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When it comes to buying beautiful jewellery, for most, the focus is usually on finding the perfect gemstone – but the size of your sparkling stone isn’t all you should keep in mind.

Choosing the right precious metal for your jewellery can have a huge effect on the final piece. From impacting cost to influencing the colour of your chosen gem, to affecting your jewellery’s longevity, the metal you select is a crucial part of the final item, and is definitely worth some careful consideration.

Read our essential guide to precious metals...

Metal Terminology – What does it all mean?

Learning the terminology is an important part of jewellery buying. Use our dictionary to build your knowledge of the key terms you should be aware of when it comes to selecting your perfect metal…

Alloyed

Metal is mixed with other metals, often to strengthen the final product. Most golds and silvers are alloyed to make them stronger. Alloys can be a base metal which is often cheaper, or a precious metal that is more expensive.

Elements

Some metals are elements, which means that they are in their purest form. Pure gold is an element, but it is too soft to wear in such a way so is often alloyed with other metals, which is why it is available to buy in different ‘carats’

Gold or Silver Fill

A fill is a cover of a metal that has been wrapped and bonded around a second metal. It is hundreds of times thicker than plating.

Assay Assured

If an item is ‘Assay Assured’ this means it carries a hallmark indicating an independent third party has assessed the metal, and guaranteed its quality and fineness.

Ethical/Green Metals

Metals that have been refined, reused and repurposed from old metallic products, rather than newly mined metals.

Base Metals

These metals are often used in costume jewellery and alloys, and are cheaper than precious metals. To make cheaper jewellery, base metals are sometimes plated with a very thin layer of precious metals such as gold or silver. Examples of base metals are aluminium, brass, copper and nickel. 

Noble or Precious Metals

Metals that are found as naturally occurring elements, and so are rare and very valuable. Some examples are gold, silver, platinum and palladium. 

Patina

Oxidisation or corrosion on a metal surface, such as tarnish on silver or rust on iron.

Malleable

A moldable metal, great for shaping.

Plating

A thin cover of metal that is applied to the surface of another metal base, usually to strengthen, improve appearance or colour it. 

diamond colour

Understanding Gold - Carats

Gold is a very soft metal in its natural form and usually needs to be mixed with other metals to make an alloy, so it is strong enough to wear. Usual alloy materials are copper or silver, which can affect the colour of the gold – popular options include yellow gold, white gold and rose gold. 

Because of this requirement to be mixed with other metals, gold items are available in different levels of purity, known as ‘Carats’ or ‘CT’.

  • 24 Carat gold is the purest form of gold and contains the highest % of it as a natural element 
  • 9 Carat gold and 18 Carat gold items are most commonly available in the UK
  • The higher the Carat number, the more pure gold is in the jewellery 
  • Lower Carat numbers have a slightly different colour to higher Carat numbers as they contain more alloy metals. 9 Carat gold therefore looks slightly less yellow than 18 Carat gold which is purer

Metal Finishes

After you’ve selected your ideal metal, you can choose to have a finish applied. Here's a selection of the most popular metal finishes:

  • High polish – Reflective and shiny, most popular finish for fine jewellery. 
  • Satin/Matt – Smooth to the touch, not shiny. Often used for wedding rings. 
  • Brushed – Textured, has a distinct look and shows little wear. Often used for men’s wedding bands.
  • Hammered – Hammered first then given a satin finish. Often used for men’s wedding bands or ladies bands who may not want diamonds. 
  • Blasted – Textured, available via several different methods (such as bead, glass or sand) to get the desired effect. Sometimes has a dimpled appearance.
diamond colour

Metal benefits and detriments

Use this simple comparison chart to find the metal that ticks all your boxes

NameProsConsPrice ComparisonMost Suitable For

Platinum

Precious Metal

Never fades or dulls in colour

Accentuates sparkle of diamonds

Lasts forever and doesn’t scratch easily

Harder than silver and gold, and more pure

Doesn’t expand in heat

One of the rarest metals

Most expensive choice 

Can make lower colour grade diamonds look more yellow

Heaviest metal to wear which some people dislike 

Can develop a patina over time

£££ 

Engagement rings, wedding rings & jewellery required to be durable

Yellow Gold

Precious Metal

Historically the most valued type of gold and the only type found naturally in the earth

When alloyed it is resistant to rust, corrosion and tarnish

Makes yellow-tint diamonds look more expensive 

Strong yet malleable

Available in a range of carat options, most typically 9ct or 18ct in the UK

More expensive than base metal options

Can vary a lot in price from affordable to very pricey 

Can cause some minor skin irritations. If this occurs, white gold or platinum may be a better choice for you

Can sometimes tarnish

£££/££ 

18ct gold is most suitable for engagement rings

9ct gold is often used for wedding bands

White Gold

Precious Metal

Doesn’t scratch easily

Silvery look, but more hard wearing and durable than silver

Makes higher colour grade diamonds look more sparkly and expensive 

Can be plated with rhodium to make it look even more white

Can be more expensive than yellow gold and other base metals

Older white gold pieces can sometimes contain Nickel, which some people are allergic to

Plating can wear off over time

£££/££

Engagement and wedding rings, those that prefer cooler jewellery colours 

 

Rose Gold 

Precious Metal

Pure gold mixed with copper to give a unique blush colour

Less expensive than white gold

Very popular jewellery choice

Compliments yellow-tint diamonds

Warmer colour works well if you have pale skin

More expensive than other base metal options

Doesn’t work as well with higher colour grade diamonds 

May scratch easily

££ 

Special jewellery pieces, everyday jewellery, sometimes engagement rings, people who prefer warmer toned jewellery  

