the more expensive they are:
It is also known as gold overlay, and refers to a layer of at least 10-karat gold that has been permanently bonded by heat and pressure to one or more surfaces of the support metal, then rolled or drawn to a prescribed thickness. The karat gold must be at least 1/10 of the total weight.
Gold Plate refer, a thin layer of plating of 10-karat gold or better which has been bonded to a base metal. The karat gold content may be less than 1/20, but it must be properly identified by weight in terms of total metal content.
Gold Leaf refers, ultra thin gold plating which is pounded and applied by hand to an object. Gold has helped in shaping the course of human history.
Due to gold’s scarcity and beauty, this metal has become one of the
most important metals in our daily life.
Platinum is an extremely rare metal, even rarer than gold. Due to its rarity, it is also an expensive metal and it has only been found in a few locations worldwide – Russia’s Ural Mountains, South Africa’s Merensky Reef and a few small mines in the US and Canada.
Platinum is a strong, dense metal, which allows it to be used in many different ways. Platinum is used in jewelry, laboratory equipment, electrical contacts, dentistry, and automobile emissions control devices. The word platinum comes from the Spanish word ‘Platina’, meaning ‘Little Silver’.
The annual worldwide production of platinum amounts to some 160 tons, compared to about 1,500 tons of gold. The mining and refining processes are both difficult and time-consuming. For example, in order to extract a single ounce of platinum, about 10 tons of ore need to be mined and to get the ore, the rock is crushed, made into slurry, and then mixed with a detergent containing ‘collector’ molecules. After that, air is blown through the mixture enabling the grains of metal minerals to be separated from the rest of the mixture. This process of refining takes a full five months.
Platinum in jewelry is actually an alloyed group of six heavy metals, including platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium. These other metals are so similar to platinum in weight and chemistry that most were not even distinguished from each other until early in the nineteenth century.
Platinum, with its beautiful white luster, is the purest of all the precious metals used for fine jewelry. This grayish white to silver gray metal is harder than gold and very durable with a hardness of 4-4.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, equivalent to the hardness of iron.
Platinum purity is expressed differently than gold. Instead of expressing purity in ratios of 24 parts, platinum standards are expressed as units of a 1,000 parts. The most regular platinum purities seen are:
• 950 – 95% pure platinum
• 900 – 90% pure platinum
• 850 – 85% pure platinum
Platinum is often alloyed with copper and titanium. As compared to gold, platinum requires very little alloy to be combined with it in order to make platinum jewelry. It’s the only precious metal used in fine jewelry that is 90% to 95% pure, largely hypoallergenic, and tarnish-resistant. Platinum jewelry maintains its color, brilliance and weight even when scratched, while other metals may lose their luster or become blemished or discolored.
Platinum Vs Gold
Although platinum is quite a new metal as compared to gold but due to its unique properties, it is getting popular very rapidly. Despite its strength, platinum is a very flexible and workable material,
making intricate designs and details far easier to achieve than with gold. Since platinum jewelry contains very little alloy, it is a good choice for those who are sensitive to metals or alloyed gold.
Platinum is also a very dense and heavy metal, so a platinum ring will feel heavier than an 18kt gold ring. Platinum is, however, significantly more expensive than gold. With all other things being the same, a platinum ring will be approximately twice the price of an 18kt white gold ring.
Platinum is extremely long wearing and is very white, so it does not need to be rhodium plated like white gold does. It is normally not used in the full range of jewelry products due to its higher price and is mainly used in ladies engagement rings, ladies wedding rings and men’s wedding rings.
Silver has been known and used for thousands of years and it is considered as one of the three precious metals along with gold and platinum. Pure silver is very soft metal with its lustrous white tone. Although it is harder than gold and much more plentiful, but still too soft in its natural state and required to be mixed with a harder metal for the use in jewelry manufacturing. It ranks second in ductility and malleability to gold. It is normally stable in pure air and water but tarnishes when exposed to ozone, hydrogen sulfide or sulfur.
Silver is the brightest reflector of any metal (except for liquid mercury) and can be polished to a high sheen that even platinum can’t achieve. It has also the highest electrical and thermal conductivity of all metals, even higher than copper. Most silver is produced as a by-product of copper, gold, lead, and zinc mining. Commercial grade fine silver is at least 99.9% pure silver and purities greater than 99.999% are available. Mexico is the world’s largest silver producer which contributed 15% of the annual production of the world. Canada, Peru, Australia and the United States are the other major countries, which are producing silver.
