So you're not a die-hard jewelry fanatic, you’ve never even considered the types of metals used for making jewelry, but after years of buying imitation jewelry from knock-off websites – you decide to treat yourself to something nice and head on to the store.
You go in and become overwhelmed at all of the options that lay before you – and certainly the prices! You take a look at the tags: 14kt gold, 18kt gold, 22kt gold... what does the “kt” stand for? White gold, what makes it white? StainLESS steel, you didn’t even know steel could stain!
Singing “Titanium” by Guetta and Sia, you exit the store more confused than you came in. You open your browser, go to Google, search metals used for making jewelry, and find this blog. Welcome! We hope we can help scare away those floating question marks by sharing a little something about the top 6 metals used for making jewelry.
Starting off with the stereotypical epitome of wealth, you may be surprised to learn that gold manufacturing over the years has come to a point where we now have many different, affordable, and beautiful varieties of gold to meet everyone’s needs.
More affordable varieties of gold jewelry usually aren’t made from pure gold, but from gold mixed with other metals in order to create a more budget-friendly option while still retaining that luxurious appearance.
Gold jewelry is measured in karats (kt), AKA the percentage of gold vs other metal alloy. The price will vary depending on the purity of the gold used to make the jewelry, the purest being the most expensive:
9kt gold contains 37.5% of pure gold.
10kt gold contains 41.7% of pure gold
12kt gold contains 50% of pure gold
14kt gold contains 58.5% of pure gold.
18kt gold contains 75% of pure gold.
22kt gold contains 91.7% of pure gold.
22kt gold contains 99.9% of pure gold.
Gold color variations
Gold is naturally a reflective metal whose mattified color looks something similar to desert sand with undertones somewhere in-between beige and yellow. The most common color imitation can be found on chocolate bar wrappers, for example. If you’re not a fan of the color of pure gold, then you can adjust your budget according to your preference and opt for something 22kt or less, as the color of gold changes in accordance to what it’s mixed with:
Yellow gold is made by mixing gold with copper, zinc or silver.
- White gold is made by mixing gold with lighter metals, such as tin, nickel, palladium and silver.
- Rose gold* can contain a variety of alloys, copper being the most common as it creates those rich rosy undertones.
*Note that if you have a copper allergy, rose gold is perhaps something to avoid, as rose gold jewelry usually contains 10% copper or more.
Silver is perhaps the most popular choice of metal used for making jewelry of all noble or precious metals. It’s relatively inexpensive, has a softer look and feel, and is softer, which is why it’s easier to work with.
Due to its softness, however, pure silver jewelry is easy to bend and break, which is why fine silver is not the most common choice. The more popular options are:
- Silver-plated jewelry, which can be the most inexpensive option as this is usually made from a base metal such as brass decorated with a thin outer layer of silver.
- Sterling silver, the most popular option, is made of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
There is another popular item under the category of silver which is “nickel silver”*. Nickel silver, ironically, needn’t contain silver at all – it’s a mixture of copper, nickel and zinc, where the zinc gives that grayish-reflective shine similar to silver.
*note that nickel is also a metal that often causes allergic reactions, so beware before you splurge on nickel silver to save a dime.
3. Stainless steel
Stainless steel is a very common and affordable type of metal in jewelry-making. Due to its color, it’s very reminiscent of silver. It’s very often used in costume-style rings, necklaces and bracelets as it can handle a good deal of wear and tear.
To answer the burning question: yes, steel can stain. Moreover, steel can corrode easily too, which is a big no-no for skin-to-skin contact. This is exactly why stainless steel is made by mixing steel with chromium, which adds more shine and makes steel more scratch-resistant.
While it is commonly found in necklaces and rings, titanium is a very popular metal choice for piercings, such as earrings, nose rings and eyebrow piercings. Titanium is a very strong and resistant metal, making it a popular choice in surgeries for fractured bones. It has very low odds of allergic reactions, and, despite its sturdiness, is relatively lightweight. It’s also somewhat darker in color, which makes it a popular choice for those who want something more discreet.
You’d perhaps be surprised to learn that gold is actually not the most precious metal, but rather platinum is. Platinum beats gold in rarity and sturdiness, while beating silver in shine, which is why it’s a popular choice for special-occasion jewelry, such as wedding rings. Platinum is often paired with titanium to make less-heavy but equally as resistant alloys.
Bronze is a beautiful choice for decorations such as hairpieces, brooches, and wristbands. It is somewhat heavy and very bulky so it’s rarely worn day-to-day anymore. Bronze finds itself used today more so on medals, trophies, sculptures and decorations rather than accessories. Like brass, bronze used to be a more popular choice for vintage styles.
Other common metals used for making jewelry
Because jewelry has in recent times been made out of just about any material you could imagine, we’d need ten pages to cover them all. We’re going to briefly touch on some honorable mentions of metals used for making jewelry that hadn’t made their way into our top six list:
- Palladium: Palladium is becoming more and more popular as a cheaper variety of platinum; however, palladium manufacturing is still relatively new and is yet to replace platinum and titanium.
- Zirconium: Similar in color to titanium, it’s cheaper and easier to work with. Still labeled as a strong metal, it’s not as strong as titanium, but certainly is stronger than silver.
- Pewter: An affordable choice of metal that can have both a light and a dark, and matte and shiny appearance, based on the finishing process. Often used for costume jewelry, pewter has a habit of leaving a green stain on the skin (brass and bronze can also do this, as well as silver and gold mixed with these alloys).
- Aluminum: Another affordable silver alternative, aluminum is very lightweight, so it’s often used for more bulky pieces or earrings with charms.
When buying jewelry for yourself, what metals do you normally gravitate towards? Let us know in the comments!