Metal Head - Know Your Metal

Learn about the earth's abundance of metals and how they are used in jewelry. Be an informed buyer.

Metal comes in many different colors and is graded on its purity. The higher the purity the higher amount of original metal.

Noble or Precious Metals

Precious or noble metals are metals that are rare and occur naturally in nature. They have high ductility and high lustre. While gold and silver both have industrial uses, they are better known for their uses in art, jewelry and coinage. Historically, precious metals command a higher price than common base metals.


Raw Silver
Photo Credit: Melodie Bailey

Silver is a soft, shiny metal that is white in color. The color of silver can change over time due to tarnish which occurs when exposed to air or water as sulfur compounds react with the surface. Tarnish will discolor silver and turn it a grayish black. The color of silver can also be changed intentionally to create an antique effect like tarnish, by applying a patina.

Silver that is used for jewelry making is alloyed with other metals to give it strength and durability. Fine/pure silver is not able to stand up to normal wear and tear and would easily bend out of shape.

Fine Silver

999 Fine or 99.9% silver with the balance being trace amounts of impurities

999, 99.9, or .999


Fine Silver also called pure silver is the softest of the silver metals and is generally used for bezel settings because the metal stays soft enough to be able to be moved over the gemstone that is being set into a piece of jewelry. Generally fine silver is too soft to use as a band for a ring where it would come in contact with surfaces on a regular basis causing it to become dinged and bent.

Sterling Silver

925 or 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper (typically)

925, .925, 92.5, or Sterling


Sterling silver is fine/pure silver that has been alloyed with other metals to create a stronger metal that can be forged into items like jewelry.

Sterling Silver is commonly used for jewelry as it is more durable and stands up to general use. Due to its 7.5% content of copper it is prone to tarnishing. However, it’s easy to care for and clean the tarnish off the sterling silver by using a polishing cloth. Sterling Silver can still be scratched and dented, just not as easily as fine silver.

It is important to note that sterling silver made in the United States has a purity rating of 92.5% and anything lower than that is not considered sterling silver. However, in other countries sterling silver is considered sterling silver with lower purity ratings. In Germany the purity rating for sterling silver is as low as 80% and in Russia as low as 90%.

Due to the different silver standards around the world it is advisable to inquire about the actual silver content of the jewelry or item you are purchasing.

Earth Fusion Designs Jewelry
is made with fine silver, sterling silver and
recycled sterling silver and is stamped with a 925 mark.

Recycled Sterling Silver 

925 or 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper (typically) 

925, .925, 92.5, or Sterling


Recycled sterling silver has the same purity as sterling silver. Recycled sterling silver is produced from discarded sterling silver jewelry, sterling silver jewelry scraps, sterling silverware and any other item that has already been made into something out of sterling silver. The use of recycled sterling silver helps to cut down on mining, and use of chemicals needed in the production of sterling silver and is better for the environment.

Argentium Silver

935 or 93.5% silver or 960 or 96% silver depending on the grade - remaining percentage other alloys and a small amount of germanium

935 or 960 with an optional additional brand mark of a winged unicorn logo


Argentium silver is a brand of tarnish resistant silver alloys, that contains either 93.5% or 96% silver depending on the grade. Argentium's patents also refer to percentages of zinc and boron present in Argentium silver. Created in 1991 by Master Silversmith and metallurgist, Peter Johns from Middlesex University. Argentium is produced and is a fairly new metal, therefor recycled Argentium silver is not readily available yet.

Silver Filled

925/10, 1/10 10% silver content or 925/20, 1/20 5% silver content bonded to the outer layer of a base metal like brass or copper

Silver filled metal is a base metal like copper or brass and the sterling silver is mechanically bonded over the top of the base metal. The sterling silver content is 5% or 10% depending on the grade. Silver filled metal comes in single clad, where the silver is only bonded to one side of the base metal and double clad, where it is bonded to both sides of the base metal.

The top coat of silver won’t flake off but will wear off over time, exposing the base metal. It is more durable than silver plated.

Silver Plated

Thin layer of silver over a base metal like nickel, tin, or copper


Silver plating or silver electroplating developed in the 1830’s, is the chemical process of depositing a thin layer of silver coating over a solid core of base metal such as copper, or nickel. The thickness of this coating is measured in microns (1 micron is approximately 0.0001 centimeter) and can range between 1-40 microns. For jewelry, this range is restricted to 1-10, with the average being around 2 microns.

When looking at silver plated items it is hard to distinguish the difference between silver plated and sterling silver. However, if you look closely silver plated will be lighter in color than sterling silver. Plated silver jewelry will also weigh more than sterling silver jewelry due to the majority of base metal in the core.

The downsides to plated silver is it might trigger nickel allergies for some people and over time the silver plating will fade and flake off and can cause your skin to turn green where the piece of jewelry comes in contact with it.

Raw Gold
Photo Credit: Melodie Bailey


Gold is a soft shiny metal, in its purest form it is yellow in color. Gold comes in an array of colors like yellow, white, green, and pink. Yellow gold is the purest of all gold metal.

