Introduction to Precious Metals

Many of us hold metals that are dear to us, whether we wear them or keep them safe for financial investment or future generations.  Preference for one metal over another may come down to colour choice, sentiment or value.  The content or hue of metal could influence gemstone decisions.  Pure yellow gold enhances the vibrancy of a ruby, whereas a blue sapphire’s beauty stuns against white metal, such as silver, platinum or white gold.

Four precious metals

Up until the fifteenth century people believed there were only seven metals, but there are over 90 metals listed on the periodic table.  Copper was the first durable metal discovered 11,000 years ago followed by gold 8,000 years ago and silver 6,000 years ago.

In fine jewellery, the four precious metals are used are gold, silver, platinum and palladium.  The purity of gold is measured in different carats to that of the weight of carats in a gemstone.  There are three types of gold to choose from at a jeweller.

Yellow gold is at its purist at 24 carats, containing 99.9 gold, making this vivid colour the most expensive.  Pure gold is too malleable to wear, as it will bend out of shape.  The most durable yellow gold to wear is 9 ct, which contains 37.5 per cent gold and 62.5 per cent other metal alloys.

White gold is created by blending yellow gold with a white metal alloy, such as palladium or silver.  It may also be blended with copper to strengthen a piece of jewellery, and silver, which tempers the red of copper, to create rose gold.

Silver is the second most precious metal to be used in fine jewellery and household furnishings.  Sterling silver contains 92.5 per cent silver with 7.5 per cent other metal alloys and sterling silver jewellery items will be stamped 925, on the inside of rings or on the back of pendants.

Platinum was used by the Ancient Egyptians as a hard-wearing metal, though has only been popular in jewellery since the 19th century. The durability of this white metal is particularly attractive to those buying pieces with gemstones, such as engagement and wedding rings, due to its ability to hold precious stones.

Other metals used in jewellery

Stainless steel, titanium and tungsten, known for their strength, are popular metals for male wedding rings and in recent years have been used by luxury brands in their time pieces, offering an alternative choice to gold and silver watches for customers.

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