Precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum are the perfect way to express your emotions or make a personal statement to a loved one. Alternative metals like titanium and stainless steel are also very popular in the world of fine jewellery. With over 30 years experience, British Jewellery Workshops are pleased to bring you this fun and informative guide to precious and alternative metals and how they are used to make your jewellery.
Everything You Need To Know
The guide features interesting and exciting information on the history of metals and how to recognize and look for hallmarks for your reassurance.You will find everything that you want and need to know in this easy-to-follow guide.
Whatever the occasion or event, whoever it’s for, this Metal Buyer’s Guide will help you choose your jewellery and understand what you’re buying into.
Have fun; enjoy the guide and buy your jewellery confidently with British Jewellery Workshops.
Gold is one of the most popular precious metals used in jewellery. Available in yellow, white and rose, gold is extremely versatile and elegant. Explore our gold guides to find out more about this remarkable metal.
Yellow gold is viewed as a timeless classic metal with some amazing properties. Whilst most other pure metals are grey or white, gold is naturally shiny yellow. It is particularly suited to warm skin tones.
White gold is beautifully elegant and fashionable. Portraying a shiny silvery tone, it makes a lovely alternative to both yellow gold and other white metals such as silver and platinum.
Rose gold is a striking metal alloy of gold mixed with copper to create a delightful rosy red tint in the finished material. Rose, red or pink gold jewellery and watches are currently right on trend.
Silver & Gold Bonded Metal
‘Bonded’ also known as ‘Gold on Silver’ is a term used to describe the process of fusing gold and sterling silver, together as one unit. This will have the look and feel of gold at a reduced cost.
Silver jewellery is timeless and stylish. Its brilliant shine has established silver as an extremely popular choice for jewellery. Explore our guides for more information about this well loved metal.
Sterling silver is one of the most popular precious metals. It is ductile and malleable, which means that it can be drawn into wire or beaten into sheets and is therefore ideal for use in making all types of jewellery.
Argentium silver is a recent development of the sterling silver alloy, made with pure silver, copper and the addition of metalloid germanium. Argentium is patented and trademarked by the Argentium Silver Company.
Silver & Gold
Wearing silver with yellow or rose gold jewellery was once considered a fashion faux pas, but combining these metals has become increasingly accepted by the fashion world as people expand their jewellery collections.
The everlasting popularity of platinum is due to its purity, colour, strength and prestige. As gorgeous as platinum is, it’s not all about looks. Many of us veer towards this metal because of its hardness and resistance to tarnishing, making it a practical and glamorous metal for everyday jewellery.
Platinum develops a beautiful sheen called a patina over time, its natural bright silvery tone is especially popular for specialist jewellery, with many bride and grooms swaying towards platinum for their wedding bands and engagement rings. Its durability and strength make it an ideal setting for diamonds and other precious gemstones.
Whilst gold contains a combination of metals, platinum’s purity makes it naturally hypoallergenic and non reactive, ideal for those with skin sensitivities. Denser than gold and twice as dense than silver, it can be quite heavy but this is a favourable quality, especially for men. Despite its durability, like most metals, it does tend to wear a little over time and will scratch if it comes into contact with stronger materials, such as diamonds or steel. Unlike gold, platinum doesn’t chip away but instead, the scratches are seen as indentations that can be easily re-polished.
You may come across the term ‘platinum plated’ when shopping for your jewellery, where a metal such as silver has been coated with a thin layer of platinum to give jewellery the beautiful polished appearance of platinum at a more affordable cost.
Traditional platinum however, will always be stamped with a hallmark indicating its purity, with the 950 mark meaning the item contains 95% platinum; this is the most common for platinum jewellery – for more information, read our Hallmarks guide.
The value of platinum is more volatile than gold due to its other more industrial uses, but its rarity means it stands the test of time. Many people invest in platinum and pass it down through the generations as a family heirloom.
For an affordable alternative to platinum, look no further than lustrous palladium. Explore our guides to find out more about this increasingly popular metal.
Chic palladium resembles the lustrous appearance of platinum and has been used as a precious metal since 1939. It has recently seen an upsurge in popularity to become one of our most fashionable metals.
Palladium 500 & 950
What is the difference between palladium 500 and 950? It is a legal requirement for palladium to be stamped at the assay office with either 500 or 950 to clarify how much palladium is actually in the item.
A range of metals can be crafted into stunning jewellery; some are well-known and more widely used than others. These guides explore some of the fantastic properties of lesser-known metals, so that you can make a more informed choice when choosing your jewellery.
Cobalt has the look and feel of white gold and is a bright, white metal that is even brighter than titanium and tungsten. It is sometimes referred to as ‘cobalt chrome’ and compared to platinum and palladium in colour. Its silvery radiance is completely natural and cobalt itself is often used in electroplating to give other metal based jewellery a polished surface.
Stainless Steel is widely used in fashion jewellery and watches. A bright, shiny, and versatile material, stainless steel is different from carbon steel because it contains a minimum of 10.5% chromium, preventing it from corroding easily or rusting like ordinary steel and making it resistant to tarnishing.