Gold is graded by karat. Karat is a unit of measurement that measures the purity of gold. The higher the karat the purer the gold. A gold karat is 1/24 part, or 4.1667%, of the whole. Karat is not to be confused with carat. Carat is the measurement of gemstones.

Gold that is used for jewelry making is alloyed with other metals to give it strength and durability. 24k pure gold is not able to stand up to normal wear and tear and would easily bend out of shape.

24K Yellow Gold 


24K, 24Kt, 24k


24 karat gold contains 24 parts pure gold and does not contain any other metal mixed in with it. It is bright yellow in color and there is no higher form of gold. This is something to keep in mind if you come across an item that is marketed as being anything higher than 24 karat, you will know right away that it is either mislabeled or it’s a fake. 24 karat gold is lesser in density and softer compared to the lower grades of gold like 18 karat and is not typically a first choice for use in jewelry.

22K Yellow Gold

91.67% - 8.33% other metals like silver, zinc, or nickel

22K, 22Kt, 22k


22k gold contains 22 parts gold and 2 parts other metals like silver, zinc, nickel and other alloys. The addition of the other metals make the gold harder. 22k gold is commonly used in jewelry making. However, 22k gold is not recommended for use with diamonds due to its softness. Settings for diamonds and precious gemstones require strength to hold the gem.

18K Yellow Gold

75% - 25% other metals like silver, zinc, or nickel

18K, 18Kt, 18k, 750, 0.75


18 karat gold contains 18 parts gold and 6 parts other metals as alloy. It is slightly dull gold in color and is commonly used in jewelry making, especially when working with diamonds. The 25% alloy of other metals allows 18k gold the strength to hold diamonds and precious gemstones.

14K Yellow Gold 

58.3% - 41.7% - other metals like silver, zinc, or nickel

Stamped 14K, 14Kt, 14k

14 karat gold contains 14 parts gold and 10 parts other metals as alloy. It is light pale gold in color and is commonly used in jewelry making to offer a more affordable alternative to 18k and 22k.

10K Yellow Gold

41.7% - 58.3% - other metals like silver, zinc, or nickel

10K, 10Kt, 10k

10 karat gold contains 10 parts gold and 14 parts other metals as alloy. It is pale gold in color and is used in jewelry making. It is the most affordable and most durable type of gold due to its alloy of other metals.

Aesthetically 10k gold isn’t the best choice of gold metal since it contains less than 50% pure gold and is dull in color. If you are seeking the rich and luxurious bright gold color of pure gold you will not be satisfied with 10k gold. It is also more likely to trigger skin allergies than 14k or 18k gold.

White Gold

The purity grades for white gold remain the same as yellow gold.

18k white gold contains 75% gold and 25% palladium and silver. The difference being the metals that are alloyed with the yellow gold.

The hallmarks for white gold are the same as for yellow gold and their respective karat weight in gold.

White gold coloring is achieved by alloying silvery-white color metals, such as palladium and silver with yellow gold. Additionally, white gold is coated with rhodium. Rhodium comes from the same metal family as platinum. The Rhodium coating adds further strength, protection and a lustrous white sheen. Over time the rhodium coating becomes worn and the yellow gold begins to shine through, but can easily be resolved by taking your piece of jewelry to a jeweler and having it re-coated.

Green Gold

The purity grades for green gold remain the same as yellow gold.

18k white gold contains 75% gold and 25% other metals like silver, or zinc. The difference being the metals that are alloyed with the yellow gold.

The hallmarks for green gold are the same as for yellow gold and their respective karat weight in gold.

Green gold is achieved by alloying silver, copper, and zinc with yellow gold. It gets its green color by adding more zinc and silver. Green gold is not a natural occurrence in nature and is man made.

Rose Gold 

The purity grades for Rose gold remain the same as yellow gold.

18k white rose contains 75% gold and 25% other metals like copper and silver. The difference being the metals that are alloyed with the yellow gold.

The hallmarks for rose gold are the same as for yellow gold and their respective karat weight in gold.

Rose gold coloring is achieved by alloying copper and silver with yellow gold and is made by adding more copper in the alloy composition of the gold. 14k rose gold is the most popular due to is shade of pink. Rose gold is not considered to be hypoallergenic and can trigger allergic reactions.

Gold Filled

5% gold - 95% sterling silver, copper or brass

14/20 GF or 12/20 GF

Gold filled metal is composed of a solid layer of gold bonded to a core of sterling silver or a base metal and is not an alloy, but a layered material. Most gold filled metal is 12k or 14k.

It is resistant to tarnish, but can tarnish under extreme circumstances. Over time the gold outer layer won't flake off or peel but will wear away exposing the inner core of base metal. It is more durable than gold plated.


Gold Vermeil

2.5 microns of 10k or higher gold for the outer bonded layer - the base metal used for the core is fine silver or sterling silver

925, .925, 92.5

Vermeil is silver, plated with a thin layer of gold. Vermeil is also know as “silver gilt” and refers to the core metal being either fine silver or sterling silver. Most vermeil jewelry is created using electroplating the silver with gold and is a chemical process that uses an electrical current to bind the two metals together. Items that have a thin layer of vermeil can tarnish easily, while items with a thicker layer may last as long as gold filled items.