It has long been valued as a precious metal and used in currency, jewelry, ornaments, and utensils. Now-a-days, silver is also used in photographic film, electrical contacts, mirrors, dentistry and surgical implants.
Purity of silver is based on the other metals, which are available in the silver in the form of metal alloys. Unlike gold, but like platinum, silver purities are expressed as units of a 1,000 parts. On the basis of its purity, it can be described as below:
Pure / Fine Silver
It is the purest form of silver with 99.9% purity. It is also known as fine silver. In this form, silver is too soft to use for jewelry.
Purity – 999 points (99.9% pure silver)
Due to the softness of pure / fine silver, it can not be used in its purest form for jewelry. Therefore, to give strength and durability to the pure silver, it is alloyed with other harder metals, usually copper. A mixture of 92.5% of pure silver and 7.5% of copper is known as Sterling Silver. Sterling Silver is one of the most familiar and used form of silver alloys. Purity – 925 points (92.5% pure silver)
A mixture of 90% pure silver and 10% metal alloy is known as Coin Silver. A process of melting down coins done in the 19th century, and mostly discarded today. Purity – 900 points (90.0% pure silver)
Sometimes silver from south of the border is designated ‘Mexican silver’, which consists anywhere from 90% to 99% pure silver.
Silver is very much affordable metal and price of silver is very low as compared to other precious metals. Silver is currently about 1/50th the price of gold by mass. However, its low price allows freedom to silver craftsmen for experiment with new and innovative designs, which are later duplicated in more expensive gold and platinum, once the ‘style’ is safely established
Precious Metal Care
Precious Metals are hard enough and durable in nature but due to our day-to-day activities, it is expected that our precious metal jewelry will get dirty or scratched. Proper care of our precious metal jewelry is very essential to use it for a lifetime.
Here are some tips that will help you to preserve the life and luster of your jewelry’s precious metal like gold, platinum or silver:
Cleaning of Precious Metal Jewelry
On continuous wearing, your jewelry may become dirty as you use various skin and body care regimen such as soaps, lotions and even our skin’s natural oils. If you are cleaning your precious metal jewelry by your own then it will take few minutes to clean the same. Regular cleaning of Precious Metal Jewelry is essential to maintain shine of its metal:
Clean regularly your jewelry’s gold, platinum and silver with soap, water, and a cloth or soft brush, if needed. Simply make a bowl of warm sudsy water with a mild detergent and gently place your jewelry pieces in the mixture. After cleaning, be sure to dry it thoroughly with a soft cloth. Clean tarnished silver with a commercial polish, paste, or tarnish-removing wipe.
You can also use jewelry cleaners for your precious metals which are sold by many department stores. You can find these jewelry cleaners in kit form. You just need to follow all the written precautions and instructions of cleaning.
Any grease is removable by dipping the jewelry in any type of alcohol.
If a piece of silver jewelry becomes tarnished, use a paste, liquid polish or a treated polishing cloth to restore its original luster.
Storing of Precious Metal Jewelry
Storing of precious metal jewelry is also important as a piece of jewelry can scratch other jewelry pieces. Storage of precious metal jewelry needs following precautions:
One of the best ways to store precious metal jewelry is in a velvet box or in tissue paper. Make sure the metal is dry and is stored in a cool, dry environment. Velvet or tissue paper is used so that other pieces of jewelry that have sharp edges or stones do not scratch or damage the jewelry.
Precious metal jewelry should be stored in a fabric-lined jewel case or in a box with compartments or dividers.
Avoid storing your precious metal jewelry directly on wood or plastic.
Wearing Precautions for Precious Metal Jewelry
Precaution is essential at the time of wearing precious metal jewelry. Wearing precious metal jewelry needs following precautions:
You should not wear precious metal jewelry during rough manual work or activities. It might be harmful as metal get scratched or twisted.
It is wise to remove your jewelry before bathing, or washing your hands, in terms of safety to the piece of jewelry by slipping off, as well as becoming soiled by the ingredients of soap. The use of soap causes a layer of film to develop on precious metal jewelry, causing its appearance to become cloudy and discolored.
