With more than twenty-three billion USD in 2019, the jewellery industry is estimated to grow up to four hundred eighty billion USD in 2025. It is no wonder why we are overwhelmed by the various styles of jewellery, from the traditional or classically fashioned to a more modern and fashion-forward piece. Consequently, the materials have also evolved, and more materials are now used. This is to cater to the different social classes and taste. In this article, we are going to cover the different types of metals used in jewellery and its advantages and disadvantages. To have an idea and serve as a guide in choosing a perfect base for our needs and style.
Different types of metals used in jewellery
Aluminium is a material that has extensive use in the manufacturing and household industry. Durable and exceptionally light, with a non-magnetic and a good electro conductibility. Impermeable to tarnish for it undergoes self-healing of passivation creating an aluminium oxide layer. Best alloy base for
The weight of jewellery made from an aluminium base makes it popular among artisans and creative jewellers. Massive costume accessories may be too much to bear, especially when made into big pieces that may cause harm or injuries. That is never a problem with aluminium for it is a third lighter than steel, the phrase light as a feather comes to mind.
Being the second most common metal found on Earth, its full availability makes it more affordable than other metals.
If you are a fan of brightly coloured jewellery pieces, then you may consider focusing your attention on aluminium base jewellery. Some of the brightly coloured costume pieces of jewellery that see today are made from an aluminium base. Though unlike other metals that are coloured through plating, aluminium can be anodized or dyed in a dye solution, combined with a catalyst, and voila! A beautifully coloured piece of jewellery.
- No resale value
However beautiful your aluminium jewellery may look, sadly, it has no worth. Most costume jewellery has a low to no resale value unlike pieces of jewellery made from a more precious metal base.
- Tough to solder
This problem is specific to resizing; the reason why a piece of jewellery made from an aluminium base is its quick ability to build a protective oxide layer without giving an opening to make a connection. Instead of a regular soldering tool, the use of a Heli-arc solder where an inert gas is used to displace the oxygen gas.
Yellow gold, rose gold, or white gold, which shade do you prefer? Pure gold is just too soft to be made into anything substantial, more so a piece of jewellery. Gold is mixed with other metals to lend their hardness and durability. With this, the quality of gold is determined by the Karat or the amount of gold used.
99.99 per cent pure gold
Too soft for wear.
91.67 per cent gold
The highest grade that can be used as a pendant.
75 per cent gold
The most widely used grade for earrings, bracelet, necklaces, pendants and anklet. Some rings are made from an 18 Karat gold though it may still bend with pressure.
66.76 per cent gold
The lowest grade of gold acceptable in jewellery. It is hard enough to be made into a ring and maintain its form, but the hypoallergenic property goes down as the durability increases.
58.33 per cent gold
This belongs to the low gold standard that may no cause an allergic reaction and tarnish.
41.67 per cent gold
This also belongs to the low gold standard that may no cause an allergic reaction and tarnish.
- A form of investment
Gold has been a form of investment even for countries, Gold reserves signify a state worth as how gold jewellery is for people. It is easily pawed anytime and anywhere. Its value fluctuates with time, so be sure to pawn or sell your jewellery at the peak of its value.
- Widely available
Like silver, pieces of gold jewellery are available in all jewellery shops, internet and even or the marketplace.
- Luxurious in appearance
Gold is equal to luxury. Even when it comes to food, there is now such a thing as edible gold which automatically puts a wow factor and upgrade a so-so dish.
Luxury comes with a price, and it is costly. Due to this fact, some or most jewellery are not offered with a gold-coated base. This means that the base is made from different metal or alloy and plated with gold to get that distinct gold-tone.
- Easily bent or deformed
The untainted the gold, the softer it is. Consequently, the more refined the gold, the more hypoallergenic it is. So if you go to the gym, play badminton or baseball where your ring is subjected to pressure, take off your gold ring or just replace it with a more durable one. The same goes with gold chain bracelets and necklaces, where the snaps easily. This is easily remedied even at home for gold is quite pliable and easy to repair.
Commonly compounded with silver, copper, zinc or nickel. The silver and the zinc content contributes to its white appearance that is at par with the whiteness of platinum
For people who cannot afford a piece of platinum jewellery, white gold may be your saviour. It resembles a platinum base appearance but is much more affordable than those as mentioned earlier.
- skin irritation
White gold contains nickel; nickel is one of the metals that may cause skin allergy. Therefore it is best to find out if you have a nickel allergy or not.
Rose gold is produced when gold is mixed with copper and silver. The copper content gives its pinkish feminine hue. It is now widely accepted that it is even available for men.
- Distinct hue
you would never mistake a rose-gold colour with silver or any other metallic colours. This is why it has become a favourite shade for women in general. Aside from its aesthetic appeal, it also creates a pinkish skin glow that complements any type of skin-tone.
- Changes colour
Comparable to copper-containing alloys such as brass and bronze, the colour of copper deepens with time, and this creates a more reddish and vintage-looking piece.
Since the discovery of iron, it has been used for various forms in combat, cooking and jewellery. It is also widely used material to mix and alloy other metals to improve durability and tarnish resistance.
Iron ores are found everywhere, it is easy to extract; therefore offered are an affordable price.
Iron readily react with the oxygen in air or water, thus producing iron oxide or rust. This eats the metal, destroying the jewellery.
- Skin irritation
Iron is an excellent conductor f heat and electricity; therefore it is a very reactive material that is affected by sweat and causes skin allergies.
Niobium belongs to the not so popular jewellery base group that only a handful of people may have heard of it. Characterized by a light metallic grey colour, a by-product of tantalum used as an alternative filler for manganese and carbon elements in alloys.
It has similar biocompatibility with titanium and is used in the medical industry as implants like a peacemaker. Its price sits in the middle of silver and gold.
- Can be anodized
Another notable property of niobium is its ability to undergo the anodization process, which is better than metal plating. Anodized niobium results in a beautiful permanent rainbow-coloured accessory that would not flake nor fade in time.
Niobium alloy is sturdy and resistant to abrasion commonly used on aircraft and oilrigs. It is more durable compared to steel alloys.
Sometimes being rare is a disadvantage. Niobium is an extraordinary element that is hard to extract, therefore is limited when it comes to designs and availability.
Discovered at the same time as rhodium, palladium is a rare metal that belongs to the group of noble metals like platinum. This group is non-reactive, occurs in platinum and gold ores and only extracted after the two aforementioned. Soft with a clean silver-white shade has the same malleability as gold and is available in the form of a ring.
The colour exquisite silver-white colour of palladium is divine particular when it comes to wedding rings. Upon closer look, it is a tad lighter than platinum. In addition, it is also impermeable to tarnish, corrosion and requires minimum to no upkeep.
Aside from platinum and palladium belonging to the same group of metals, they also look quite similar. It was previously an alternative for platinum, but as its value peaks that it is currently twice the value of platinum metal, we can say that platinum is an affordable alternative for palladium when it comes to jewellery.
Belonging to the top 10 most precious metals in the world, therefore only a handful of jewellery pieces are available. This limits its accessibility to the higher social classes for as we know, the rarer a product is, the higher its value. Just to compare how precious and valuable it is, it sits second to rhodium when it comes to price and availability, and rhodium is considered the most expensive metal at the present time.
Palladium is mainly used in the automobile industry as converters for diesel engines. Thus the demand for this metals is still quite high affecting its global price.
Composed of 91 per cent of tin, 7.5 per cent of antimony, and 1.5 per cent bismuth, a bright and robust metal characterized by its bluish tint. It is a much affordable substitute for silver.
Pewter os basically made of tin and bismuth which are both lightweight. Like aluminium, pewter jewwlery are created as costume jewellery with a characteristic large from purposely design to complete and attract attention.
- History of lead content
Lead is a toxic metal that results in nausea and body tremors. Pewter used to contain 30 per cent of lead. Lead leaks when it is exposed to certain acids. In ancient times, cutlery was made from pewter, you can just imagine the lead leaching out form these pieces and being ingested by humans, which have been reported to death. As of today, pewter materials are lead-free, which is why the led –free tag is quite reiterated just to remind the consumers that it is made with safe and non-toxic materials.
- Dull surface
Although pewter has a silver-like appearance, it cannot be polished to a highly lustrous surface, which is why most pewter based jewellery is plated with silver to enhance its appearance.
- No value
The side effect of being affordable is that it has no resold value. Most costume jewellery has no resold value and are shall we say, disposable in essence when it comes to its monetary value.
The most highly sought after material for wedding bands due to its perfect silver-white hue. Dense and extremely durable. Resistant to abrasion retaining its marvellous white sheen.
- Hypoallergenic and durable
All the metals that belong to the noble metals are non-reactive. Moreover, platinum alloys do not contain nickel. Unlike its counterpart white gold, which contains nickel and is not suitable for people has an allergic reaction to nickel.
