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Contents in Fine Jewelry
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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Engagement rings, necklaces, earrings — jewelry comes in all shapes and sizes. They also come in a variety of different metals. But when a piece of jewelry says “sterling silver” or “24 karat gold” what exactly does that mean? Take a look and see what materials your jewelry is actually made of.

•     Silver
Popular in jewelry, decorations and of course silverware, silver is a soft metal that has been used in jewelry for as long as gold has. Because this is a soft metal, it is often mixed with an alloy so it isn’t easily damaged and to improve durability. Instead of being rated by karats like gold is, silver is rated by the terms “fine” and “sterling” to refer to very pure silver.

The alloy silver is normally mixed with is copper. But there are other metals that can be mixed with silver including zinc and germanium. To be considered sterling silver, the piece of jewelry must contain at least 92.5 percent pure silver in it. The other 7.5 percent is made up of another metal. To be considered fine silver, there must be a .999 level of purity (or 99.9 percent) pure silver within the item (which can also be considered pure silver with that level of purity).

•     Gold
Maybe even more popular than silver, gold has been used in jewelry for centuries. Like silver, pure gold is too soft to use in jewelry, so it is commonly mixed with alloy metals, like copper and zinc, to improve its durability when being worn. Identified in karats (not to confused with carats, used for gemstones), each karat number indicates a different percentage of gold in the piece of jewelry. The higher the karat number, the more gold there is.

Ranging from 10-24 karat gold, jewelry can have a large proportion of gold in it from about half to almost pure. The typical karat numbers used in jewelry are 10, 14, 18 and sometimes 24. In 10 karat gold, the piece is about 41.7 percent pure gold; in 14 karat gold, the piece is about 58.3 percent pure gold; in 18 karat gold, the piece is about 75 percent pure gold; and in 24 karat gold, the piece is approximately 99.9 percent pure gold. There are other forms of gold, such as white gold and rose gold, which are combined with other metals to give the gold a different color hue. With other forms of gold, the strength of the jewelry varies depending on what metals it has been alloyed with. The actual gold content is still identified in a karat number.

•     Platinum
As an extremely rare and costly metal, platinum may not be seen as frequently in jewelry as these other two metals, but is still popular nonetheless. There are actually six metals included in the platinum family. These include platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium. Platinum has a similar color to silver, but appears to be more white. Though this is a heavier metal than others, platinum does tend to be mixed with other metals when creating jewelry.

Platinum is not measured in karats, but rather the metal is stamped with a standardized platinum quality mark that indicates how much percentage of platinum is contained within an item. Pt1000 is the label used for “pure” platinum, to be labeled as such, the jewelry must have a minimum of 95 percent level of pure platinum. Though it is a sturdier metal than gold or silver, platinum is mixed with other similar metals (this could be because of how rare this precious metal is).

With only gold, silver and the metals included in the platinum family being deemed precious metals, it is no wonder jewelry made of these has high price tags. Pure precious metals may not be common in all types of jewelry, but the next time you’re out shopping and see a ring marked “fine silver” or a bracelet labeled “18 karat gold,” you’ll know exactly what you’re looking at.


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