Facts Concerning Sterling, Vermeil, .999 fine, Karat Gold, Filled Metal, Plating, alloys and Jewelry Metals
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About Silver Accessories and Karat Gold Jewelry
The two precious metals most often used in jewelry are alloys of silver and gold.
There are many different alloys used in modern jewelry making.
The type of jewelry you can wear is not just determined by your
but also by the way your body reacts to and tolerates exposure to metals.
Sterling silver tarnishes, especially in hot, humid weather. It
contains 7.5% copper
by weight, which reacts with common air pollutants, darkening the surface of the metal.
This can prompt skin irritation if your skin is sensitive to (usually) nickel or (sometimes) copper.
If you have noticed that you have an itch that persists with drying
and reddening of your
skin where your jewelry touches it, you are probably sensitive to the alloy in the metal.
Gold and silver are known to be non - reactive metals; but that does
that everyone can wear any type of gold or silver jewelry without any problem.
Understanding more about metals can help you to choose
jewelry that is more comfortable and healthy for you to wear!
Higher karat gold alloys tend to be better tolerated than lower karat
qualities because there is
less of the reactive metal in the alloy. Many people wear 18K or 22K gold jewelry for this reason.
Sterling silver is .925 pure, or 92.5% silver by weight, a very high
Most people don't have any problems wearing sterling silver jewelry.
Modern silver alloys don't contain nickel, the usual irritant in
jewelry metals. Lower percentage
silver alloys like vintage "European" silver can irritate your skin more easily than sterling silver jewelry
if you have copper sensitive skin, because old European silver is .800 fine, or 80% silver / 20% copper.
Following is a listing of metals commonly used in jewelry making and an explanation of their properties.
Gold Facts - Alloys, Karats, and more!
Pure 24K gold is hypoallergenic. It doesn't cause irritation to the body.
However, the metals mixed with gold to make it harder or
enhance the color of gold can cause adverse skin reactions.
Gold is very malleable, meaning it can be hammered
into very thin sheets - thin enough for light to pass through.
Gold is also very ductile - it can be pulled
through drawplates into wire much thinner than hair.
Pure gold is very soft. It is very easy to work with hand
tools.To make it harder
it is mixed with other metals, creating an alloy. Gold alloy purity is expressed in karats.
Gold alloys are available in many colors. The color of the alloy is
by the percentage and type(s) of metal "mixed" with the pure gold.
Rose gold contains more copper; until recently
white gold was traditionally made with nickel.
Now white gold is also made with palladium, a platinum
family metal; green gold is made with an alloy of fine silver.
As an example, most green gold is 18 karat; 75% gold, 25% silver.
There are MANY other colors made with alloy combinations.
The percentage of gold used is directly related to the karat content of the alloy.
It does not matter what type of metal is "mixed" with the gold, just how much.
The chart (below) shows how much gold is in your jewelry.
1k Gold = 4.17% Gold and 95.83% alloy
2k Gold = 8.33% Gold and 91.67% alloy
3k Gold = 12.5% Gold and 87.5% alloy
4k Gold = 16.67% Gold and 83.33% alloy
5k Gold = 20.83% Gold and 79.17% alloy
6k Gold = 25% Gold and 75% alloy
7k Gold = 29.17% Gold and 70.83% alloy
8k Gold = 33.3% Gold and 66.67% alloy
9k Gold = 37.5% Gold and 62.5% alloy
10k Gold = 41.67% Gold and 58.33% alloy
11k Gold = 45.83% Gold and 54.17% alloy
12k Gold = 50% Gold and 50% alloy
13k Gold = 54.17% Gold and 45.83% alloy
14k Gold = 58.33% Gold and 41.67% alloy
15k Gold = 62.5% Gold and 37.5% alloy
16k Gold = 66.67% Gold and 33.33% alloy
17k Gold = 70.83% Gold and 29.17% alloy
18k Gold = 75% Gold and 25% alloy
19k Gold = 79.1% Gold and 20.83% alloy
20k Gold = 83.33% Gold and 16.67% alloy
21k Gold = 87.5% Gold and 12.5% alloy
22k Gold = 91.67% Gold and 8.33% alloy
23k Gold = 95.83% Gold and 4.17% alloy
24k Gold = 100% Gold and 0% alloy
In this chart, "alloy" means the other
metal. It can be
silver, copper, zinc, nickel, iron or almost any other metal.
For instance, 10 karat yellow gold is
41.67% pure gold and 58.33% "other metals",
mostly copper, maybe some silver and most likely some nickel or zinc to add hardness.