Avoid the use of chlorine, while wearing your gold jewelry. Chlorine used at high temperatures, is especially harmful to your precious metal jewelry and can permanently harm or damage by discoloring your jewelry, this is good to remember before entering a swimming pool or hot tub, or during housekeeping.
You should also avoid the situation where your precious metal jewelry comes in contact with hair spray, perfume or other chemicals.
Inspect your precious metal jewelry regularly for damage or loosening, and have it professionally repaired if the need arises. Even if you do not detect damage or loosening, have a professional jeweler inspect metal jewelry to make sure prongs and bezels remain intact.
Never put rubber bands or plastic directly against the surface of your silver jewelry.
If you follow the above mentioned caring tips your precious metal jewelry will always shine and luster like a new one.
Precious Metal Buying Tips
A precious metal is a metal with rare metallic chemical element and due to that is of high economic value. Precious metals are less reactive than most elements, have high luster, and have higher melting points than other metals.
Before buying precious metal jewelry, it is advisable to get some knowledge, about various precious metals and their characteristics. You can get detailed information on each and every aspect of all the three precious metals in our precious metal guide.
Precious Metal Buying Tips
These below mentioned precious metal buying tips will certainly help you in finding the most suitable precious metal for your jewelry, you are looking for.
Gold, platinum and silver metals are widely traded and considered as precious metals due to their rarity and beauty.
When you go out to buy precious metal jewelry, you must consider certain facts, about these metals, such as karat, color, design, craftsmanship etc.
Precious Metal – Gold
Gold is an extraordinary and rare precious metal. Gold is a soft, highly malleable and most non-reactive of all metals and it does not rust or tarnish under ordinary conditions.
Gold’s purity is measured in karats and 24 karat (24K) is 100 % pure gold. Pure gold is very soft and pliable as well as it is more expensive and less durable than gold that is alloyed with other metals.
To give strength and durability, gold is alloyed with metals like silver, copper, nickel and zinc. Usually in jewelry, alloyed gold of lesser karats (22K-10K) are used instead of 24K pure gold. Gold jewelry with 14K and 18K gold are highly recommended and most popular.
Naturally gold comes in deep yellow color with metallic luster but when it is alloyed with certain metals then it creates various color hues like white, pink/ rose, green and the seldom found blue, purple and black.
Raw, un-worked gold pricing is based on the karat ratio and the gold weight. But in finished jewelry or decorative item, gold pricing is based on a number of factors, including karat ratio, gram weight, design and craftsmanship.
Buying Tips for Gold
When buying gold jewelry, it is advisable to go for either 14 karat or 18 karat gold jewelry. You should never buy 24 karat gold jewelry because it is too soft, less durable and more expensive. You should also avoid buying less than 10 karat gold jewelry, as it appears dull. In USA, no jewelry item can be marked or sold as gold jewelry that contains less than 10 karat gold.
When you buy gold jewelry, you should always look for the karat mark that appears on the back of the piece. Other than this karat mark, every gold piece should also be stamped with a hallmark or trademark of its manufacturer and sometimes its country of origin. This description will assure you about the authenticity of the gold jewelry.
When buying gold jewelry, you should determine the best suitable gold color.
When you buy gold-filled jewelry, you must ensure that jewelry should have a layer of at least 10-karat gold as well as gold must be at least 1/10 of the total weight of metal.
In the same manner, when you buy gold plated jewelry, you must ensure that jewelry should have a layer of at least 10-karat gold as well as gold must be at least 1/20 of the total weight of metal.
You should not be confused between ‘solid gold’ and ‘pure gold’. Solid gold refers to a piece that isn’t hollow whereas pure gold refers to a piece that contains 24 karat pure gold.
Precious Metal – Platinum
Platinum is an extremely rare metal, even rarer than gold and due to its rarity, it is also an expensive metal.
Platinum is a strong and dense metal that comes into its beautiful grayish white to silver gray luster.
Platinum’s purity is expressed differently than gold. Instead of expressing purity in ratios of 24 parts, platinum standards are expressed as units of a 1,000 parts.
In fine jewelry, platinum is used with purity level 90% to 95% because it is largely hypoallergenic and tarnish-resistant. Only for the remaining 5% to 10 %, it is alloyed with copper and titanium to increase the beauty of metal.
Platinum jewelry maintains its color, brilliance and weight even when scratched, while other metals may lose their luster or become blemished or discolored.
