In talking with customers, there seems to be some confusion over the different types of metals that are commonly used in jewelry making. I'll try to clear up some of that confusion by describing metal choices that are available, their pros and cons, and even throw in a little information on the care of metals. I'll divide this up into more than one post, since there is so much information about so many kinds of metals.
SILVER METALS--Fine Metals
There are many metals and alloys that are commonly used in jewelry that have the look of a silver, or white, color. The first metal that most people think of is sterling silver. Sterling silver is actually an alloy of pure, or fine, silver. Making up sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metal, usually and most commonly copper. Sterling silver is much harder and more durable than pure silver, which is very soft and malleable. The small percentage of copper does not change the look of the silver, and actually has little effect on its value. Most sterling silver will be stamped with a mark, which is usually .925, sterling, sterling silver, or ster.
Sterling silver is not cheap, so expect to pay a bit more for jewelry that is made of or has sterling silver parts, beads, or findings. Of course, the higher price is offset by the fact that sterling silver is lasting, and with proper care, will endure for a lifetime and will become a family heirloom.
Sterling silver should be cleaned regularly to prevent tarnish and stored away from other metals in a cloth or plastic bag, or kept in a separate compartment in your jewelry chest. Anti-tarnish paper strips made by 3M can be purchased and placed in the bag or compartment along with your silver piece to help prevent tarnish and erosion. Silver should be cleaned with a soft polishing cloth. This is the best method of cleaning sterling silver that is used in jewelry. There are polishing creams and liquids on the market, but be careful when using them. If your silver has any dark, or oxidized, places on it that are put there to shade or emphasize the design, the creams and liquids will remove this oxidation, so unless you want your sterling silver to be totally shiny and bright, stick with the polishing cloth. And clean often. Don't wait for tarnish to build up, but rather remove it as soon as you can see it.
Another fine metal that has a silver appearance is white gold. White gold is actually gold with a white alloy added, such as nickel, palladium, platinum, and manganese. It is then plated with a rhodium metal, which gives it the white, shiny look. White gold does not tarnish like sterling silver, but it is much, much more expensive since it does contain, after all, gold. If you have been watching the price of gold and silver on the market over the past couple of years, you know that gold just keeps increasing in price, so if you want white gold in your jewelry, expect to pay much higher prices.
The most precious, and costly, of all the silver metals is platinum. Unlike gold, which is mixed with other metals before it is cast into jewelry settings, platinum is used in a near pure form--about 95% pure, in fact. Its color is naturally white, so no mixing with other metals or plating with rhodium is needed to give platinum its beautiful shine. Platinum is also heavier than gold and is very durable. It is, however, very expensive--about twice the price of gold!--and is usually used for serious jewelry pieces, such as engagement rings, if you can afford it, that is!
I've spent a bit of time talking about the fine metals with a silver, or white, look. In my next blog post I'll talk about some of the less costly alternatives, including a fairly newcomer to the metal world--silver filled.