Sterling Silver

Precious Metal

Soft, easy to work with metal

Can be more affordable than other precious metals

Available in tarnish-resistant forms

Long lasting

Antibacterial properties

Difficult to judge quality on lighter pieces

Requires a lot of care as it tarnishes with exposure to air, perfumes, hairspray and deodorants

Can be scratched and bends easily

££ 

Everyday jewellery like earrings or necklaces

Rings you plan to wear only rarely

 

Sterling Silver and Enamel 

Precious Metal

Enamel doesn’t discolour of fade

When treated with care it is reasonably hard wearing

Wearing enamel rings on adjacent fingers causes abrasion which can damage the enamel

Damage can be caused when knocking one enamel ring against another

££

Everyday jewellery, jewellery with specific colouring

Palladium

Precious Metal

Doesn’t scratch easily or tarnish over time

Harder than silver and gold, and more pure

Great for sensitive skin, hypoallergenic

Holds polish well

Less heavy than platinum

Can be very expensive 

Slightly less durable than platinum 

Fairly new metal so doesn’t have the ‘romance’ or prestige of other precious metals

£££ 

Engagement rings, wedding bands, durable jewellery 

Titanium

Precious Metal 

Affordable

Very resistant to corrosion and chemicals and easy to colour

Ideal for people with nickel allergies

Strong and durable, scratch resistant and lightweight

Can be expensive 

Not able to resize, engrave or solder 

Cannot be set with stones 

Heat during manufacturing can damage the metal

££ 

Best for body-piercing jewellery and necklaces but not suitable for rings as your fingers change size over time, and titanium isn’t resizable

 

Cobalt 

Precious Metal

Durable

Hypoallergenic

Affordable at present

Ideal for those with an active lifestyle as very hard wearing

Fairly new metal so doesn’t have the ‘romance’ or prestige of other precious metals 

Can only be very slightly resized

Prices are expected to rise with demand

££

Affordable wedding bands 

Durable wedding bands/jewellery

Brass 

Base Metal

Soft, malleable metal

Doesn’t rust

Can be coloured

Affordable

Widely available

Surfaces may be imperfect and require polishing

Diminishes with time 

Not a precious metal 

Often used in costume jewellery

Can cause skin reactions

 

£ 

Costume jewellery 

 

Copper

Base Metal

Anti-tarnish brass can look very similar to 14ct gold

Often used in steam-punk jewellery

Widely available

Can darken over time and sometimes turn green

Often discolours the skin

Not a precious metal

 £

Costume jewellery 

Aluminium 

Base Metal

Affordable

Very soft and malleable

Easy to stretch

Widely available

Works as an alloy

 

Can darken over time and sometimes turn green

Often discolours the skin

Not a precious metal

£

Costume jewellery, alloys

Nickel

Base Metal

Affordable

Widely available

Works as an alloy

Can cause skin reactions, some of them major 

Not a precious metal

 £

Costume jewellery, alloys

Tungsten

Base Metal

Durable and long lasting, very strong

Long lasting shine

Scratch resistant

 

Difficult to remove marks 

Can’t be resized or engraved

Fairly new metal so doesn’t have the ‘romance’ or prestige of other metals

££ 

Wedding bands not expected to need resizing, durable jewellery  

Top Tips for Maintaining Metal Jewellery

  • Keep pieces of jewellery in air tight containers when not being worn, to protect them and to avoid needing to clean them more than you have to.
  • Choose a very gentle soap to clean most metals. Soak the jewellery in soapy water for a few minutes then gently lather and rub, before rinsing with warm water and leaving to air dry.
  • Tarnish can be removed from metals such as copper by soaking them in vinegar for 5-10 seconds and then gently washing after.
  • When cleaning copper, brass or silver pieces that tarnish easily, only use cold water as hot water can react with the air and cause them to re-tarnish.
  • For pieces made of multiple metals, adjust your cleaning methods to suit the most fragile one.
  • For precious metals like gold and silver, gently buff with a soft cloth to maintain shine. Gold may be washed carefully in warm water but never use bleach or strong cleaning products on precious metals. Silver does not respond well to moisture, so wash sparingly in cold water. Platinum should always be washed separately, as it can be scratched by close contact with other metals.
  • Never use polishing creams or rags on anodized aluminium pieces as they will lose their colour. 
  • If you own a lot of important jewellery pieces, consider investing in a proper polishing machine or ‘tumbler’ as they are often called. Alternatively, you can take your items to a professional jewellery cleaner to ensure they are maintained properly and will retain their quality/longevity. 
  • Don’t rest sterling silver items on wood surfaces, as these can contain acids that ruin their finish.
  • Keep all metals stored out of direct sunlight where possible, and avoid exposure to humidity as much as you can.

Need more help?

If you need any further assistance with jewellery metals, our jewellery experts are here to help! Visit us in store or call us to arrange an appointment so we can provide the guidance you need. You can also send a message via zendesk in the bottom right of your screen.


Libby Johnson

Libby Johnson

Director, Johnsons Jewellers

Libby is part of the 4th generation of the Johnsons family managing day to day running of the prestigious Johnsons Jewellers showroom since its humble beginnings in 1897. Libby is particularly passionate about upholding the store's reputation as one of the finest jewellers in the Midlands.