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Everything You Need to Know About Jewelry Metals

Like when to opt for stainless steel over gold.
Everything You Need to Know About Jewelry Metals Like when to opt for stainless steel over gold.

Ask any fashion girl and she'll tell you the trick to elevating any outfit lies in the accessories. We adorn ourselves with jewelry almost everyday but have you ever paused and pondered on the quality of the bling that you invest in? Below we talk with two jewellers Kim Lee of Pulseras by Kim and Joana Ballesteros-Gube of Heyjow Jewelry to know more about demi-fine jewelry.

What's the primary difference between top jewelry metals like platinum, palladium, gold, and silver?

Joana: "Jewelry metals each have their own unique qualities. From the perspective of a jewelry designer, there are a ton of technical and creative factors that will guide her towards choosing one metal over another. The differences between your metal options that matter most for both designers and wearers are: appearance, color, texture/feel, and hardness. The differences between metals in these characteristics will affect the end-piece's aesthetic, practicality, and the wearer's sensory interaction with it."

Kim: "Silver jewelry is very popular due to its affordability, and variety of designs. It's a lot softer than gold and other precious metals which makes it very malleable. Palladium is highly resistant to corrosion and scratching, and has a lower in price than other high-quality metals. With the increase in the price of gold and platinum, palladium is one of the best choices for those with a lower budget who don't want to sacrifice quality or beauty.

"Meanwhile, platinum is even harder and a lot more resistant to scratches and corrosion. It is rarer than silver so platinum products are not as abundant. Platinum's melting point is also significantly higher than silver, making it more durable. Gold jewelry is yellow, and more durable than sterling silver. It is more scratch-resistant and also doesn’t tarnish. White gold is alloyed with nickel, manganese, or palladium to give it a silver hue. Rose gold is alloyed with copper to make it pink."

How do you consider each metal's characteristics when designing a piece?

J: "It's hard to describe the thoughts that race through my mind as I'm designing a piece of jewelry. Jewelry design is an art and science. It's a craft that's both instinctive and systematic. You have to balance a lot of things to end up with a design that's beautiful, harmonious, and functional."

K: "A lot of the designing is based on your target market and who you envision wearing it, that will determine the price point you want to hit and the material you'll opt to use. I've personally been recently using a lot of gold filled metal, it's an amazing alternative to solid gold without the hefty price tag, which makes it great for young adults who want minimalist jewelry for everyday but want to escape the greenish skin marks and the ugly rashes you get from fashion jewelry from huge retailers."

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What should you consider when choosing the right jewelry metal for you?

J: "For the beautiful and magnificent wearer of jewelry, here are a few things she might consider (besides price):

Skin compatibility. Some people are allergic to certain types of metals. For instance, allergic reactions can be caused by nickel, a common metal that's often mixedor if you want to get fancy, alloyedwith silver or gold to make the jewelry appear whiter and become stronger. White gold may contain nickel (among other metals) to produce the desired appearance of the jewelry designer. If you're allergic to certain metals, it's best to ensure that the jewelry you buy is hypoallergenic, or free of any metals you're allergic to.

Durability. The strength of the metal is something many jewelry buyers often neglect. Jewelry is meant to be worn and enjoyed. They're designed to make you look and feel amazing. The jewelry you choose to wear must be able to handle your lifestyle. Our pieces shouldn't be lying around in our jewelry cases.

For instance, a lot of times, we choose brass for our designs because it's a beautiful and a robust metal that's perfectly suited to our clients' lifestyles. For wedding bands, I suggest going with hard, rare metals and alloys such as platinum, palladium, and white gold. Wedding rings are designed to be worn every day for the rest of your life, so you want them to be able to last forever.

Durability is not just dependent on the metal type but also on the skill and craftswomanship of the designer and maker of your pieces. Where you get your jewelry matters just as much as what jewelry you're wearing.