- First-class lustre and colour
Platinum is the perfect base for a diamond stone. They have a positive symbiotic relationship, as the silvery-white tone of a platinum rings adds additional sparkle to the diamond. In contrast, the brilliance of the diamond heightens the white lustre of the platinum base.
There is no other downside for platinum other than its price. Platinum is quite rare compared to gold and silver, which are also commonly used for wedding rings. This keeps the value of platinum jewellery at a high level. In summation of being durable, hypoallergenic, and its unique silvery-white hue, it is no wonder why platinum stays expensive all this time.
- Nice resell value
Platinum rings are worth investing in much like gold or silver pieces of jewellery. Please note that the cost may rest on the uniqueness of the design and the precious gems it may contain.
The most common type of silver used in pieces of jewellery is sterling silver. It consists of 92.5 per cent silver and 7.5 per cent copper.
- Readily available
Sterling silver jewellery is found everywhere, from the jewellery shop, the internet, and even on a flea market. There is no shortage of supply and style. It is available in every form, from earrings, rings, necklaces, bracelets and anklet.
- A nice investment
Silver can be pawned, unlike modern metals like tungsten and steel. So, depending on the trend, your silver jewellery may fetch a higher price in the future.
- White and lustrous
The aesthetic is just fabulous. On its best condition, it is almost similar to white gold or platinum but at a more affordable price.
If you are seeing some black specks on the crevices of your sterling silver jewellery, that is silver sulfide. Silver sulfide is a product when silver and sulfur oxidizes producing a black substance. So basically, silver is not affected by air itself, it is the sulfide in the air that reacts with a sterling silver metal.
- High maintenance
Since sterling silver is prone to oxidation, the need to clean it to remove these unsightly black sulfide is necessary. You may go to your jeweller occasionally for an over-all cleaning, or you may use some silver cleaning solution at home to clean your silver jewellery.
There is a type of silver that does not rust. It is made up of 93.6 to 96 per cent silver and 4.16 per cent copper. It is called Argentinean silver, which is more hypoallergenic and a higher grade than sterling silver.
Light grey in colour, with a hardness value of 900, which is softer than cobalt chrome yet still considered as a hard jewellery base. The most utilized in the jewellery industry is the commercially pure grade. It is the most delicate of its kind and more manageable than an aircraft or extra-hard titanium grade metal. Non-magnetic and lightweight compared to steel and tungsten.
Coloured pieces of jewellery? Titanium says no problem! Titanium is easily anodized. The colour rest on the voltage. The type two anodization process gives a matte-grey colour, while type three can produce vibrantly coloured surfaces.
In essence, once material is considered as non-reactive or with low to none heat and electrical conductibility, it is hypoallergenic on the skin. It is so hypoallergenic that it is biocompatible and can be used as implants.
It is a well-known fact that hard materials with high melting points are challenging to create and resize. It can be cut with the use of a diamond-coated cutting tool, which not every jeweller has. IF you really need your titanium rings to be resized, then you may need to prepare a certain amount for the harder the task, the higher its amount.
What makes titanium expensive? It is the difficulty of extraction, time, tools, difficulty of creating a piece of jewellery made from titanium that sums up why titanium accessories are expensive. Titanium itself can be found almost everywhere; the problem is it is tasking to extract it. It needs high temperature to melt and convert it to titanium chloride that needs to be purified with acids before finally obtaining and unadulterated form of titanium.
The material’s hardness is directly proportional to its resistance to abrasion. Titanium is still considered as a hard metal, though in comparison to tungsten and cobalt chrome, it places the lowest spot. This only means that it has resistance to abrasion but not at mush as those above it. So do not be flabbergasted if you see some light scratches on your favourite titanium piece of jewellery.
Tungsten or wolfram is known as the hardest metal on Earth with only a .05 difference from the hardest rock, a diamond. Cemented tungsten carbide is commonly used, these are characterized by a grey to bluish hint alloyed with nickel or cobalt. Though I must advise you to stick to nickel rather than the cobalt alloy for these are the cheaper and may have the tendency to corrode.
- Durable and resistant to abrasion
Again, we go back to the hardness. Being the hardest metal, it is also the most abrasion-resistant. It is so hard that it can only be scratched by another tungsten or a diamond.
Tungsten carbide also undergoes passivation, which means that its nickel content cannot induce any form of skin irritation.
Tungsten carbide is quite heavy compared to almost every jewellery base as of today. This is why it remains as a men’s ring for aside from its weight, the styles are also limited to full bands with a glossy or laser engraved surface, which is not actually endearing to women’s taste.
