Precious Metals in Jewelry Making Part 3: Silver Standards

Our last few blog posts went over all of the ways gold is incorporated into jewelry designs. From preparing the precious metal, to forming it into jewelry pieces, the variety of techniques is vast. But, gold is not the only precious metal of choice when is comes to designing dazzling jewelry – silver has been a significant part of jewelry designs for centuries.

Similar to gold, pure silver is quite soft and easily damaged by everyday-wear. Therefore, it’s usually alloyed with another metal to increase its durability. But unlike gold, the selection of popular alloys is very limited – silver is almost always alloyed with copper. Interestingly, silver purity levels aren’t measured by karat, but by parts-per-thousand. Throughout history and around the world, silver has had many uses besides jewelry. Over the years, different regions have set minimum levels of purity for an item to count as “made of silver,” as opposed to just “containing silver.” That is why you’ll hear about many different types of silver in jewelry making. These types don’t indicate different alloys of silver, just different purity levels. Common examples are:

•    Ultra Fine Silver (999.9) – used for minting special bullion coins, like the Canadian Maple Leaf
•    Fine/Pure Silver (999) – used for bullion bars and silver plating
•    Britannia Silver (958)
•    French 1st Standard (950)
•    Mexican Silver (925)
•    Sterling Silver (925)
•    Coin Silver (900) – previously used by the U.S. to mint silver coins
•    Scandinavian Silver (830)
•    German Silver, Egyptian Silver (800)

Of all the standards, sterling silver is the most popular for jewelry making. At that purity level, the silver is strong enough to stand up to daily-wear while still maintaining much of pure silver’s natural brilliance. Sometimes, the luster is improved by electroplating the sterling silver with a layer of pure silver. Rhodium can also be used as a plating material – just like with white-gold.

Next time, we’ll go over platinum and palladium and see how they adapt to jewelry designs.

Precious Metals in Jewelry Making Part 2: Gold Alloys

In a previous blog post we talked about how adjusting the karat level of gold can affect the qualities in a piece of jewelry. Of course, pure gold is a constant in the science of crafting gold jewelry. But, there are many variations when deciding on which metals to alloy with the gold to lower the karat level. And while all metals will lower the karat level, they don’t all create jewelry that has the same qualities.

Color is the most obvious of these qualities. When gold is alloyed with another metal, its hue changes. For example, white gold is a very popular alloy in jewelry making. It can be created by mixing gold with a white metal – usually nickel or palladium. Depending on the white metal used, the piece of jewelry can take on different properties. Nickel is inexpensive and does a great job of increasing the wear-resistance of the jewelry. However, it will still look a bit yellow and require a rhodium plating to improve the shine and white color. On the other hand, white gold made with palladium will have a much better natural luster and color, but will still be quite soft.

Of course, there are even more gold alloys – all with different colors and physical properties. Rose gold is made with copper; green gold (aka electrum) is made with silver; grey gold is made with silver, manganese, and copper; and the list goes on.

On top of using a range of gold alloys, jewelry can also be made with gold in different ways. To make gold plated jewelry, a base metal (such as steel or brass) is electroplated with a very thin layer of gold. This yields jewelry that is very inexpensive and lustrous, but easily worn out. Gold filled jewelry (aka, rolled gold) is made the same way, but uses a much thicker layer of gold – at least five-percent of the jewelry’s total weight. Vermeil is a form of the gold plating process, but is reserved for more elegant pieces. To create vermeil, sterling silver is used as the base metal and the gold plating is usually 22-24kt.

For our next entry in this series, we’ll explore how the other precious metals are refined to accommodate jewelry designs.

Price of Gold Drops to Lowest Level in More Than a Year

Just before trading closed on Friday, April 12, 2013, the price of gold dropped $64 to $1,501 an ounce, which is the lowest it has been in more than a year. Other metals, including silver and copper, also experienced price drops, as Treasury yields sank to their lows for the year as well.

What was the cause of the price fluctuations? According to The Associated Press, one catalyst could be the government-issued report that U.S. wholesale prices declined in March to the lowest they had been in 10 months. When inflation decreases, traders tend to sell metals. Additionally, gold prices may have also been affected by the reports that Cyprus may sell some of its gold reserves. It’s speculated that this may influence other European countries, such as Italy and Spain, to follow suite.

David Joy, Chief Market Strategist of Ameriprise Financial, said that the drop in metal prices and Treasury yields both imply that traders in those markets anticipate a slowdown, reported The Associated Press.