Jewellery Metals Guide: The Ultimate Glossary of Silver And Gold
At Constellations, quality is one of our very best unique selling points. Yes, you could go to the high street and buy costume jewellery cheaper, but we believe in longevity in contemporary pieces that look and feel like quality and are going to last you a long time with proper care. We don’t want anything that your skin might react to, or that may turn your skin a funny shade of green.
That means crafting all of our jewellery from the finest metals. You won’t find any metal alloys (brass, copper or fake silver and gold) here.
Sterling silver is great for crafting jewellery because it is a very soft and malleable precious metal (in its purest form), highly reflective of light. To create Sterling Silver, fine silver is mixed with other stronger metals to create sterling silver, which is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper. This creates a more durable and long-lasting metal ideal for making jewellery and many other uses, without compromising on colour or shine. The percentage of fine silver is why you will see sterling silver often referred to as '925 silver' or hallmarked with a 925 stamp. Look for the 925 hallmarks on your jewellery to confirm it is sterling.
Rhodium is a platinum group metal, meaning it is semi-precious.
When added to sterling silver, it prevents tarnish and oxidisation from occurring on sterling silver, so less regular polishing and care is required. Adding a layer of rhodium to sterling silver also makes the piece more robust, durable and strong. Rhodium-plated pieces aren't susceptible to discolouration problems over time and give the jewellery item a bright, white appearance.
Gold has historically been one of the most popular (and the most expensive) precious metals you can buy. Pure gold won't tarnish, rust or perish – making it perfect for high-end jewellery intended to retain its value and beautiful finish indefinitely. Gold is fairly rare and difficult to mine, making it particularly precious (and therefore, expensive).
What are gold carats? How do I know which carat I want?
The purest gold is 24 carats, but when it comes to making useable objects, 24ct gold is generally too soft. 24-carat gold is also the strongest ‘yellow gold’ in appearance. Gold is therefore alloyed with other metals. A single gold carat is 1 of a possible 24 carats (pure gold), therefore 18-carat gold is 18 parts gold, 6 parts alloyed metals to increase its strength and durability. This will also reduce the extreme yellow colour in your gold, so carat can also be selected with gold colour preference in mind.
This is the most commonly used purity of gold used in jewellery as it offers a very good compromise between price and purity (and excellent colour). It is regarded as the European standard purity of gold.
Solid 9-carat gold
Constellations is ultimately an affordable luxury jewellery brand, so we craft our solid gold pieces in 9ct and 14ct gold, so we can keep our prices as low as possible. We sell these at far lower than the average market value. This creates a slightly less vibrant yellow in the gold – a softer gold look.
Gold Plated Jewellery
The quality of gold plated jewellery depends both on the base metal and the thickness of the plating. When the plating wears away, the base metal (which is typically brass, pewter, or nickel) will be exposed. If this is brass, pewter, or nickel, the jewellery may tarnish or irritate the skin.
At Constellations, all of our gold plated jewellery uses quality base metals. For more delicate pieces, we tend to use sterling silver as our base metal to make sure there are no skin reactions for our clients and no chance of our jewellery turning your skin green! Larger pieces may be made of stainless steel – which is strong and does not have any negative effects such as colour wear or scratching. We then use the highest percentage of gold alloy that can be used to make jewellery for our gold plating and vermeil, this being 18 carats.
Gold plating can last a varying amount of time, depending on how many microns thick the layer of gold is. The thicker the layer of solid gold and the higher the quality of the base metal, the higher the cost.
Pronounced ver-may (it’s French!) - Gold vermeil is also made through the gold plating technique but requires a thicker layer of gold. In this case, the gold layer must be above 2.5 microns to legally be classed as vermeil, instead of plate. Gold vermeil must be on a 925 sterling silver base metal – meaning it is of high quality.
With proper care, due to a thicker layer of plating, gold vermeil can stand the test of time and is fairly durable. In the realm of gold jewellery, gold vermeil is the best quality you can get as an alternative to buying solid gold.
What are the key differences between gold plated and gold vermeil jewellery?
1) Base metal - whilst gold plating can take place on any metal, from copper to brass, gold vermeil has to be on sterling silver.
2) Whilst gold plated has a minimum thickness of 0.5 microns, gold vermeil must be plated with at least 2.5 microns thickness of the solid gold layer.
For those wanting higher quality, but still affordable pieces that will endure frequent wear for years to come, gold vermeil is the ideal choice. Those who switch up their style more often may wish to experiment with gold plated jewellery due to its slightly lower price point.
Metal Alloys to avoid in your jewellery:
Cheap metal alloys have a higher potential for irritation for the wearer. Some people are allergic to these substances and can have an allergic reaction when wearing them. They also can turn green and oxidise extremely quickly, turning your jewellery (and your skin) black or green. These substances include jewellery made from copper, brass, zinc, painted gold or silver plating (rather than the true metal plating).
We recommend investing in higher quality materials which mean your jewellery will last. In the long run, these pieces will be good investments because their good condition can be maintained for a long time.