Behind-the-Scenes In The Metals Studio:
I get so many questions about metals, particularly from folks that want to buy jewelry as a gift but are afraid the intended recipient could have an allergy to the metal. I’m not a metals expert, but have learned a bit over the years, so I will share.
Fine silver is silver in its most pure form at 99.9% pure. Fine silver is very soft & is only used in jewelry when it's thick enough to be worn (1.4 to 2.0 mm thick), which is pretty thick in the jewelry world.
Sterling silver is the most popular form of silver. It has 92.5% silver & 7.5% of something else- usually copper- to “harden” it enough to be successfully used in jewelry. A few people feel they are allergic to sterling but the majority can wear this metal without a problem.
Reticulation silver is typically 80% silver & 20% copper. It's used to easily “reticulate" or deplete the copper from the surface, usually via a torch process, leaving a fine silver layer at the top. It makes beautiful jewelry but can’t be called sterling because the artist cannot easily verify the percentage of silver that is left.
Gold is determined in Karats (K) which means how pure the gold is. 24K gold (totally pure) is yellow in color & is too soft to make jewelry. It can however be used to “gild” or enhance other metals, including silver. Gold uses other metals, called alloys, to make it strong enough for jewelry. Typically those alloys include nickel, copper or zinc. 18K gold has 75% gold & 25% alloys, 14K gold has 58.33% gold & 41.67% alloys, and 10K gold has 41.66% gold & 58.34% alloys.
I often hear that folks are allergic to sterling silver, but not to 14K or 18K gold, when the gold actually has more copper in it. I have no idea why but I definitely have observed the reactions. White gold is another option. It uses silver, palladium & nickel as the alloys, which is different than the alloys in yellow gold. Rose gold uses an alloy of yellow gold, copper & silver. Typically, the fainter the rose color means the use of a higher Karat weight of the actual (yellow) gold.
This is an alloy that is usually about 2/3 copper & 1/3 tin. Sometimes the alloy can have aluminum, manganese, nickel or zinc. It has a color that some mistake for rose gold, making it great to use in jewelry at a considerably less expense.
Copper is a soft metal, easily hammered and stretched. It is pinkish in color and conducts heat and electricity well. Copper is an essential nutrient and helps maintain good health. It frequently turns green when worn against the skin as in a bracelet or necklace. This is one’s body salts reacting with the copper to form patina, that lovely green color we see on old copper roofs.
I’m not a doctor so I won’t attempt to define allergies to metals. I will say that over the years, I’ve seen a lot of what I will call “reactions” to various metals. I turn green sometimes when wearing my copper cuff & I just wash it off at the end of the day. If I wear 10K gold rings or earrings, my finger or ears will break out in a rash. I have family & friends that do that with anything but 18K gold. My recommendation is that if you or a friend for whom you are buying a gift may have reactions to metals, buy the highest quality you can. Send me a quick email if you have any questions!