It’s easy to immediately gravitate to the prettiest gemstones, intricate ring settings and necklaces that catch the light just right, but when shopping for jewelry gifts, paying attention to the metals used to make a piece can help you choose valuable, unique, long-lasting, and in some cases, low-maintenance jewelry pieces to fit the personality and habits of a gift recipient. Below is our gift guide for navigating the different metals used to make jewelry:
One of the most popular metals used to make rings, necklaces and bracelets is the alluring and ever-so-versatile gold option – the most classic setting for most jewelry. Why? For one thing, it’s pretty good at retaining its attractive luster. Additionally, the material is used to create jewelry that fall within a wide range of styles, shapes, and price points.
The standard measurement for gold is the karat, which is divided into 24 increments to identify the amount of gold used to make jewelry. Therefore, 14K gold is 14 parts gold and 10 parts other alloys. There’s a trade-off to note. Gold with a higher ‘K’ is more pure and expensive, yet the more affordable pieces, such as 10K gold jewelry, are more durable.
Various shades and strengths of gold are achieved when using certain alloys. For example, yellow gold contains copper and silver; pink gold is made with large amounts of copper; and white gold combines pure gold with copper, zinc and nickel (or palladium).
For a lovely two-tone look, consider buying a piece where white and yellow gold have been paired, like the Love Knot Yellow Gold and White Gold Bracelet from Blue Nile shown below.
When shopping for the environmentally conscious, consider ‘eco-gold,’ which either comes from recycled old jewelry (or scrap from jewelry manufacturers), or was sourced by mining companies that follow stricter-than-normal safety and environmental standards.
Maintenance Level: Gentle care is needed for gold jewelry, as it’s susceptible to developing an unattractive film due to our everyday activities, such as washing our hair or cleaning the house. To bring back its shine, dip gold jewelry in a solution made from a couple drops of ammonia, mild detergent and warm water. To remove grease and body oil from gold pieces, use rubbing alcohol. Also, it’s a good idea to take off your gold jewelry before hitting a swimming pool, as chlorine has a habit of weakening the metal, which increases its chances of breaking.
Considered the most precious of all jewelry metals, platinum is rare (five times rarer than gold), strong, and valued for its level of purity. With an eye-catching elegance, it’s a true winner in the wedding or anniversary ring department. A platinum ring is more durable than gold, as well as heavier. When you lift a jewelry piece, it feels more substantial. The material’s high density also means that more platinum must be used to create jewelry pieces.
And, because of all of the above, platinum jewelry also costs much more than 18K gold.
Additional advantages to purchasing platinum are: (1) it doesn’t expand or distort when exposed to heat, (2) it never tarnishes, and (3) it’s a hypoallergenic metal. Also, because it is heavier than most metals, platinum creates one of the most secure settings for diamonds.
White Gold verses Platinum: White gold is sometimes mistaken for platinum because of similarities in color. However, platinum is stronger, and also actually whiter than white gold. Why? White gold originally comes from yellow gold, and platinum is already white.
Maintenance Level: Although platinum is a strong metal, jewelry made from it is susceptible to scratches. It is suggested to get your platinum buffed every six months. Jewelry cleaner (or mild soap and water) can help remove pesky build-up.
Palladium is a member of the platinum family of metals, and is often used as a substitute for platinum. The metal shines brilliantly, as it is also whiter in color than platinum and white gold. Sometimes, palladium is alloyed with gold to create high-quality white gold jewelry.
This hypoallergenic metal is light in weight, slightly softer than platinum, and more cost efficient. On average, you’ll find a pair of palladium wedding rings priced one thousand dollars less than ones made from platinum. Because of this, the metal makes an appealing option for engaged couples on a tighter budget.
Maintenance Level: To avoid scratches, store palladium pieces in a jewelry box or chamois bag. Periodic cleaning of the jewelry using a designated cleaner is suggested. You can also soak in a mild solution of soap and warm water, followed by a gentle rub with a soft cloth. It is also suggested to remove palladium pieces when doing manual work.
Catching the light beautifully, silver is a popular metal in jewelry-making. In its purest form, it is soft and flexible, which means that it requires metal alloys to make it strong enough to become a stunning piece of jewelry. Pure silver mixed with less than 7.5% alloy is called sterling silver, which significantly increases its level of durability. When shopping for sterling silver gifts, you will find jewelry is stamped with ‘sterling’ or ‘925’ as an indicator.
Shown here is the Art Deco Lilies Sterling Silver Bracelet sold by Old Pueblo Silverworks.
Maintenance Level: Sterling silver is prone to tarnishing, especially if you don’t wear a piece often. Routine polishing using a silver cleaner will help, but it’s important to address the issue before build-up occurs, as long-term damage can take place.
The silver-white color of titanium leads to some pretty unique-looking jewelry pieces, especially when different finishes are used, such as high-polish, frost or satin. Since this is a hypoallergenic metal (when in its pure form), you don’t have to worry about your gift corroding over time.
The metal is also quite strong (considered the hardest natural metal in the world), and is highly resistant to bending and dents. A drawback to note when choosing this metal is that titanium rings cannot be resized.
Shown here are Men’s Titanium Wedding Bands from Jared’s Jewelers.
Admired for its strength, stainless steel has become increasingly popular amongst jewelry wearers, especially with men. From large-sized chains to hand-crafted skull rings, stainless steel adds what some might describe as a more ‘industrial’ or ‘street’ look to jewelry. It’s also easier to maintain.
When compared to regular steel and other metals, the material is less likely to rust and corrode – thanks to the chromium found in stainless steel, which is resistant to the process of oxidation. This is why rust or ‘staining’ does not take place on the surface of the steel.
Maintenance Level: Low; the metal does not rust, corrode or ‘stain.’
If you haven’t heard of tungsten, don’t fret…it’s one of the newer metals to hit the jewelry scene. Offering a handful of attractive features, this steel-gray metal is four times harder than titanium and a very solid material for jewelry. Its high level of strength translates into a metal that does not bend. Unfortunately, that means that a ring made from tungsten cannot be resized.
Metallic tungsten is harder than gold alloys and also hypoallergenic. Rings made from the material are resistant to scratches, especially when the design you choose has a brushed finish.
Shown here is the Supernova Tungsten Men’s Engagement Ring made by apt E Jewelry.
Maintenance Level: Since the polish used for tungsten jewelry can have a permanent effect, very little maintenance is required with tungsten and tungsten carbide rings.
Mixed Metal Jewelry – like Mokume Gane
You’ve probably heard of most of the metals mentioned in this post, but the Mokume Gane style might be a new option for you to consider. This artisan technique dates back to 17th century Japan, where one-of-a-kind pieces are formed by fusing together layers of precious metals, which can be twisted and molded to create dazzling patterns.
You can blend white gold with sterling silver, or yellow gold with palladium…the possibilities are endless, and so are the designs that follow. The cost of such jewelry pieces tends to be more than gold pieces, due to the high level of craftsmanship and materials used.
A few examples above come by way of DE Mokume, which illustrates just some of the profiles and patterns associated with this style of jewelry-making.
What’s your favorite jewelry metal, and why?