Titanium is a lightweight, lustrous grey metal with a low density, great strength and high durability that was popularised for jewellery, particularly rings, in the 1990’s.
A hallmark is an official mark struck on items made of precious metals. This guarantees the purity/fineness of the metal. Hallmarks are a legal requirement on products of a certain weight – depending on the metal being marked. These are incredibly important to us at British Jewellery Workshops. You’ll have seen the term briefly mentioned in many of our guides.
The Reason For Hallmarks
Gold and silver are expensive in their pure forms and are too soft to be used for jewellery, so they are mixed with other metals known as alloys, to make them affordable and stronger. Platinum’s density and weight means when combined with other metals it makes it easier to craft. Palladium is rarely used in its purest form, with alloys added it achieves the desired strength and durability.
It can be tricky to see the physical difference between metals such as white gold, platinum and palladium, as they can be very similar in colour, but do vary dramatically in price.
The only reliable guarantee, to ensure the metal purity/fineness has been reached is for the product to be sent to an Assay Office, where it will be tested before being struck with the relevant hallmark.
How To Recognise Hallmarks – What To Look Out For
A hallmark consists of three parts, which was made compulsory from 1st January 1999:
- The Sponsor’s mark
- The Standard mark
- The Assay Mark
The SPONSOR’S mark (maker’s mark): This symbol indicates the individual or firm, accountable for sending the item to assay. Anyone can do this, from manufacturers, retailers to hobbyists. The sponsor must register this mark and pay a fee at any of the four offices.
After ten years, the registration must be renewed.
Typical sponsor marks seen:
- A change in the Hallmark Act, now allows jewellery to be marked with its company logo or brand name.
The STANDARD mark will indicate the fineness of the metal in parts per thousand, this will tell you the percentage of pure gold, silver, platinum or palladium used in the article. The shape of the shield around the number will tell you what metal it is:
- Silver = Oval
- Gold = Oblong with cut corners
- Platinum = Five sided ‘house shape’
- Palladium = 3 adjoining circles (after 2010)
The ASSAY or ‘town’ mark. There are only four Assay Offices in the United Kingdom, and each one holds their own hallmark symbol, telling the consumer where the article has been assayed (tested).
Articles Exempt For Hallmarking
Items of minimum fineness, weighing less than the following will not carry a hallmark:
- Gold weighing less than 1 gram
- Silver, weighing less than 7.78 grams
- Platinum weighing less than 0.5 gram
- Palladium weighing less than 1 gram
OPTIONAL or VOLUNTARY marks – It is up to the sponsor to request these.
Date letter: This tells you the year in which the item was tested and hallmarked. Only 25 letters of the alphabet are used. A date letter changes in January and runs in alphabetical order. Once all letters have been used, the font will be changed. All four Assay offices use the same font and letter.
Traditional Pictorial Marks: No longer compulsory – a lion head was used on sterling silver and the figure of a woman for Britannia Silver. A crown was used for gold articles.
Commemorative Marks: These are introduced to commemorate significant events, such as:
- A millennium mark (available 1999/2000)
- A Golden Jubilee mark in 2002
- A Diamond Jubilee mark in 2012
International Convention On Hallmarking
International convention mark is not limited to Britain. The convention mark will be recognised by all members within the International convention.
This will mean that articles bearing a convention mark from other countries are legally recognised in the UK, so will not have to be re-hallmarked again here in the UK.
The convention hallmark shows a pair of scales with the fineness of the metal used; this will be stamped in the middle.
Gold Carats Explained
It is likely that many of us have come across the term ‘Carat’ in relation to gold. It is often mistaken as a unit of weight but it refers to the percentage of pure gold within an article.
You may see it abbreviated to these symbols: ct, K or kt.
So, What’s The Difference Between 9ct & 22ct gold?
Here’s how they are broken down:
24 Carat Gold
Is the ultimate gold carat – it doesn’t go any higher than this. It’s the purest form and consists of 99.9% gold. It is naturally yellow and highly valuable, but very soft and malleable, so it is not usually used to make fine jewellery or intricate objects.
22 Carat Gold
Consists of around 91.6% gold and so is highly priced. It is also very soft, so it’s not ideal for stone set jewellery, being more suitable for plain gold jewellery, such as wedding bands.
18 Carat Gold
Contains 75% gold, with the rest made up of other more durable metal alloys used to add colour and strength. White metals will be added to create white gold with copper added to create rose gold. 18ct yellow gold is appreciated for its radiance and is much warmer and brighter in tone than 14ct and 9ct gold – but with its high percentage of gold, it still comes at a higher price.
14 Carat Gold
Has about 58.5% pure gold and has a warm yellow hue. It is more affordable than 18ct gold, making it a popular choice.
9 Carat Gold
Has 37.5% pure gold; it is the most affordable form of gold jewellery and portrays a light yellow hue. Its higher percentage of other metals, makes it stronger and more durable and particularly suited to the creation of jewellery.