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Metals

Gold

Gold artifacts have been dated as far back as 4,000 BC in the Balkans, however it is thought that gold began to be used by artisans a few thousand years further than that. In Ancient Egypt gold was quite common around the Nile, it was in Egypt in fact that the first gold production and mining began.

Copper and gold are the only two pure metals that are not white or greyish in colour. Gold is the only non-white precious metal on earth.

LORE

Gold was treasured by ancient civilisations. To the Egyptians the fiery brilliance of gold symbolized the sun god Ra, while to the Incas gold was the sweat of the sun.

Gold has been featured in many myths, legends and fairytales. Case in point being legendary Trojan War, which may have been caused by a golden apple given by Paris, the Prince of Troy, to Aphrodite. She in turn permitted Paris to kidnap Helen, wife of Greek hero Menelaus. This resulted in war.

What is an alloy?

An alloy is a mixture of two or more metals. In jewellery we refer to the other metals added to the fine metal as the alloy. Precious metals are alloyed for various reasons.

Gold alloys

In South Africa, only four different gold alloys are recognised by the SABS. These are 9ct, 14ct, 18ct and 22ct.

Carats

Fine gold equals 24ct. One carat is one twenty-fourth or 41,66 parts per thousand parts. This means that a 9ct alloy has 37,5% fine gold in the alloy ( 9/0.24).

WHY ALLOY GOLD?

  1. To change the working properties of gold.
  2. To change the colour of the gold.
  3. To lower the cost of the metal.

There is no such thing as white, red, rose, pink, green or purple gold. Gold is always yellow in colour. However, the colour of the gold can be altered by adding differently coloured alloys to the mix. The lower the carat, the more alloy can be added, the bigger the intensity and the range of colours that can be achieved.

Yellow gold

In yellow gold alloys, the alloy added should preferably be as white as possible. The alloy should have a strong “bleaching” effect on the yellow colour of the gold.

Old gold

When a client brings in old gold, he/she expects to be compensated for the gold. It is not possible to give the client the full amount because:

  • You can only compensate for the value of the gold, not the value of the jewellery item.
  • You also need to account for refining cost.
carat percentage % parts per thousand
9ct 37.5% 375
14ct 58.3% 583
18ct 75% 750
22ct 91.67% 917

Gold care

  • Gold is a very soft metal that can be easily scratched. It can even be scratched when rubbed against other jewellery. Always keep diamond and gold jewellery separate, as diamonds will abrade gold.
  • When you take off your gold pieces, store them in a velvet-lined jewellery box that has separate compartments for each item. Alternatively, you can wrap each piece in tissue paper and store them in small, soft pouches.
  • When you put your jewellery away, make sure it is dry, because moisture can cause springs and clasps to weaken over time.
  • Don’t wear gold jewellery while bathing or cleaning. Soap doesn’t harm gold, but may leave a residue that will cause gold to look less lustrous.
  • Don’t wear gold jewellery in the pool or jacuzzi, as exposure to chlorine can permanently damage and discolour your gold jewellery.
  • Use a very soft cloth to clean gold jewellery.

THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PLATINUM AND WHITE GOLD

COLOUR DIFFERENCES: 18ct white gold alloys have a slight yellowish tint and are rhodium plated to produce a “white” look. This white gold layer wears off with time. When this happens, the item needs to be replated. Platinum, on the other hand, is a white metal and does not need plating.

TENACITY: White gold is slightly brittle and white gold claws will not last as long as platinum ones. Platinum is quite hardy and does not abrade easily.

HARDNESS: Platinum indents more easily than white gold.

WEIGHT: Platinum is much heavier than white gold.

PRICE DIFFERENCE: Hand-made platinum items can cost three times more than a similar item made in 18ct white gold.


PALLADIUM

Palladium and Platinum’s history are interconnected. This is because “Native Platinum” is actually an alloyed mix of platinum group metals, which includes palladium. Platinum and Palladium share their early history, as they weren’t separated from each other for quite some time. In 1803, William Hyde was able to separate Palladium from crude platinum ore.