Normally, platinum is not used in the full range of jewelry products due to its higher price. It is mainly used in ladies engagement rings, ladies wedding rings and men’s wedding rings.
Raw, un-worked platinum pricing is based on its purity and weight. But in finished jewelry, platinum pricing is based on a number of factors, including purity, weight, design and craftsmanship.
Buying Tips for Platinum
When you buy platinum jewelry, you should always look for the purity description that appears on the back of the piece.
Metal piece that contains at least 950 out of 1000 parts of pure platinum can be marked or stamped simply platinum or pt. or plat.
Metal piece that contains at least 850 out of 1000 parts of pure platinum can be marked or stamped with actual parts of pure platinum along with the word platinum or an abbreviation. For example, 950 platinum, 900 Plat. or 850 Pt.
Metal piece that contains less than 850 out of 1000 parts of pure platinum, but it has a total of 950 out of 1000 parts of platinum group metals (of which at least 500 parts is pure platinum), can be marked with both, the actual parts of pure platinum and the actual parts of the other platinum group metals in the piece. For example, the marking ‘650 Plat. 300 Irid.’ means that the piece has 650 out of 1000 parts platinum (65%), and 300 out of 1000 parts iridium (30%), totaling 950 out of 1000 parts of platinum group metals, and 50 out of 1000 parts of other alloyed metals (5%).
When you buy platinum jewelry, you should always remember that platinum is a very tough and strong metal and resizing is difficult for platinum items.
Precious Metal – Silver
Pure silver is very soft metal with its lustrous white color. It is the second brightest reflector metal after liquid mercury and can be polished to a high sheen that even platinum can’t achieve. It is normally stable in pure air and water but tarnishes when exposed to ozone, hydrogen sulfide or sulfur.
The price of silver metal is very low and affordable as compared to other precious metals. Silver is currently about 1/50th the price of gold by mass.
Instead of expressing purity in ratios of 24 parts like gold, purity of silver is expressed, like platinum, as units of a 1,000 parts. Silver with 999 parts (99.9%) purity is considered as pure or fine silver.
Pure silver is too soft to be used in jewelry that it is normally alloyed with copper to give it strength and durability. A mixture of 92.5% of pure silver and 7.5% of copper is known as Sterling Silver. Whereas a mixture of 90% pure silver and 10% metal alloy is known as Coin Silver. Silver from south of the border is sometimes marked as Mexican silver, which consists purity ranges from 90% to 99%.
Buying Tips for Silver
When you buy silver jewelry, you should always look for the purity description. You will usually find constant purity in silver items and you should not worry much about purity aspect of silver.
Metal piece that contains at least 925 out of 1000 parts (92.5%) of pure silver can be marked or stamped simply silver or sterling silver on the back of that metal piece. According to the law, quality marked silver or sterling silver must also contain the name or a U.S. registered trademark of the company or person that will stand behind the mark.
When you buy a jewelry item or silver item, which is marked with silver-plated or silver-coated, you must ensure that it is coated or plated a layer of pure silver by process of electroplating on a base metal.
When an item of sterling silver metal is coated or plated with gold by process of electroplating then that item or piece will be marked as vermeil.
Usually most jewelers can easily resize a non-gemstone silver piece, plus or minus two sizes. But resizing a silver piece with a gemstone can be difficult due to silver’s properties when heated.
When you buy sterling silver, you should always remember that it might tarnish and discolor very easily because silver and copper both react readily with sulfur to form sulfides.
General Buying Tips
When you buy a jewelry piece, you must ensure that there are no visible blemishes or imperfections on the metal. You should also check to make certain that fasteners, clasps and catches work properly and are secure.
When buying jewelry, you should look for craftsmanship and design. Your decision should be based on its symmetry, overall appearance and finishing.
When you are buying jewelry for your loved ones, always keep their personality and preferences in mind.
Always buy precious metal jewelry from a reputed and a known jeweler. If you don’t know any good jeweler, you should ask your family members or friends for their recommendations.
Beware of jewelry store lighting that usually consists of quartz or halogen bulbs. These can deceive as they blast high-intensity streams of light into goods to make them look different.
While buying precious metal jewelry, you should not be in hurry or in pressure. You should buy it at your convenience and at your own pace.
Now you can go ahead to buy precious metal jewelry with more confidence. So enjoy buying the best suitable precious metal jewelry by keeping the above mentioned buying tips in mind.