Gold Plated

0.05% gold - 99.95% brass or copper


Gold plating is a very thin layer of gold applied to a brass base. Gold plated jewelry doesn’t require any minimum karat weight or thickness and the coating will generally wear or peel off rather quickly and expose the base metal underneath. Since the base metal is brass, if the brass comes in contact with your skin it will eventually turn your skin green. Gold plating does not stand up to heat, water and wear over time. If you are allergic to lower base metals like brass, copper or nickel it’s probably best for you to choose a higher grade of metal.


95%-98% pure and remaining metal being rhodium and silver

Platinum, PLAT, PT followed or preceded by the numbers 950 or 999

Platinum is a naturally occurring white metal. Rarer than gold, and more durable and harder. Platinum is the heaviest and densest out of all the precious metals.

The surface of platinum can develop bumps and ridges over time with wear. This surface ridging is called “the patina of age”. The patina of age is caused by the metal being pushed to one side or the other as it comes in contact with hard surfaces.

To the naked eye it is almost impossible to tell the difference between platinum and white gold.


950 95% - 5% Ruthenium and Gallium

pall or Pd followed or preceded by 950

500 50% - 50% silver

pall or Pd followed or preceded by the numbers 500

Palladium is a shiny white metal from the same group as platinum. The majority of the world’s palladium comes from Russia and South Africa.

The gravity of palladium is similar to that of 14K gold so it is fairly lightweight. 950 palladium is hypoallergenic, 500 palladium may contain nickel.

Base Metals

Base metals are any other metal aside from precious or noble metals like gold, silver, platinum etc. Base metals have a strong tendency to tarnish or corrode easily and are common in that they are readily available and inexpensive. Another definition for base metals is that they are the base metal used in an alloy, for example the base metal of bronze is copper. And yet another definition for base metal is any metal that is used as the base or core for another metal, like gold filled metal that has an underlying core of silver, copper or brass.


Copper is a shiny reddish brown metal that is a soft malleable base metal. An untarnished freshly exposed surface area of copper will be pinkish-orange in color. It is very durable, won’t rust, but will develop a green patina over time. Copper will also change color over time from a shiny earthy reddish brown to a deeper more golden brown.

Some people shy away from copper jewelry because it can turn the skin green when it comes in contact with it. A little soap and water will wash the green on the skin away.


88%-87.5% copper - 12%-11.5% tin

Bronze is a warm gold in color and has been historically used for making jewelry. It is a base metal so it will cause a green discoloration of the skin when it comes in contact with it. Bronze is a durable metal and has been said to be the first alloy ever. Over time bronze will tarnish and develop a green patina.


Red Brass - 85% copper - 15% zinc

Yellow Brass - 70% copper - 30% zinc

Brass is similar to Bronze but has a more yellow tone. It can vary in color from a dark reddish brown to a light silvery yellow depending on the amount of zinc it is alloyed with. The more zinc the lighter color it will be. The amount of zinc varies from 5% and 40% by weight depending on the type of brass. Brass is generally resistant to water but tarnishes easily and over time will patina.

Stainless Steel 

Stainless steel is much harder than sterling silver and doesn’t require as much care, as it doesn’t tarnish due to its chromium content and is resistant to corrosion. Different types of stainless steel include the elements carbon (from 0.03% to greater than 1.00%), nitrogen, aluminum, silicon, sulfur, titanium, nickel, copper, selenium, niobium, and molybdenum.

There are different grades of stainless steel.

200 series - Chromium-manganese-nickel alloys that maximize the use of manganese and nitrogen to minimize the use of nickel. Due to their nitrogen addition, they possess approximately 50% higher yield strength than 300 series stainless sheets of steel.

Type 201 - Can be hardened through cold working.

Type 202 - General-purpose stainless steel. Decreasing nickel content and increasing manganese results in weak corrosion resistance.

300 series - Chromium-nickel alloys that achieve their austenitic microstructure almost exclusively by nickel alloying; some very highly-alloyed grades include some nitrogen to reduce nickel requirements. 300 series is the largest group and the most widely used.

Type 304 - Best-known grade and most commonly used for stainless steel jewelry, also known as 18/8 and 18/10 for its composition of 18% chromium and 8%/10% nickel, respectively.

Type 316 - Second most common austenitic stainless steel and is hypoallergenic. The addition of 2% molybdenum provides greater resistance to acids and localized corrosion caused by chloride ions.

Stainless steel is duller in color versus sterling silver.


Nickel is a silvery white base metal and is harder than iron. Few things are made of pure nickel, instead it plays more of a supportive role and is usually combined with other metals to produce a stronger metal. 

China is the worlds largest nickel producer.

If you find you have an allergic reaction to a piece of jewelry that looks like silver, the most common cause is the presence of nickel.