Palladium was first used for jewellery during WWII when platinum was reserved for military use. In the 21st Century, jewellery designers were searching for a less expensive alternative to platinum and developed palladium alloys. These alloys are workable, hypoallergenic, tarnish-free and do not need rhodium plating. Various palladium alloys were produced. The most popular alloy contains 95% palladium and 5% ruthenium.

Palladium is a platinum group metal. It is the lightest of the group and has the lowest melting point.

Palladium is especially popular and attractive in jewellery because:

  • It is not only light but also, per gram, it is also relatively inexpensive.
  • Palladium has a naturally white colour (whiter than white gold) and does not require rhodium plating. Palladium does not tarnish.
  • Palladium can be polished to display a highly reflective finish.

PALLADIUM ALLOYS

Palladium is malleable and ductile in its pure form, but is too soft for jewellery unless it is alloyed. The palladium alloys used in jewellery contain 95% palladium, which makes it more “pure” than white gold alloys, and the alloy elements are enough to make it harder and more durable than white gold. Palladium is usually alloyed with ruthenium or copper. It is hallmarked “Pd”.

PALLADIUM CARE

  • Avoid wearing palladium rings while doing manual labour (gardening or working outside) or activities requiring contact with equipment or rough surfaces.
  • Bed linens are abrasive to all jewellery. It is advisable to not wear palladium jewellery to bed at night.
  • Rid palladium jewellery of dust and dirt as they are abrasive elements and can cause palladium jewellery to lose its luster.

PLATINUM

Platinum and platinum group metals are purified from “Native Platinum”. It is highly doubtful that ancient civilizations recognized Platinum as a separate body from “Native Platinum”. Traces of Platinum have been found in Ancient Egyptians artifacts, the best known example is a seventh century BC box that has a strip of platinum set amongst hieroglyphics. The strip has been hammered out in the same fashion that Thebian craftsmen treated silver, it is mostly likely treated in this fashion as it was mistaken for silver.

Knowledge of the white metal platinum only spread through the world a few hundred years ago. Even though the South American Indians worked with it some 1000 years ago, the news of the metal only reached Europe during the Spanish conquest of the new World during the 15th and 16th centuries. However the Spanish deemed Platinum a nuisance as it interfered with their mining of gold.

Nowadays we realize that Platinum is a rare and expensive metal. It has perfect properties that make it suitable for jewellery. It is a highly malleable, silvery-white metal that is extremely resistant to oxidation and corrosion.

Fine platinum is very soft and has to be alloyed to make it suitable for hand manufacturing. In South Africa, there are two alloys available for hand fabrication – a platinum/copper alloy and a platinum/ruthenium alloy. Both alloys consist of 95% pure platinum and are hallmarked “PLAT”.

WHY IS PLATINUM JEWELLERY SO EXPENSIVE?

  • The base price, $/ounce of platinum, is normally much more than that of gold.
  • A platinum item normally contains 95% pure metal, whereas an 18ct gold item contains only 75% pure metal.
  • A platinum item weighs 30% more than a similar item in 18ct gold.
  • Labour and refining costs are much more for platinum than for 18ct gold items.

PLATINUM CARE

  • Store platinum jewellery separately from other jewellery so that it does not scratch or get scratched by other items.
  • Clean platinum jewellery with commercial jewellery cleaner or by soaking it in a mild solution of 50% ammonia and 50% warm water. Gently rub with a soft cloth.
  • Have your platinum jewellery polished and cleaned by a jeweller at least twice a year and more often if scratches appear.
  • Do not wear your platinum jewellery when doing home cleaning (especially when using bleach or harsh chemicals), gardening, or other types of heavy work or manual labour.

SILVER

Silver has been used for thousands of years in trading, monetary systems and as decoration. Its value was secondary to gold. Silver has been known since ancient times. It has been thought that silver was separated from lead as early as 4th millennium BC. Proof being that silver is mentioned in the book of Genesis, slag heaps have been found in Asia Minor and on the islands of the Aegean Sea.

Silver is the most common of the precious metals and has working qualities close to those of gold. Although it is resistant to many chemicals, it can be damaged by nitric acid and sulphur. The latter causes dark stains that silver items seem to develop over time. Being a soft metal, silver items scratch easily, but the scratches have soft edges, and, in time, they blur to give the metal a pleasantly aged appearance called “patina”. Collectors of silverware prize patina.