The simplest way to say this is resizing tungsten carbide rings is not worth the effort and the money. Like steel, it is affordable and has no resold value. It is widely available that it is easier to look for a replica of your ring rather than finding a legit jeweller who would try to resize your ring. With this in mind, be sure that the shop must offer a return or exchange policy just in case your ring does not fit.
Tungsten carbide is hard but has a low tensile strength. Its reaction towards a sudden high impact is to shatter rather than to bend. Therefore, instead of trying to cut it in emergency cases, it is better to crack it.
Different types of Alloys Used in Jewelry
- Cobalt Chrome
An alternative for metal for platinum and white gold commonly featured in wedding bands for men. Cobalt was discovered in the year 1735; a rare element that that was named after a goblin or leprechaun “Kobold” by the miners for contains arsenic and smelting the ores produces a toxic and volatile arsenic oxide gas.
Cobalt chrome alloy was discovered in the 1900s, it contains iron, carbon, tungsten, molybdenum manganese, silicon, chrome and cobalt. It later became popular in the medical industry for its resistance to oxidation, corrosion, and high wear-resistant property. At presents a famous for its biocompatibility and strength; it is utilized in knees, hip replacement, and dental procedures.
- Extremely hypoallergenic
Premium grade cobalt rings are exceptionally hypoallergenic, particularly the cobalt chrome ally. It is free of nickel that causes skin allergies. However, there are other grades of cobalt-containing jewellery that causes skin reactions for cobalt is quite comparable to nickel, where some develop skin irritation. The key is the chrome content that creates an oxide layer preventing other components from being exposed to the skin.
The white-grey colour of cobalt chrome makes it the best substitute for platinum and sits on top of tungsten carbide and titanium. It emits a white pigment that resembles white gold and strong enough to resist abrasion but not too much. Therefore rings of this base can be resized.
- Reasonably priced
It has the highest cost compared to its alloy counterparts like tungsten and titanium but has the lowest cost when compared to other metals used in wedding rings such as platinum, palladium and gold.
- Limited styles
Amid its beauty, Cobalt chrome remains offered as men’s wedding band with a classic woodgrain or satin and matte finish. Like tungsten, which is a sturdy base material, cobalt chrome is challenging to construct for a regular jeweller and is only manufactured by big jewellery companies. Thus it is the limited styles offered.
Resizing is possible but is quite challenging for its hardness value is 1043 compared to 230HV of gold, which is the softest and smoothest to manoeuvre among the metals used on jewellery. You may need to think twice whether you would want to have your altered or simply purchase another for one of its advantages is its affordability.
Commonly alloyed with other metals such as silver, rose gold, brass and bronze. It is a great conductor of heat and electricity with a distinct pinkish-orange shade. Utilized in jewellery since 8000BC and was later purposely alloyed with tin. Brass and bronze are considered the highest copper-containing material used in the jewellery industry.
An alloy of copper and zinc with a golden shade, making it an excellent substitute for a precious gold metal jewellery. Famous for its casting property and is widely used in the as conductors, instruments and decorative pieces. Commonly used in costume jewellery for it has the aesthetics of gold offered at a much affordable price.
Types of Brass:
- Alpha brass
The highest copper-containing grade of brass with a proportion that can range more than 65 per cent of copper and less than 35 per cent of zinc. Red brass, a corrosion-resistant grade contains 15 per cent of zinc and 85 per cent of copper.
- Alpha-beta brass
Harder than alpha brass for it contains 35 to 45 per cent of zinc and 55 to 65 per cent of copper. This has a much lighter colour that an alpha brass.
- Rich low brass
The most common type of brass used for jewellery for its high resistance to corrosion and high polish. It is composed of 15 per cent zinc and 85 per cent with a medium to gold-tone.
- Yellow brass
Consist of 70% copper 30percent zinc with no nickel and lead. It has a medium gold-tone with a hint of green.
- Striking gold-like colour
As we have established, brass jewellery mimics the appearance of an accessory made from actual gold. This is the reason why it is also popular as a base for gold-tone costume jewellery.
The durability rest on the zinc content of brass. The higher the zinc, the more durable it becomes, which in turns, the lighter it also becomes. Still, that does not mean that you should choose the highest zinc-containing brass. White brass contains 50 per cent copper and 50 per cent zinc is actually brittle rather than being durable.
Following the law of supply and demand, brass is widely manufactured, therefore is offered at a reasonable price.
- History of lead content
Aged brass decorative pieces consist of lead and act as a colour enhancer. These lead-free paints are not as lively coloured than those with lead content. As science evolves, we have become aware of the toxicity of lead that the littlest amount allowable is mandated by each country. There are available test kits nowadays that we can use to test whether our jewellery contains lead of not.
