Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What Are "Precious Metals" In Jewelry?

Today on etsy I saw a listing for a gold plated ring.  The seller said---right at the top of the listing--that this was a "Precious Metal" ring...except it said "24k Gold Plated".  There was no mention of the underlying metal, which could have been anything but was probably brass.

Is this really a "precious metal ring" in any way?

The short answer:  NO

What Are Precious Metals?

A precious metal is a rare, naturally occurring metallic chemical element of high economic value.  Precious metals have historically been used in currency (coins) and have a high value.

Precious metals are only Gold, Silver and the Platinum group of metals (such as Palladium and Rhodium).

What Are Precious Metals In Jewelry?

Pure 24k Gold and 99.9% Fine Silver are too soft to be used in jewelry, so other metals are alloyed with the gold or silver to make them hard enough to hold gemstones, hold their shape, and resist scratching and bending.  Karat Gold (10k, 14k, 18k, 22k, 24k) is considered precious in jewelry.  Sterling Silver and Fine Silver are also considered precious metals in jewelry. Platinum, being an extremely rare and expensive metal, is the ultimate precious metal.

What About Metals Plated With 24k Gold?

When base metals, including brass, are plated with gold or rhodium, they are NOT considered "precious metals".  They are simply base metals that have been flashed with a very thin layer of gold.

Often in jewelry, a ring or other piece of jewelry will be described simply as "gold plated" or "rhodium plated".  The underlying metal could be tin, aluminum, brass, copper, nickel, zinc...or could even be plastic.  Coating something with gold, whether it's 24k gold or 14k gold plated, does not make that item "precious".

What About Gold Vermeil?

Vermeil is gold plated Sterling Silver or Fine Silver----all precious metals.  It must have a certain amount of gold (14k or higher) plated on the silver, as mandated by the FTC. So yes, Vermeil is considered "precious".

What About Gold Filled Jewelry?

Gold Filled, or "rolled gold" or "rolled gold plate", is brass or copper that has a thin layer of karat gold that's mechanically bonded or heat-fused to one or both sides of the base metal, then rolled out into sheets to create jewelry.  The thickness of the gold layer can vary, but must be 5% (or 1/20th) of the total weight.  In other words, gold filled jewelry is 95% base metal with 5% karat gold (which itself is a percentage of pure gold), which is a considerably larger amount of gold than found on other plated brass.  This means it will provide the look of gold for a longer time than other gold plated brass pieces. Still, it's not considered a precious metal, since it is 95% brass or copper.

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