The best part about metalsmith jewelry is the wide variety of materials you get to work with. Whether you’re looking to handle silver, gold, rose gold, base metals or more specialized metals, stick with us for the rundown on the most common types of metal for jewelry making.
When you’re talking about jewelry, you’re talking about sterling silver. That just means it’s 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper. Sterling silver is a great option because it’s durable and long lasting, so it’s good for rings, necklaces, bracelets, cuff links, belt buckles, body jewelry… you get the picture. But keep in mind that silver jewelry is softer than gold, platinum and titanium, and it’s likely to tarnish without proper care.
Silver-filled metals (AKA “silver overlay”) are another popular choice. The difference is that silver-filled wire is made by using heat and pressure to apply a layer of silver to a base of a cheaper metal.
This silver layer is seriously hundreds of times thicker than a standard plating. Because it’s so thick, it lets you work deeper, polish more and even do some light engraving without exposing the base metal underneath.
Silver-filled makes sense for jewelry components like ear wire and chains. It keeps them affordable, plus they’ll last forever and look spot on when paired with sterling silver pendants.
Gold jewelry is a mix of gold and other metals, such as silver, copper, nickel and zinc. When you’re talking about the actual gold content, it’s measured in Karats (K) or carats (ct). That just describes the proportion of pure gold to the other metals in the material. The higher the proportion of gold in the final metal, of course, the more $$$ you’ll have to thrown down for it.
The maximum gold content is 24K, which would make for terrible jewelry because 24K gold is soft and malleable. Look at 14K gold for jewelry — it’s strong and easy to work with. Or, if you’re feeling spendier, try 18K gold (75 percent pure gold).
Pure gold is yellow in color and, since you won’t be buying that, it’s the non-gold metals used in the alloy that ultimately determine the color of this metal.
- Yellow gold is the alloy of pure gold, silver and copper or zinc.
- White gold is the alloy of pure gold and white metals, such as nickel, silver and palladium. It is actually more grayish in color and is plated with rhodium to give it a whiter look. Nickel is generally avoided today since so many people are allergic to it.
- Rose gold is the alloy of pure gold and a high proportion of copper.
- Green gold is exactly like yellow gold, except copper is left out of the alloy.
In any of its variations, gold is a popular choice for things like wedding bands, rings, earrings and necklaces.
4. Base Metal
Base metals include iron, nickel, copper, brass and titanium, among others. These metals are abundant and can oxidize or corrode pretty easily, but they make beautiful hammered disc pendants.
Platinum is the rarest and most expensive of the metals. But the price is justified since it’s super durable and will never tarnish. Pure platinum melts at 3,216.2 degrees Fahrenheit, so unless you’re, you know, literally spending time on the sun, it’ll work great for things like wedding bands and cuffs.
Appearance is everything, so platinum is often alloyed with copper and cobalt to give it a different look. Plus pairing it with other metals makes it even more durable. If you’re looking for other “platinum group” metals, check out ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium and iridium.
It doesn’t get stronger than titanium. It’s the hardest natural metal known to man, putting steel, gold, silver and platinum to shame. Plus It’s scratch-resistant, lightweight and easy to color.
Titanium is even completely hypoallergenic, which makes it popular for body-piercing jewelry and even surgical implants. Just don’t use this wonder-metal for making rings — your fingers change size over time (weird, right?), and titanium isn’t solderable or resizable.