A Guide to Precious Metals
As self-confessed geeks when it comes to jewellery, we believe that the more you know about something, the more interesting it becomes. If you agree then please read on…
For as Benjamin Franklin once said,
“Genius without education is like silver in the mine”
Yellow gold has an illustrious history intertwined with its inherent beauty as much as its perceived value. The Incas referred to it as 'tears of the sun' and it has been associated with Gods and immortals ever since.
Used through the ancient world, gold was first extracted from its ore by the Egyptians around 3600 BC, and there are examples of gold jewellery from as early as 2600 BC. In 546 BC, King Croesus had improved refining techniques enough to mint the first standardised gold currency, hence the phrase 'as rich as Croesus'.
Established in 1300 at Goldsmiths Hall, London, the first hallmarking system was introduced guaranteeing the quality of precious metals. London's assay office is still located here, and to this day every piece of jewellery sold in England must be hallmarked in one of the four remaining assay offices around the country.
Gold is graded by carats. The carat system for gold, unlike diamonds, is a method of expressing the proportion of gold to other metals in a particular alloy. Pure gold is 24kt. 18kt gold contains 18 parts gold to 6 parts other metals. Pure gold is a metallic yellow, and it is the presence of alloys such as copper and silver that are the principal metals used for gold alloy.
White gold first became popular in the 1920s when it was introduced as a more affordable option to platinum. Since then it has remained a popular choice and is widely used across all jewellery.
White gold is achieved by combining pure gold with alloys such as silver and palladium. Traditionally, nickel was used in white gold; however, nickel is no longer used in most white gold today as it can cause allergic reactions.
As the natural colour of white gold is a greyish colour, almost all white gold jewellery is plated with a metal called Rhodium, which is a member of the Palladium family of metals. Rhodium is used to brighten the colour of white gold. Rhodium is very white and very hard, but it does wear eventually, particularly on rings. It is a very common practice to have rings re-plated with Rhodium, and most local jewellers will offer this service.
Gold is graded by carats. The carat system for gold, unlike diamonds, is a method of expressing the proportion of gold to other metals in a particular alloy. Pure gold is 24kt. 22kt gold contains 22 parts of gold to 2 parts of other metals, while 9kt gold contains 9 parts of gold to 15 parts of other metals.
Flattering to most skin tones, rose gold first gained fame in Russia in the 19th century where it was often referred to as 'Russian gold' since they were the principal wearers of this lesser known metal at the time.
It has since, unsurprisingly, become a firm favourite amongst the fashion, jewellery and even beauty aficionados of today with designers from Diane von Fürstenberg, Alexander Wang, Charlotte Tilbury and of course, Astley Clarke, adopting it across their relative collections.
Gold is graded by carats. The carat system for gold, unlike diamonds, is a method of expressing the proportion of gold to other metals in a particular alloy. Pure gold is 24kt. 22kt gold contains 22 parts of gold to 2 parts of other metals, while 9kt gold contains 9 parts of gold to 15 parts of other metals. Rose gold is the result of varying the proportions of copper and silver in the alloy, which results in a beautiful pinkish hue.
So rare, it has been suggested that if all the mined and refined platinum were poured in to an Olympic-sized swimming pool, it would not even cover your ankles.
Derived from the Spanish term 'platina del Pinto' which literally translates as 'little silver of the Pinto river', platinum is naturally silvery white in appearance, and does not require rhodium plating like white gold.
A very dense, malleable and precious metal, platinum is resistant to corrosion and incredibly hardwearing. And while good care should be taken to prevent scratches, platinum is unique in that the metal is only displaced, not lost.
We currently have no platinum jewellery in our fine collections but our 14kt white gold jewellery is just as lustrous.
Becoming popular in the 19th century as an alternative name for silver-gilt, the term Vermeil is French.
Quite simply, it is a layer of gold over sterling silver. To be considered vermeil, the gold must be at least 10 carat and at least 1.5 microns thick. Any other metal plated onto sterling silver cannot be called vermeil and similarly gold plate on any other base metal also cannot be called vermeil.
Vermeil can be produced by either fire-gilding or electrolysis, although fire-gilding is an antiquated process and most vermeil these days is produced by way of electrolysis.
Traditionally used to make tableware and coins, it was discovered around the 12th century that silver could in fact be be alloyed with other metals to create a more malleable material with a greater scope of use - sterling silver.
Sterling silver is an alloy of silver and other metals, usually copper. To accurately be labelled as sterling silver, the material must be 925 parts per thousand silver, with the remaining 75 parts being other metals.
As pure silver is generally too soft for manufacturing into larger objects and for everyday wear, copper is generally used to give it strength while at the same time preserving the ductility of the metal and its beauty.
Sterling Silver is often plated with yellow or rose gold and is then referred to as 'vermeil'.