Jewelers utilize many different materials when creating such precious jewelry items as wedding bands, engagement rings, necklaces and earrings. The four most commonly used, and most often expected metals are gold, silver, platinum and titanium. We are all familiar with jewelry made with one or more of these precious metals, and for many of us the issue regarding the use of these particular metals is simple to resolve. To put it bluntly, they all are beautiful. Who hasn’t felt a certain awe when looking at jewelry that is made of brilliantly polished gold, silver, platinum or titanium? Once we step beyond the issue of aesthetics, however, there are some quite practical reasons for the common use of these particular metals in precious jewelry making.
Let’s look at gold first. Gold is perhaps the most popular precious metal as far as jewelry, and the dreams of wealth and opulence go. For a simple example of this, look at the popularity of the King Tutankhamun exhibit over the past 30 years. While the historical and archaeological importance is unquestionable, it can be reasonably argued that what truly draws people to it is the enormous quantity of gold artifacts. Gold jewelry from over 3000 years ago can be seen to be just as gorgeous and alluring as anything that could be found in a jeweler’s shop today.
This agelessness gets to the heart of why gold is one of the most commonly used and popular of the materials used in jewelry. Gold does not age the way many other metals do, or perhaps it would be more accurate to state that gold does not succumb to the corrosive qualities of common corrosives as easily as many other metals. For example, one of the most common corrosives in the world is oxygen. Gold is not affected by oxygen, unlike metals such as iron or copper. This is due to its chemical makeup. Gold is also resistant to such common corrosives as water and extreme heat. Gold may melt, but it will still be gold, ready to be shaped into whatever you require.
This allows us to see gold as a good choice for jewelry due to its aesthetic qualities and its durability, but there is yet one more good reason for it proliferation in the use of jewelry throughout the history of humankind. This goes back to its ability to be melted down and used again and again. Gold has the greatest malleability and ductility of all metals.
Malleability refers to a substance’s ability to be shaped and reformed, while ductility refers to a metal’s ability to be placed under extreme stress, such as being flattened, without fracturing. To give an illustration of gold’s malleability and ductility, if you were to take a single piece of pure gold that weighed one ounce (the weight of about 7 shelled walnuts), you could bang it out into a single, unbroken gold sheet that was 300 square feet in size. With such a soft and malleable metal, it becomes clear as to why people would use this metal to create jewelry. By alloying it to small quantities of harder metals, gold can be shaped into all manner of delicate designs. And should the jewelry maker make a mistake, the gold can simply be reshaped, with no loss of the precious metal.
Of course, this does bring us to one of the negative sides of gold. In order for it to be utilized in anything that must remain solid and hard, such as jewelry, it must be alloyed with another metal, such as silver, copper, aluminum or any other number of harder metals. This is because, while there are not many compounds that are chemically corrosive to gold, and it has great durability, it is an extremely soft metal. You may have seen in films that depict gold mining or the finding of gold, a scene in which a character bites into gold to verify that it is, in fact, real gold. This is not an extremely precise means of verifying pure gold, but it isn’t a ridiculous one either, as pure gold will easily give under the pressure of the human jaw.
We know why gold is commonly used, but what about silver? If you were able to create a jewelry piece out of gold, what would be the reason for choosing silver? The easy answer to this question is one of simple economics: silver is far less expensive than gold. This is not the only reason for choosing silver, however. As with gold, there is the issue of aesthetics, durability and malleability to consider.
Silver has been utilized for jewelry for nearly as long as gold. Silver was used alongside of gold in the first production of coinage in Lydia around the 7thcentury BC. While it has traditionally been less expensive than gold, there have been times when it was only slightly less valuable. Much of this value was due to its ability to be brought to an extremely high polish. Silver can be brought to a mirror-like polish, while retaining a great durability.
The beauty of silver has gained great resurgence in popularity as its simple allure is seen to be easily adaptable to different fashions. For example, in the winter, silver serves as a bright accent to dark colors. In the summer, that same silver acts as an aesthetic cooling agent against bare skin and pastel colored clothing. This adaptability and beauty, along with its economic viability in comparison with other precious metals, make silver a popular choice.
While silver is less expensive than gold, it is about as soft as gold. This means that, like gold, it must be alloyed with another metal in order for it to be used for jewelry, or most anything. It is this similarity to gold in regards to its softness, however, that allows it to be used by jewelers for more experimental pieces. As it is less expensive than gold, jewelers can take jewelry design risks with silver that might prove to be too costly to take with gold.