LORE

It is thought that silver was discovered shortly after that of copper and gold. To date the oldest reference of silver can be found in the book of Genesis. To the Egyptians gold was the perfect metal and so they gave gold a circle as a symbol, as silver was the closest to gold in perfection it was given the symbol of a semi-circle. This semi-circle symbol later grew to be known as the symbol of the moon, no doubt due to the similarities of shining silver and the glowing moon. The Inca’s believed silver was the sweat of the moon.

Silver just like gold was considered sacred by ancient civilisations. It was used to cure infection, pay debts, to decorate and even as utensils in wealthier homes.

In European folklore silver is recorded as an antidote to certain maladies and even monsters. It was believed that silver repelled vampires and werewolves were easily put to death by a silver bullet or weapon made out of silver. The use of silver to cure infection dates back to Ancient Greece and Rome. While in the Middle Ages it was used to disinfect water and to treat burns and wounds.

ALLOYING OF SILVER

Because pure silver is quite soft, it is mixed with copper to produce harder alloys that have various uses.

SILVER CARE

  • Silver jewellery tarnishes relatively easily. Humidity and chemicals in the air are the greatest causes of tarnishing. Avoid wearing silver in humid conditions, or polish silver items shortly thereafter.
  • Wear silver jewellery often, as wearing and handling of silver will slow the oxidation process and keep your silver polished and shiny. This will also eventually cause a beautiful silver patina.
  • When cleaning your jewellery, only use polishes specifically made for silver. If you don’t have any silver polish, you can simply put a small amount of toothpaste on your fingers and rub it on the piece. Rinse off with warm water and your silver will be polished and ready to wear.
  • For silver jewellery that is not in constant contact with your skin (such as earrings or a brooch), make sure the items are stored in airtight containers or wrapped in a tarnish-inhibiting cloth.
  • Avoid wearing silver jewellery when swimming or jacuzziing, as silver is susceptible to damage by chlorine,
  • Minimise tarnish and scratching by storing items in individual compartments of your jewellery box.

STAINLESS STEEL

Stainless steel was first discovered in 1913. Harry Brearley and team were busy researching and experimenting with different types and qualities of alloys. He found that the steel gained an exceptional resistance to acid corrosion when alloyed with a minimum of 10.5% chromium. The chromium in the alloy forms a thin invisible layer of chromium oxide when exposed to oxygen. This layer prevents the metal from rusting. Even when the surface is scratched, the protective layer quickly reforms.

Today, stainless steel has become a much-used metal in the production of men’s jewellery especially. It is widely used for piercing jewellery and watches are often produced in stainless steel.

STAINLESS STEEL CARE

  • Be sure to keep your stainless steel jewellery free of dust and dirt. To do this, rub your jewellery with a soft cloth and a little warm, soapy water. Follow the grain of the metal to avoid scratches. Remove soap with a separate clean cloth.
  • For dirtier pieces, a small amount of toothpaste may be applied to jewellery and gently brushed with a very soft toothbrush. Rinse with warm water and gently wipe with another soft cloth.
  • Polish your jewellery with a non-toxic stainless steel polish or polishing cloth. Avoid abrasive cleaners that can scratch the surface.

REASONS FOR USING PALLADIUM, TITANIUM AND STAINLESS STEEL

  • The technology to work these metals has become available recently.
  • High platinum prices have prompted designers and manufacturers to find other white metals to expand their jewellery lines.
  • Modern consumers are more willing to purchase “unconventional” jewellery materials than consumers in the past.

TITANIUM

Titanium was originally named gregorite, after the British chemist, Reverend William Gregor He discovered it in an inclusion in a mineral in 1791. Gregor noted the presence of two metal oxides in the mineral, one being iron oxide and the other he was unable to identify. German chemist M.H. Klaproth independently rediscovered the oxide in 1793. He named it Titanium after the Titans of Greek mythology. In 1797 he realized that Gregor’s earlier discovery was the same as his Titanium. Titanium was only successfully isolated in 1910 by Matthew A. Hunter, through a rather laborious and costly exercise.