Substances like acids, ammonia chlorides and even water affect brass materials. This makes the copper content corrode, which is the green colour that you may see on your skin. This reaction may cause skin irritation, which is why brass jewellery is not made for individuals with sensitive skins.
The first alloy of copper in 3500BC. This consist of copper, tin, silicon, aluminium, phosphorus and manganese. It exhibits a brownish gold-tone and available at a very reasonable price.
- Vintage effect
The brownish tint of bronze creates a vintage effect preferred by many people. It makes a newly made accessory seem like an heirloom that has been passed through generations. Aside from a sure way to enhance any type of skin tones, its versatile colour and nature make it easy to play with and pair with other coloured stones resulting in a plethora of styles and forms.
- Alleged healing effect
I say allegedly because there is no proven evidence that copper-containing jewellery such as bronze has a healing property. Why include this if it is not determined? It is precisely to establish that there is no supporting evidence to this claim, which is widely advertised by some individuals. As of today, it is still the 2013 study made with a controlled group of individuals with arthritis proving that the healing effect is mainly a placebo effect rather than an actual way to reduce inflammation.
- Changes in colour
Copper containing jewellery tends to change colour and look older than they actually are. This may be considered as an advantage to some and a disadvantage for others.
- Tarnishing and skin irritation
Some bronze pieces contain nickel, which as we know, many people are quite allergic to. Comparable to its sibling, brass, it is also affected by the most straightforward substance such as moisture and water. The copper content oxidizes, creating a green-coloured tarnish that causes skin allergies. However, most bronze pieces of jewellery have a thick polish on their surface to prevent tarnishing, so be sure to re-apply some to maintain the jewel at its prime condition.
In conclusion, with these two copper-based alloys, the main difference would be its appearance, brass with a yellow-gold-tone, while bronze has a natural warm brown-golden shade.
- Stainless steel
Discovered in the 1800s, it contains a mixture of chromium, nickel and iron. There is a variety of stainless steel used different types of industry, but the two acceptable grade would be the 304 and the 316. The 304 class contains 17.5 to 18 per cent chromium, 8 to 10 per cent nickel, and 80 per cent iron. Commonly used in the food manufacturing industry, whether in small restaurants or large manufacturing companies. The 316 grade is more popularly known as the surgical grade, which, as the name implies, are commonly used in the medical industry. These are much stronger than 304 and non-reactive. It contains 16 to 18 per cent chromium, 10 to 14 per cent nickel and 2 to 3 per cent molybdenum.
Dubbed as the superman of alloys where it is full of beautiful properties from being durable, sturdy, non-reactive, resistant to corrosion, completely recyclable, and hypoallergenic. Above all, it is pocket friendly.
The chromium content of stainless steel undergoes passivation or self-healing. This process happens when chromium is exposed to air and water. Through oxidation, chromium oxide is produced, thus recoating its surface with a protective shield that keeps a stainless jewellery scratch resistant and impermeable to tarnish.
- Non-reactive and hypoallergenic
Stainless steel, particularly the surgical grade, is non-reactive even to bodily fluids like blood. You may ask, it contains nickel, why is it considered a hypoallergenic material. It is again all thanks to its chromium content from as the chromium oxide layer protects the surface to the steel, it also keeps the nickel inside, giving no opportunity for it to come in contact with the skin. It goes the same with the iron content of the steel. The chromium layer keeps it so it would not oxidize and for iron oxide or rust.
Appearance-wise, stainless steel exhibits a metallic grey shade, which not many appreciate. Compare to silver and white gold, it would look dark and darker and not as lustrous even if polished with a mirror-like finish.
- Low market value
Affordability is always equal to no resell value. So if you are looking for a piece of jewellery that would sell at a higher price, then focus your attention toward gold and platinum. Its hundred per cent recyclability is also a reason why it is sold at a lower price for it is easily accessible, thus creating an equal balance in supply and demand.
Simply put, it is more advisable to purchase a new one (if it does not hold sentimental value) than have your old ring resized. As we have established above, stainless steel jewellery is offered at a reasonable price, but the resizing fee is not.
One thing is for sure, each metal or alloys used in the jewellery today has their own advantage and disadvantages, and so it is really up to us consumers to decide what we value the most. Is it for everyday use? Is it a way of investment? IS it for long or short-term use? Is it your kind of style? All we need to do is understand and take advantage of its beneficial properties, and we would definitely find all of them satisfactory and worth every penny.