Look-and-feel. Jewelry metals like platinum, palladium, gold, and silver each have their own distinctive appearance, weight, and texture. There's no science to choosing what jewelry looks good on you. Trust your instincts. Go with the piece that speaks to your heart. If it doesn't feel right, you're probably right. Try to make sure the metal is aligned with your usual attire, aesthetic, and overall style. Your jewelry should suit your style, and not the other way around."

K: "Things to consider would be the price point, color (certain metals have varying hues of silver or gold), designs available, durability, and its longevity of wear (would you wear it as a fashion jewelry only once or twice, wear it daily, or keep it as an heirloom)."

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When is it okay to choose stainless steel over other types of metal?

J: "Stainless steel is extremely strong. If you have an active lifestyle, you should have some stainless steel jewelry in your collection. I have a stainless steel bangle that my husband gave me for my birthday because we were going on a long adventure across the U.S. It was perfect because I didn't have to worry about chipping it, bending it, or breaking it. I didn't have to worry about the harsh winter weather.

"Brass is a metal I love working with. I was inspired to create with this metal because of our adventureswe scuba dive, we travel a lot, and we go on beach trips regularly. I had to design jewelry that was tough enough to withstand the demands of life. You don't want to worry about your jewelry because you're already so busy as it is.

"The other thing I love about brass is that it ages gracefully. Many of our clients find that their Heyjow pieces look even more gorgeous after a few years of use. Though brass is more challenging to work with as a jewelry maker, and is more expensive and harder to source than the metals you often find being used in other jewelry brands, the effort and cost is worth it. One of our frequent compliments is how long-lasting and luxurious our pieces are."

K: "Probably when you like a certain design, and want to wear it for a while. I'm allergic to the nickel and iron content in stainless steel, and it eventually tarnishes due to continued wear, but like fashion or costume jewelry, purchase if you really like the design, but be wary of the effect fast fashion has on the environment."

How do you know if a piece of jewelry is genuine? What are the things we should look out for?

J: "Buying from a reputable jewelry maker is the first step to ensuring you're getting what you pay for. It's the only practical way you can make sure that your piece is legit. Other than that, look for unusual signs of discoloring because this might point to a chemical reaction that's uncharacteristic of the metal you're interested in. For instance, gold doesn't rust. So if there is rust (ferric oxide), then it can be indicative that what you're looking at is not pure gold, or at least not a well-alloyed gold. For hard precious metals like platinum, look for big chips and dents in the metal because hard metals are difficult to damage.

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"There are chemical tests to see what type of metal a piece of jewelry contains, but these tests often require training and expertise in metallurgy and I'm not sure if the seller will be able to give you permission to do them before buying the piece because of the potential damage the test can cause to the item.

"If you're going to be buying a very expensive piece, consider spending a little bit more and hire a professional third-party jeweler for the day. Ask the pro to go with you and help you verify the authenticity of the item you're buying."

K: "A good and easy way to identify jewelry would be to check for markings to be certain of its metal type. Sterling silver will be marked with a '925' or the word 'sterling.' Gold jewelry should be marked with the karat or purity of the gold. Look for 18k gold, which is 75% pure, 14k gold, which is 58% pure or 10k gold, which is 42% pure."

How should you take care of your demi-fine jewelry pieces to make them last a long time?

J: "Metals in demi-fine jewelry often won't be as strong as stainless steel or platinum. My rule of thumb for a conservative approach: Handle them similarly to your fine yellow gold jewelry, which are a lot of times softer and more delicate than the metals found in demi-fine jewelry. Also, avoid putting your jewelry alongside abrasives so they don't get surface scratches. You can clean them with a slightly damp cloth once in a while, and whenever they get in contact with sweat. With your semi-precious stones, avoid dropping them or hitting them against hard objects because with enough force, they may crack or chip."

K: "A simple way to take care of demi-fine jewelry at home would be to pour some warm water in a small bowl, and add some mild dishwashing soap. Dip a soft, lint-free cloth in the soapy water, and then gently wipe the jewelry with the damp cloth until the piece is clean. Air dry your jewelry overnight before you put it away. Excessive moisture when stored can lead to jewelry that is corroded and tarnished."

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