In their purest, natural forms, our favourite precious metals are actually a great deal softer than you might think.
Silver is the softest, then palladium, then gold and finally platinum, the densest of all fine metals.
For jewellers to craft an enduring piece of jewellery the precious metal is generally ‘alloyed’ or mixed with other precious metals to harden it and make it more workable.
Its affordability and lustrous whiteness make silver widely appreciated. It is soft so is alloyed with other metals to improve its hardness and durability enabling jewellers to work it more easily. Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver with the remainder including some copper.
Gold is naturally yellow in colour, lustrous and gleaming. White, pink or rose gold do not exist in nature but are created by using other metals including silver, palladium, copper and others to mix or ‘alloy’ with natural yellow gold to change its colour.
The term for the ‘fineness’ or purity of gold is ‘carats’ (ct) which designate the percentage of the gold content of a piece.
White gold is a more modestly-priced alternative to platinum. It has an intriguing silvery-gold colour which is not quite platinum-white. To achieve a white appearance, the vast majority of white gold is plated with rhodium, a cousin metal of platinum. Over time the plating will wear off but it can always be re-plated by your NAJ jeweller.
The distinctive rosy tint comes from a higher dosage of copper in the alloy to produce the warm, welcoming glow. Because the colour permeates right through the metal, no surface plating is required.
This extraordinary metal is far rarer than gold. In fact, it’s said that, if all the platinum ever mined were poured into an Olympic-sized swimming pool, it would barely cover your ankles! Naturally extremely white, platinum alloys usually contain 95% platinum. Because of its denseness and rarity, platinum jewellery is more expensive than gold.
Palladium is a dream material for jewellery designers who enjoy creating larger, more dramatic designs. Very slightly darker and much lower in density than platinum, it is a member of the platinum family and popular as an affordable and much lighter alternative. Like platinum, it is also hypoallergenic and tarnish resistant. Clean in the same way as gold.
First introduced in 1300, hallmarking is the oldest consumer protection legislation in the world. Hallmarking began when silver and goldsmiths took their wares to the Goldsmiths Hall in London to be tested for metal purity or fineness. A stamp or ‘Mark’ was punched into the metal as a surety in the great hall – hence the name ‘HALLMARK’.
It is a legal requirement that all items in the UK sold as silver, gold, platinum or palladium should be hallmarked by one of the four UK Assay Offices or an assay office belonging to the International Convention to provide you with the reassurance you need that what you’re buying really is what you think you’re buying!
The National Association of Jewellers
Head Office: Federation House
10 Vyse Street
Birmingham, B18 6LT, UK
London Office: 45 Britton Street, London EC1M 5NA