The major negative with silver is in its chemical structure. Unlike gold, silver is subject to numerous chemical corrosives, such as oxygen. Silver can be polished, as mentioned earlier, but its surface can be damaged by scratching, or through over-exposure to sunlight. Even some wood may contain chemicals that can cause damage to the finish of silver. However, proper care can keep silver in a state of extreme beauty for an extremely long time, as silver pieces from antiquity can verify.
Platinum is similar in look to silver, although there are some important differences between the two. To begin with, platinum is far more expensive than silver, and is almost twice as expensive as gold. For another, although it cannot be polished to as high a shine or ability to reflect as silver, it is far stronger and far less prone to agents of corrosion.
Platinum is one of the least corrodible of the precious metals. This has made it a desired and used metal for many centuries. However, it fell out of common use in Europe by the middle ages, while its widespread use as a precious commodity in the Americas can be traced back to the first century BC. In fact, platinum did not make a resurgence in Europe until it was brought back from the Americas by explorers. By the 18th century, King Louis the XV of France was declaring that only kings could wear platinum, as it was so strong, beautiful and rare.
Why would Europe have forgotten about platinum for so many centuries? There are a number of reasons for this. For one, platinum is extremely rare, and the Americas had greater access to mining the ore than Europe. For another reason, platinum, while stronger than gold or silver, is extremely difficult to work with. This is due to its great strength and durability. Platinum has a much higher melting point than gold or silver, which means that pre-modern techniques for jewelry making made using platinum prohibitively expensive.
Despite its greater rarity and difficulty in working, platinum has become extremely popular in recent years. It had gained an initial resurgence in popularity in the beginning of the 20th century, but this was halted by the outbreak of WWII and the governmental prohibition on the use of platinum for anything other than the war effort. In this current resurgence, people have discovered that platinum can be polished to a degree near to silver, but without the corrosiveness that silver has. Platinum, aside from having a resistance to corrosive properties that is similar to gold’s, is much stronger than gold, and much heavier. For many people, this additional physical weight adds to platinum’s appeal as a metal for jewelry, as it lends the weightiness that many would like to find in an expensive jewelry item.
The final precious metal that is common to jewelry today is the metal titanium. (Titanium is shown in the watch case and band seen at right.) Titanium is interesting in that it is a fairly new metal in jewelry use, when compared to gold, silver or platinum. It is also less expensive than platinum and gold, while it is far stronger than any other metal. It is white-silver-gray in appearance and it is fast becoming a popular choice for both women and men when it comes to jewelry.
Titanium was initially discovered, in the scientific sense of ‘discovery’, in the 18th century. The main reason that it had not been used for jewelry prior to this discovery is the simple fact that it must be extracted from the ore with which it occurs. This is an expensive and difficult process, known as the Kroll process, which makes the wide availability of titanium in the world far more expensive than it would otherwise be.
Perhaps the most appealing draw of titanium is its strength. It is far stronger than silver and gold, and is even stronger than platinum, while carrying a much lower cost. In addition to this tremendous strength and durability (it is, after all, used in aircraft, as it is far stronger than even aluminum), platinum is also extremely light in weight. This is a great attraction for those who want tremendous strength in their jewelry, but don’t want to feel a great weight. It also has the additional bonus of being the most hypoallergenic of the metals. This means that the likelihood of you being allergic to titanium is much lower than any other of the metals.
The main drawback to titanium in jewelry is found in its greatest appeal; that is to say, its strength is its greatest weakness. The melting point and subsequent strength of titanium is so high that a titanium band cannot have prongs, such as with a solitaire ring. This is because titanium cannot be soldered. This is fine for most wedding rings, but can prove to be a problem with engagement rings. This problem extends to the issue of re-sizing as well. Most metals allow rings to be resized should a person gain or lose weight and need to change ring size. Titanium bands cannot be resized as their melting point is too high for such operations.
Any of these four metals can serve to help create truly stunning jewelry. In fact, it is far from uncommon for multiple metals to be used together in the same piece. When gold is utilized in tandem with any of the three silver-toned metals, the piece is referred to as two-tone. These can be arrestingly beautiful jewelry pieces. The important factors to consider are what you expect out of your metal, the money you can spend, whether you have any allergies to particular metals, and how much time you are willing to put into the proper care and responsibility of your jewelry.
We at WigJig want to thank Abazias Diamonds for their excellent write-up on the four most popular jewelry metals.
Abazias Diamonds is among the world's top discount diamond and engagement ring retailers, featuring a selection of over 100,000 loose diamonds as well as interactive search, ring builder, and diamond information tools. Since 2001 Abazias has been helping people save on diamonds and jewelry and as one of the Internet's only publicly traded diamond retailers, Abazias is a company you can trust. Visit www.abazias.com or call 1-800-264-9940 to speak to a Diamond Specialist.