Precious Metals Demystified

Precious Metals Demystified

Confused? We spell it out for you.

To plate jewelry means covering one metal surface with a thin layer of the desired metal using electrolysis. The jeweler dips the piece that he is plating into a liquid form of the plating metal. The electric current is added to the liquid and the particles of plating metal bond to the piece of jewelry.

Since some precious metals like silver and gold are very soft, plating is helpful to restore shine or make a metal stronger.

Many consumers find all of these terms to be confusing because there are so many different combinations of metals with varying implications in price and quality. What is best for your customers?

Fortunately you have the information and tools to help them make a sound decision that they will be happy with:



Sterling is an alloy of pure silver that contains over 92.5 percent silver and the rest is usually copper, zinc, or platinum (Source). You will notice that sterling silver is stamped with the numbers 925, and this is to signify that the silver content of the piece is 92.5 percent. This is a standard practice among jewelers to show the value and content of the piece of jewelry.

The alloy gives the silver more strength, since pure silver is soft and not suited for making jewelry—it needs a harder metal to mix with and create a solid base for jewelry.

Silver Plating

Silver plated jewelry’s common base metals are copper, brass, white metal, or nickel (Source). When silver plating is used over one of these base metals, it helps reduce the cost of jewelry.

Silver plating is a thin layer of silver over the base metal and has a shiny appearance and protects the underlying sterling silver.


Pure gold is an even softer metal than silver, and it is very malleable. It is not usually used for jewelry as a result of its softness.

Imagine wearing a ring that bends easily or a bracelet that loses its shape easily—you would probably be unhappy with this result in your jewelry and think that the quality of the metal is low, when actually it is gold.

Different colors and shades of gold can be produced when an alloy is created with gold. The type of alloy metal and the percentage of the alloys change the color of the gold.

An alloy also makes the metal harder, however alloys will often change the color of the gold.

The most common gold alloys for jewelry are 18-karat gold which contains 75% pure gold (Source). 18k gold is more expensive, vivid, and more prone to tarnishing and scratching.

14-karat gold, which contains 58% pure gold; and 10-karat gold which contains 41% pure gold (Source). 14k gold is less expensive, less vivid, and less prone to tarnishing.

Rose Gold

Rose gold contains a gold and copper alloy. Because pure gold is too soft for jewelry, it needs to be mixed with another metal. Rose gold is more durable than yellow gold or white gold. As a plating metal, rose gold is stronger and will not be scratched as easily as pure gold plating.

Rose gold is not hypoallergenic like pure gold and silver because there is copper in the alloy. At the same time, it is a good alternative for people with a nickel allergy because it does not contain nickel.

When more copper is added to the gold alloy, the rose gold appears more red. Pink and red gold fall under the umbrella of “rose gold.”

Since rose gold was popular at the turn of the century from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, there is a vintage and romantic appeal to rose gold jewelry.

The rose gold color looks like a warm mix between gold and silver. While pure gold is very yellow and silver is more grayish white and these only look good with certain skin tones, rose gold is a different kind of metal that looks beautiful with any skin tone

It is a color of metal that can plate on a piece of jewelry.

Gold Plating

When people think of gold, they think of a shiny and distinctly yellow-toned gold color. Be careful with your plated jewelry because chemicals in household products can affect plated jewelry like soaps and lotions.

Many people ask, “what does ‘gold plated’ mean?” because all of the different distinctions can be confusing for non-jewelry buffs.

Most often, gold plating is gold over silver or copper. With gold plated silver jewelry, the silver piece is covered with a thin layer of gold, and this eventually causes the silver piece to tarnish (Source).


Rhodium is a rare, bright and silver-colored member of the platinum family of metals. It is very hard, so it stays shine and does not get scratched easily (Source).

Rhodium is often used as the plating metal for white gold and sterling silver because it makes the piece harder, shiner and newer. Re-plating an old piece with rhodium can be a great option to revive your collection.

Many people like to buy jewelry with rhodium plating because it lasts for a long time and it makes stones like cubic zirconia, diamonds and crystals shimmer more brightly against the bright silver color.

Which of these is right for you?

Do you prefer gold or silver?

Decide if gold or silver works better for you: which do you tend to be drawn to? Some people consider themselves to be a “gold person” or a “silver person,” but these days, people are much more willing to mix the metals and it is considered fashionable and stylish to mix them at once.

Your preference can also have to do with which metal works best with your skin tone. If you have olive skin, you can go either way. If you have fair, pink-toned skin, you might go with silver. If you have dark skin, gold complements you. Meanwhile, rose gold complements most skin tones.

Are you looking for something high quality?

If you are looking for a piece that will stand the test of time, the best choices are sterling silver, 14-karat gold, or rhodium.

Plating can be high-maintenance in that you need to take care of it and be aware of how you are treating it. For example, it is a good idea to consider washing your hands before putting on plated jewelry; put on your jewelry after you have swam, sweat, showered, applied perfume, makeup, or lotion; take off your jewelry before cooking; keep different pieces of jewelry separate when you are storing them (Source).

If a plated piece loses its luster after a time, you can always get it replated, provided that it is a high-quality piece.

Sterling silver and gold are softer metals, as we mentioned earlier, and rhodium is very hard, so this is something to take into consideration when you are choosing your pieces.

Is the piece for you, or is it a gift?

If the piece you are purchasing for you, the metals you choose is a personal decision. If you are choosing a gift, you might consider how the person you are gifting will wear the piece that you choose. Will she wear it every day? On special occasions? Will she be disappointed if a ring turns her finger green? These are all questions to consider when you are looking at buying a piece of jewelry for someone else.

Are you working with a budget?

While pure gold and silver can be expensive, plated pieces can reduce the price of a piece of jewelry. This might be a good option if you are working with a budget. If you have more to work with, you can consider a piece that is plated, but still has a high quality alloy beneath the plating.  Rose gold plating is a good option because it is often plated over copper, so that if the plating rubs off, the color will still be similar.

Is this a piece that you will be wearing daily, or for special occasions?

If you are hoping that this piece will be something that you can wear daily, make sure that you like and have no skin reactions the base metal if the piece is plated.

For example, if you are allergic to nickel, it will not work for you to have a piece of jewelry that is a precious metal over nickel. You probably know if a piece of jewelry has nickel in it because many people have reactions to nickel rings (their finger will turn green) or nickel earrings (their ear piercings may be infected). Make sure that the jewelry you buy is high quality.

We hope this guide has been helpful for you in determining what kind of jewelry is best for you. It’s a personal decision that really depends on what kind of price point, quality, and hardness you are looking for, whether this piece is for you, or a loved one.

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