What’s the Difference Between the Metals Used in Jewelry?

By: Shmukler Design

When you purchase a piece of real jewelry — not the pair of earrings attached to a piece of cardboard that’s sold at the mall or via a discount online retailer — you likely have a preference for the type of metal attached to that stone or setting. Some people prefer silver or platinum, some prefer gold. Others like to have a mix of metal types within each piece.

Bottom line: There are plenty of choices when it comes to selecting the precious metal used to enhance a beautiful piece of jewelry.

Metals are said to be “precious” when they are rare. That makes sense. And there are only eight metals that meet that standard:

  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Platinum, which include platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium, and osmium.

Below, we break down the differences for you so that next time you buy, you know what you’re looking for.


Perhaps one of the most famous and sought-after metals since the beginning of time, gold is a popular choice for jewelry making. It doesn’t tarnish easily or corrode, its luster and color are quite attractive (pure gold is often referred to as “yellow gold”), and it is malleable. These are all ideal characteristics when crafting a piece of jewelry. However, the malleability of gold means that pure gold is too soft for most jewelry. To solve that issue, gold is often blended with silver or copper. Jewelers describe the percentage of pure gold in a piece by karat (also “k”) ratings, not to be confused with diamond carats.

The karat ratings go like this:

  • 24 Karat: 99.9 percent pure gold
  • 22 Karat: 91.7 percent pure gold
  • 18 Karat: 75 percent pure gold
  • 14 Karat: 58.3 percent pure gold
  • 12 Karat: 50 percent pure gold
  • 10 Karat: 41.7 percent pure gold

In addition to the different karat ratings for gold, there are other alloys used in gold jewelry that are far less precious and fancy. Solid gold refers to a metal that contains at least 10k of gold and is not hollow. A more affordable and less durable option is gold-plated. Gold-plated pieces are made of a base metal — sometimes brass — that have been coated with gold of at least 10 karats. The plating is thin, so the gold will come off with frequent wear.

A step up from gold-plated is gold-filled, which is also an item with a coating of 10k or greater gold. But that gold is bonded to the base metal with a more durable method than plating. The last gold-coated option, as well as the most durable one, is gold vermeil. The layer of gold is much thicker than that of plating, and the base metal is sterling silver. Gold vermeil coating usually has a purity of at least 14k.

To wrap up the gold options, we have a few less precious hues. White gold is a mix of gold and nickel, sometimes with palladium or zinc included as well. White gold looks pale, almost like platinum. Blue gold is a mix of gold and metals that contain iron, which gives the gold a bluish tinge. The last one is the very trendy rose gold, which is a mix of gold and copper, and has a pinkish-red appearance.


The most well-known and most-used metal after gold is silver. Like gold, silver has a variety of purities and alloys because pure silver is soft and can be scratched easily. Silver is most often paired with copper, due to its durability.

Purities of silver are not categorized by karats, but by names that denote the percentage of pure silver in the item. 800 silver contains 80 percent silver and 20 percent copper or another metal. 925 sterling silver contains at least 92.5 percent silver and no more than 7.6 percent of another metal. The 925-sterling silver is a universal standard that was actually decreed in 1300 by King Edward the First of England. Nine hundred and fifty sterling silver contains at least 95 percent silver and no more than 5 percent of another metal. Last, we have fine silver, which contains 99.9 percent silver and is not used in most jewelry. However, it is sometimes applied in a thin coating over sterling silver to give it more shine.

The Platinum Family

Although gold and silver are the most famous, platinum metals are actually the rarest, finest and most expensive of all precious metals. The above-mentioned six members of the platinum are only less common for jewelry due to the metal’s rarity (15-30 times that of gold). Because if the choice were based on characteristics such as durability, corrosion resistance and scratch-resistance, platinum would be a top option for most everyone.

Platinum is a silvery-white metal, typically strengthened with other metals for jewelry such as iridium, osmium or nickel. Like silver, platinum is not measured in karats, but instead is stamped with a standardized platinum quality mark by its manufacturer, indicating the percentage of platinum contained. Pt1000 is the mark of pure platinum. Pt950 and Pt900 are the most commonly used in fine jewelry. Anything under Pt900 is not considered “fine” platinum.

Palladium, a rare, malleable metal, is similar to platinum. It is most commonly used with sterling silver due to its dark hue. The rarity and price lands palladium between gold and platinum.

Ruthenium is often used in alloys to increase the durability of pieces, and iridium and rhodium are common alloy ingredients as well. Osmium, while precious, is brittle and smells unpleasant, so it is used only sparingly in alloys.

When it comes to bridal jewelry, we here at Shmukler Design, Southern California-based custom jeweler, are big fans of using platinum in wedding rings. And for many reasons. The purity of platinum is so high that it doesn’t fade or change color over time, which proves to complement its durability well. The natural pure white luster of platinum also reflects the true brilliance of diamonds, making the metal spectacular for engagement rings and wedding bands. Purchasing or designing a ring made of platinum can be likened to wearing something rare, unique and special, which is why so many jewelers prefer it for their designs.

For more information about precious metals — or which one to use in your next piece of custom designed jewelry — call us at (949) 870-9915. Or use the online contact form on the Shmukler Design website to ask a question or request a call back at a convenient time.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment