Holiday Jewelry Gift Guide: Precious Metals

Confused by carats? Perplexed by platinum? We’ll help you get to know your metals. Part 3

With so many different kinds of metals to choose from – and prices ranging from the ultra-cheap to the budget-busting – it’s important to know what you’re looking for when you shop for jewelry.

Finer jewelry is usually available in yellow gold, white gold, rose gold, platinum or sterling silver. When choosing between these options, it’s again a good idea to check out the existing jewelry of the person you are shopping for to see what he or she already prefers.

The quality and pricing for the metals used in jewelry varies according to a carat system. Some guidelines for each type of metal, from least to most expensive, are as follows:

Sterling silver:

Sterling Silver Bracelet with Diamond Heart Charm, $99, Jewlr.com

Pure silver is too soft to be used to create jewelry, so jewelers will mix silver with other metals such as nickel or copper to increase its durability. The highest-quality form of silver used in fine jewelry such as promise rings is sterling silver.

Sterling silver must be at least 92.5 percent pure silver to qualify as the following: silver, solid silver, sterling silver, or sterling. The common abbreviation, ster, also refers to this high percentage of pure silver. The minimum silver content for silver jewelry is sometimes also stated in “parts” – for example, 925 parts per thousand of pure silver, which is why you will sometimes see the figures 925 or 92.5 used to designate silver content.

A lot of jewlery is sterling sliver as it is a metal that looks good with casual, everyday clothing, and is likely to complement the jewelry already in someone’s collection.

Gold

Like with diamonds, jewelers use a carat system to determine the value of gold. Because pure gold is too soft to use in jewelry, it must be “cut” with other metals such as copper or nickel, which are referred to as “alloys.” So the carat count of a gold ring or bracelet band refers to the amount of pure gold in the metal. The higher the amount of pure gold, the higher the carat – and the higher the price.

For example, a watch band which is 14 parts gold to 10 parts alloy will be 14 carat gold. 18 parts gold to 6 parts alloy creates 18 karat, etc. The final carat count will often be expressed as the result of the ratio, i.e.: 14/24 equals 0.585 and 18/24 is 0.750.

The most popular grades of gold, in addition to pure 24 carats (24K), are, from most expensive to least, 22K (92%), 18K (75%), 14K (58%) and 9K (38%).

There are many different mixtures of alloys, all of which affect not only the value of the gold metal but also its colour. Here are the most popular kinds:

Yellow gold

Gold that is mixed with copper will take on a reddish hue, while gold that is mixed with silver will appear yellowish. The yellow gold that is so popular for ring and watch bands, necklace chains, and brooches is the result of around mixing gold with approximately 50/50 copper and silver. A small amount (0.2%) of zinc is sometimes added to harden the metal.

14K Yellow Gold Pave Drop Earrings, $199, Jewlr.com

White gold

White gold is the result of mixing gold with at least one white metal, typically nickel, manganese, or palladium. As with yellow gold, the purity of white gold is measured in carats, as described in the section on gold above.

Due to its durability, white gold that contains a high percentage of nickel is frequently used for pins and rings, but white gold that is mixed with palladium is also popular for rings featuring gemstones. As some jewelers often confuse white gold with any whitish-hued metal, such as platinum or yellow gold plated with rhodium, it’s a good idea to find out the alloy of the metal before purchasing white gold jewlery.

Rose gold

Rose gold is made from mixing gold with copper, and is sometimes also referred to as pink gold or red gold. It was popular in Russia at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and is thus sometimes also called Russian gold.

The difference between red, rose, and pink gold is the amount of copper in the metal. Generally, the higher the copper content, the more “red” the metal will look. A common mixture for rose gold is 75% gold and 25% copper by mass, which results in an 18 carat gold.

Often, jewelers will add 15% zinc to a gold/copper alloy to change the look of the metal from reddish to reddish yellow or dark yellow.

Platinum

While platinum is often mistaken for white gold, it is a different precious metal altogether, with a different appraisal system and pricing.

Platinum is a precious metal that occurs naturally in various rivers. Due to its rarity and durability, as well as its high shine, platinum developed a reputation in the 18th century as “the only metal fit for a king”. It still enjoys a reputation as a symbol of exclusivity and luxury (think about “platinum” credit cards or limited edition watches with platinum bands). In jewelry, platinum usually is usually used in 90–95% percentages along with other metals, and is valued as it never tarnishes.

Platinum Diamond Stud Earrings, $1400, Jewlr.com

As with gold, the higher the percentage of platinum in a metal, the higher the value and the price. Jewelry must contain at least 950 parts per thousand of pure platinum to qualify as platinum. Jewelry containing fewer parts per thousand of pure platinum may still be marked “Plat” or “Pt” if the amount of pure platinum is disclosed in a number before the terms, such as “800 Plat” or “800 Pt”.

Now that you know your metals, it’s time to know your stones. Tune in on Wednesday for our guide to buying birthstones.

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