Choosing Your Metal

These are the commonly used metals for jewelry-making:

Fine Silver: Fine silver is 100% pure silver.

Sterling Silver: Most people know to look for ".925" written on silver jewelry to verify it is made of sterling silver. This means the metal contains 92.5% by weight of silver, or 925 parts out of 1000. (Note that not all sterling contains this mark however).  The remaining percent is usually copper, which is why sterling silver tarnishes (when the copper in it oxidizes). Another kind of sterling silver is Thai, or Hill Tribe, silver which contains about 97% pure silver.

Silver-plated: In silver-plated objects, a thin layer of silver is deposited on the surface of another metal, usually brass. Typically, nickel is used in the plating process, though there are some nickel-free plated products.  Because of the use of nickel, people with sensitive skin will likely have an adverse reaction to these plated materials. In addition, there is no regulation on how thick the layer of plating must be. Therefore, while silver-plated pieces offer the bright glint of fine silver, they run the risk of rubbing off over time, as well as tarnishing.  Polishing the plated silver repeatedly usually results in wearing off the plating to reveal the base metal.

Silver-filled: Silver filled is hundreds of times thicker than silver-plating, has the same properties as sterling silver and can be soldered. With silver-filled products, the silver is mechanically bonded to a brass core for a sturdy structure, a much stronger bond than silver plating.  Though everyone is unique, people with sensitive skin are likely to wear silver-filled components safely without a reaction.  Not all products called silver filled are the same. We carry 925/10 silver filled components, which is comprised of 10% silver.  This is twice as high than 925/20 silver-filled products, which only contain 5% silver. Some other well-known online suppliers carry 925/20. Bead Inspirations now has silver-filled components in stock online and in our Alameda retail store.

Solid Gold: Most people are familiar with the designation of karats, with 24 karat being pure gold, which is bright yellow, and rather soft. 14 karat is most typically used for jewelry due to its strength, and is a warmer yellow. The higher the karat number, the less other metal is mixed in. However, the purer the gold, the softer, brighter, and more expensive it is.

Gold-plated: In gold-plated objects, a thin layer of gold is deposited on the surface of another metal, usually brass. Typically, nickel is used in the plating process, though there are some nickel-free plated products. Because of the use of nickel, people with sensitive skin will likely have an adverse reaction to these plated materials. Typically, the gold plating is a high karat, such as 22k, but there is no regulation on how thick the layer of plating must be.  In addition, while gold-plated pieces offer the bright glint of pure gold, they also run the risk of tarnishing, rubbing off, or chipping over time.

Gold-filled: Gold-filled objects are also composed of a base metal (often brass) covered in a layer of gold. However, while the gold layer on gold-plated pieces can vary greatly, a gold-filled piece must, by definition, contain 1/20 of its weight in gold. The layer of gold is also significantly thicker on something that is gold-filled, meaning that with normal use, it is not likely to tarnish or wear through. On the other hand, gold-filled components usually use 10-14kt gold, which is less bright in color. Typically, people with sensitive skin can wear gold-filled components safely without a reaction.

Gold Vermeil: Gold vermeil is a type of plating, but unlike regular gold-plating, must meet specific requirements. Instead of base metal, the gold must be layered over sterling silver. In addition, the gold must be at least 2.5 microns thick, and at least 10 karats, though typically 22 karat gold is used. However, because sterling silver tarnishes (even under the gold-plate), gold vermeil items will typically darken over time from a bright yellow to an antique patina. But because the gold is layered over sterling silver, those with nickel or other metal allergies need not worry about reactions to gold vermeil pieces.

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