Although its extreme hardness and high melting point make titanium a difficult metal to work, modern technology has succeeded in producing jewellery (especially wedding bands) at a highly competitive price and with a unique look.

Titanium, a greyish metal, can be inlaid with precious metals such as gold, platinum and silver. When treated with heat, its surface oxdises into a magnificent spectrum of colours. This feature has made it a popular metal for ladies’ jewellery.

Titanium is used in its pure and alloyed state to increase strength.

Positives of titanium jewellery:

  • Due to its low density, titanium is sturdy, yet comfortable to wear.
  • It is very durable and does not dent or deform easily. This makes it an ideal choice for sportsmen.
  • Titanium does not tarnish.
  • It is hypoallergenic.
  • Titanium has a high purity.
  • It is relatively inexpensive.

Titanium jewellery drawbacks:

  • Because of titanium’s strength and resistance to bending, it is difficult to set stones in titanium claws or bezels. However, rings set by tension can be manufactured very successfully.
  • Rings cannot be sized more than half a size larger.
  • Titanium’s hardness wears down jewellery-making tools.
  • Titanium jewellery cannot have anything soldered onto it.

TITANIUM CARE

  • Although titanium has an even greater structural strength than platinum, it is not resistant to scratches. To avoid scratches, remove titanium jewellery when doing manual labour or working with abrasive substances.
  • To clean titanium, wash with any non-abrasive soap or cleaner.
  • Anodized items are best cleaned with soapy water and wiped with a soft tissue.
  • Avoid contact with perfumes, after shaves and chemicals, as these may tarnish the surface of the titanium.

TUNGSTEN

In Swedish the word Tungsten means “heavy stone”. It’s other name, Wolfram, is derived from the name of the mineral Wolframite. This is where Tungsten’s chemical symbol W comes from.

The metal Tungsten was first isolated by two Spanish chemists, the de Elhujar brothers, in 1783. The metal can be isolated from minerals wolframite, scheelite, huebnertie and ferberite. Tungsten is promoted as the only rare and exotic metal that is permanently polished. It is often said about a Tungsten ring that “The polish of your ring will last as long as your commitment to each other.” The heavy weight and lasting polish of a tungsten ring make it special and sought-after by those who want a unique item. It is ten times harder than 18k gold) and requires special working methods that normal goldsmiths often do not have.

TUNGSTEN CARE

  • Even though tungsten jewellery is very sturdy and strong, it needs to be cared for. Tungsten can accumulate fingerprints and smudges. Use a soft cloth or jewellery polish cloth to remove these marks.
  • You can clean tungsten jewellery with a mild cleaner and wipe it with a smooth, soft cloth. In most cases, a toothbrush and a mild non-abrasive cleaner will return its luster.
  • Diamonds can scratch tungsten, so one should not store one’s tungsten jewellery next to diamonds.
  • Avoid cleaning with harsh chemicals and do not leave in ultrasonic cleaners for more than two minutes.

RHODIUM PLATING

A thin layer of rhodium, a member of the platinum family, is applied over white gold, silver or copper and its alloys in order to enhance the shine and durability of the jewellery item.

Rhodium plating is not permanent and will wear off in time. However one can easily re-plate the jewellery item. Re-plating is relatively quick process. White gold know to yellow with time if not plated with rhodium. The original white gold colour can be restored if rhodium plated.


PLATED JEWELLERY AND BONDED GOLD JEWELLERY

Plated, refers to a piece of jewellery that is made from metal such as copper or silver and then covered through an electroplating process with a thin layer of precious metal (often gold). The jewellery is usually hallmarked only based on the silver content and not a gold hallmark.

A good example of plated jewellery is costume jewellery. The plating will rub off in time but all can be restored through re-plating.

Bonded jewellery is created when gold is bonded through heat with the original metal, often silver. The bonded product has a thicker layer of gold that is less likely to wear off in time.


HALLMARKING

A hallmark is a mark or series of marks struck on a precious metal item – platinum, gold, silver and palladium. Hallmarking differs from country to country.

South African popular caratages:
Platinum: Pt950; Pt900; Pt850
Gold: 9ct or 375; 18ct or 750
Silver: SIL, S925 or 925; S835 or 835.


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