In the United States gold must be at least 9K to be sold as karat gold.
Lower karat gold alloys have a higher percentage of the other metals added to them.
They tend to react to the pollutants and
impurities in the air faster than higher karat gold alloys.
This means that the high percentage of
copper or other metal in the
lower karat alloy will tarnish (or oxidize), just like sterling silver items do.
This can occur especially in hot weather when the metals react to salt in perspiration.
If this happens to your sterling silver
or lower karat gold jewelry, you may want to take it off
and wash the piece in hot water with a detergent like Dawn, Joy or whatever you prefer.
If your jewelry is really dirty, try
scrubbing it carefully with a soft toothbrush.
Polish with a jewelry polishing cloth, if you have one. Rinse and dry before wearing.
If you have a problem with sterling
silver, medium to
low karat gold will probably give you difficulties as well.
Medium to low karat yellow gold has a much higher percentage of copper in it than sterling silver.
Nickel allergies are the most common.
Many people have problems wearing white gold -
the problem isn't the gold. It's actually nickel - the alloy - that causes skin reactions!
The new palladium white gold alloys are a bit more expensive, but are hypoallergenic.
Silver Jewelry Metal Facts
Sterling silver is generally used for jewelry, and that is what most people think of when they see silver.
Silver also comes in various quality grades, measured by 1/1000 parts per gram.
are impurities that naturally occur in silver at the molecular level.
consist of other metals - usually copper, but traces of other metals can also be found.
These trace impurities are
insignificant, and would be
too costly to remove - so .999 silver is considered pure.
The table (below) shows the types of silver alloys generally used in jewelry making.
Contains .001 trace metals.
95.84% silver + 4.16% copper.
92.5% silver + 7.5% copper.
90% silver + 10% copper.
83% silver + 17% copper.
80% silver + 20% copper.
All the alloys shown are legally referred to as "silver".
The only legal requirement is that they are quality stamped or marked for sale to the public.
As with gold, silver in its fine state is a non - reactive metal - allergies are possible but VERY rare.
People who have problems wearing silver
jewelry are usually
allergic to the copper in the alloyed metal, not the silver.
During the European Industrial
Revolution, people found that their .800 silver was tarnishing
much faster than before - a reaction to the new pollutants in the air - from burning coal in the factories!
Fine, or pure, silver with no copper
content does not tarnish easily. Think about the fine silver
coins brought up from wrecked ships - everything from the Atocha to sunken pirate ships.
They come up out of the ocean after hundreds of years bright and shiny as new.
Fine silver can get dirty, of course, but will not tarnish like sterling silver.
There is a new alloy called Argentium® Silver. It is sterling, but contains germanium in place of copper.
develop firescale as easily during soldering and doesn't tarnish the way
traditional sterling silver does because the germanium doesn't react as the copper does.
Plated and Filled
There are different grades and methods of bonding precious metals to
a less expensive base metal, as indicated in the chart below.
Finished, Washed, Colored
refer to the thinnest gold, silver, platinum or rhodium
These metals have a required minimum standard thickness - usually .15 - .25 mils
Gold, Platinum or Silver Filled metals
A layer of
karat gold, platinum or silver is mechanically
Filled metals usually have a thickness over 100 times that of plated metals.
Gold filled may be marked with the gold percentage by weight and the karat value.
If a piece of
jewelry is marked 1/20 14K GF - 5% of the total weight is 14K
There is no approved marking system in the US for filled metals.
|Vermeil||Gold plated over silver
Silver is the "base" metal
Many jewelry items are made of either plated or filled metals.
This is done to keep the cost of these items as low as possible.
piece can be plated or filled metal, as with a chain. In many
cases, the clasp and
metal parts of an otherwise top quality gemstone bead necklace or bracelet can be plated or filled.
If it is taken care of and worn properly, such as over a sweater, a
necklace with plated parts
can last for a very reasonable length of time, even years - but eventually the plated
metal parts will oxidize or the plating will wear through to the base metal.
Filled metals are much higher quality and a much longer useful lifespan.
They have one or more layers of precious metal bonded to a base with heat and pressure.
Filled materials are at least 1/20 precious metal by weight.
They are much longer lasting than ordinary plated objects.
Filled metal objects are not usually marked with a quality stamp, such as 12k GF or 14k GF.
For information on the care and cleaning of jewelry, please visit this article:Jewelry Care
Article written by Robert Edwards
Robert is a jeweler and metalsmith, and is webmaster of http://www.jewelry24seven.com.
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