An Insiders Guide on Common Jewelry Metals

Learn about some of the most Typical Jewelry Metals

Most jewelry involves metal. In some pieces, like a solitaire ring, the metal serves as a means of holding the gem or other focal point. Other pieces, like an elaborate gold chain, might be made exclusively of the metal itself. However your piece of jewelry is designed, the type of metal used in it influences both its appearance and value.


The most valuable metal commonly used in jewelry, platinum, has a whiter appearance than silver. Platinum is one of the hardest jewelry metals, although it is commonly blended with small amounts of other metals (usually 5 percent or less). It is also relatively chemically inert, rendering it a good choice for those who have skin sensitivity to other metals.


The best known of the jewelry metals, gold, has been used for thousands of years to create beautiful items. In its pure form, gold has a yellowish appearance, although pure gold is relatively rare in jewelry due to its softness. To make it more practical for use in jewelry, most designers blend gold with other metals, adding hardness. The karatage rating lets you know how pure a piece of gold is. 24 karat gold is essentially 100 percent pure, 18 karat gold is 75 percent pure and 14 karat gold is 58.3 percent pure.

Gold jewelry does not always have to be yellow, though. Some designers blend it with copper to create pinkish “rose” gold. Others will coat or “flash” the gold with white metals like platinum or rhodium to give it the look of platinum, but at a lower cost. On the other hand, highly cost-conscious pieces use a gold plating over other metals to give the look of gold but at the cost of a less-valuable metal.


The least expensive of the fine jewelry metals, silver, is also the most popular. It has a mirror-like appearance that is flattering for most skin tones and for both casual and formal dress. Like gold, pure silver is relatively rare in jewelry since it is also too soft to hold its shape. Instead, the common sterling silver is typically 92.5 percent pure. Unlike gold and platinum, silver can also be prone to tarnishing, requiring periodic polishing to maintain its lustrous shine. When well-maintained, though, silver can outshine any of the major jewelry metals.

Stainless Steel

At first thought, stainless steel might seem like a strange choice for jewelry. After all, steel is the stuff of construction girders and truck frames. However, stainless steel is lustrous and features a silvery finish that makes it an attractive choice for jewelry. It is also completely hypoallergenic. Its strength makes it a perfect choice for pieces that have to withstand tough conditions. This is why it is popular in sport watch bands, among other uses.

Less Common Metals

While the four jewelry metals outlined here cover most jewelry, they do not represent all of the choices available to you. Exotic white metals like palladium and rhodium compete with titanium. Titanium offers more strength than steel and a lower weight, while tungsten has a unique color. Copper and brass offer darker colors, making them suitable when you are seeking a different appearance.

Choosing the right metal is only part of finding the right piece for you or your loved one. Once you’ve decided whether gold, silver or another metal is best, give some thought to which gems — if any — you would like to highlight. Our free Clarkson Jewelers Magazine is a great resource for the latest in fashion and jewelry.

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