For centuries, different metals have captivated people’s imaginations. When it comes to jewelry, many have aesthetic preferences. Yellow or white? Super shiny or a bit matte?
Looks aside, there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to the characteristics of different jewelry metals that can raise a lot of questions.
If yellow gold is so weak, why is it so popular? Why would I pay the 50% premium for platinum over white gold or silver, when they look so similar?
To make jewelry shopping less intimidating, we’re going to shine some light on each type of metal. With this info, you can build a collection that’s tailored to your personal style, preferences, and budget.
Let’s get to it!
What Are the Different Types of Jewelry Metals?
Each metal has its own set of benefits, distinctive aesthetics, and uses in the jewelry industry. Here are the most common.
While part of the reason gold is so popular in jewelry making is because of the value we’ve historically placed on it (it’s been used as money for exchange, after all), it’s also really soft and malleable.
Plus, it doesn’t tarnish on its own. No matter how old your gold jewelry is, you can always get it professionally polished back to life.
Since it’s too delicate to be used in its undiluted form, gold is frequently combined with other metals such as zinc or copper. This is where karats come in.
Check out our article on the differences between gold plated and gold filled, but for now, here’s a quick overview of the different levels of gold concentration:
- 24 karat gold is 100% gold
- 22 karats is 92%
- 18 karats is 75%
- 14 karats 58%
- 10 karats is 41%, and the lowest concentration that can legally be called gold
The higher the concentration, the more lustrous it is, but also the more prone it is to scratches.
One thing to note is that you should definitely keep your gold jewelry out of the swimming pool and hot tub. Chlorine can discolor gold, especially in hot temperatures.
Pure silver is weak and difficult to shape, so it’s no longer commonly used in fine jewelry. It can also leave stains on your skin due to oxidation, reaction to sulfur in the air, or even the ammonia from your own sweat.
Since it’s a natural antibiotic and germicide though, it’s a popular metal for high-end dinnerware.
Instead, sterling silver is commonly used as an affordable white metal for jewelry. It’s made of 92.5% pure silver, with the rest of its makeup being copper or zinc.
You can tell if a piece of jewelry is sterling silver, as opposed to just silver-plated, if it’s “stamped.” This means that somewhere on the piece, there’s a “925” or “sterling” hallmark.
That is unless you’re in France, where the standard for sterling silver is 95% silver.
Silver jewelry is prone to tarnishing, so it does need to be professionally polished once a year.
Stainless steel is an alloy of iron that’s extremely strong, thanks to its carbon content, and fully rust-proof, because of its added chromium.
It can be polished to a high gloss or brushed to a textured finish. It’s scratch-resistant, tarnish-resistant, and affordable.
Stainless steel is an excellent choice for everyday jewelry, since it can be subjected to a lot without getting damaged. You’ll find stainless steel in timepieces, men’s jewelry, and even in certain women’s jewelry.
Titanium is super tough and doesn’t corrode or rust when exposed to the elements. It’s just as strong as stainless steel, but almost half as light, and also more expensive.
That being the case, titanium is an effective choice if you want a long-lasting piece of jewelry that won’t weigh you down. It also has a mistier finish. It’s not gunmetal matte, but it’s definitely less white than stainless steel.
Platinum looks a lot like white gold, but is notably stronger. It’s also naturally hypoallergenic, unlike most white golds which are alloyed with nickel.
Highly resistant to stress and temperature, platinum is a good pick for pieces with a diamond setting, like wedding and engagement rings.
So why would anyone choose white gold over platinum? Well, it’s a lot rarer than gold, and often 40-50% more expensive.
Tungsten is four times stronger than platinum, with a hardness rating second only to diamond. It boasts a similar look, it’s hypoallergenic, and it’s also much cheaper.
It even has the same weighty and substantial feel as platinum. Hardcore jewelry enthusiasts might notice that tungsten is a bit darker than platinum, but most people couldn’t tell the difference.
Because of its durability, tungsten is an effective choice for wedding bands for men who work in physically demanding occupations, like construction, roofing, and climbing.
The only quality platinum really has over tungsten is its prestige, and if it’s important to you, its potential resale value.
It’s understandable that people would want something a little more upscale for an important piece of jewelry, like a wedding ring.
With its brilliant white sheen and long-lasting durability, palladium’s popularity has seen a lot of growth in recent years. It’s also hypoallergenic and extremely lightweight.
Ironically, palladium jewelry is cheaper than platinum jewelry, despite the fact palladium is more rare, and thus, more expensive, weight for weight. This is because of the metal’s lower density.
To make the same piece of jewelry, much less palladium is required than would platinum.
So, palladium jewelry has the strength and look of platinum without the premium price tag. In fact, it can cost a good two-thirds less.
The main con with palladium jewelry is that it’s hard to find. Even custom jewelry designers don’t work with it as often as they do with the other precious metals.
Comparison of Different Jewelry Metals
1 being least durable, 5 being most durable
Metal price is tied directly to its scarcity. Platinum is 30 times rarer than runner-up, gold.
When it comes to durability, tungsten is the strongest metal for jewelry, which is 10 times stronger than titanium.
FAQs About Jewelry Metals
It depends what you’re looking for! Stainless steel or tungsten are excellent options for everyday pieces because of their durability. Precious metals like gold and sterling silver add an elegant shine to evening wear situations. Platinum, meanwhile, is both strong and lustrous, which is why so many people choose it for their wedding rings.
Avoid cheap metals like arsenic, lead, nickel, chromium, cadmium.
All of these should not be used in jewelry manufacturing because they’re not safe for the skin, and can cause irritation and allergic reactions.
The easiest way is to look for markings. Real precious metals are often stamped for authenticity. As mentioned, sterling silver is marked with either a “925” or a “sterling,” while gold will indicate its karat level.
To tell the difference between platinum and a non-precious metal, you can try using a magnet. Iron-based alloys, like stainless steel, are magnetic. Precious metals aren’t.
Gold is the softest metal, which is why it’s so easy for jewelry makers to work with. Silver takes second place.
Tungsten is the strongest metal known to man, and it’s also the most scratch-resistant.
Was that helpful?
While there are many different types of metals, only a few of them are used in the production of jewelry.
Undoubtedly, silver, gold, and platinum are the most popular metals among jewelry manufacturers but other non precious jewelry metals can be used as well.
What’s your favorite jewelry metal? Are you considering new metals after reading this article?
Feel free to DM us on Instagram if you want to discuss or have any other questions about different jewelry metals for guys!