Introduction

In today’s advanced world, there are so many metals used in jewellery and watches. But which one is best for you? You need to know what you’re buying, what you’re getting for your money and how to care for your precious item. From how the variety of colours of gold are produced to the difference between gold plating and gold vermeil, we’ll tell you everything you need to know. We've also added tips to looking after your precious metal jewellery and a bit of history around the array of metals that are available.

Platinum

Platinum is one of the rarest precious metals and, as such, is one of the most valued – and most expensive. It is a naturally white metal that’s incredibly hardwearing, dense and durable. Over time, platinum will develop a beautiful sheen called a patina. Due to its strength and beauty, platinum makes the perfect backdrop for fine jewellery that is worn every day, such as engagement rings and wedding rings. Platinum is also used in watch cases and bracelets of some of the most prestigious luxury watch brands, including Rolex, Omega , and Rado.

The purity of platinum makes it hypoallergenic so it is ideal for those with sensitive skins. It has a 95% purity which means it will remain white and not oxidise or tarnish in the air. Platinum jewellery always carries a hallmark showing its authenticity and quality.

While platinum is hardwearing, it can scratch. However, it is unique in that the metal is only displaced and not lost so scratches can easily be polished out.

Gold

Gold has been used in jewellery for over 6,000 years and, throughout history, has been revered for its beauty and radiance. Gold is a wonderful metal to work with; it’s malleable and ductile so it can easily be crafted into different shapes, flattened and pulled into a fine wire. It can be highly reflective or be given a matt finish and therefore creates a versatile range of jewellery. A “noble” metal, gold will not tarnish, corrode or rust, although it is susceptible to bleach, chorine and perfume.

The gold you see in jewellery is usually mixed with an alloy; it is a very soft metal so, in order to strengthen it, it is usually mixed, or alloyed, with other metals such as silver, copper, zinc or palladium. And, as gold is naturally a bright yellow metal, alloys can be used to change its colour.

The level of gold content is measured in carats (ct). Generally, the higher the gold content the more valuable it is but the softer it is. Pure gold is known as 24ct gold. The most precious type of gold, 24ct gold is very soft and can show signs of wear easily. 18ct and 9ct gold are more commonly used for jewellery in the UK. 18ct gold is stronger than 24ct gold and is ideal for everyday wear. 9ct gold is stronger still and is the most affordable quality of gold.

The caratage of gold is expressed in parts of pure gold per 1000: - 750 fineness, the measure for 18ct gold, indicates 750 parts of gold per 1000 or 75% gold. - 375 fineness, the measure for 9ct gold, indicates 375 parts of gold per 1000 or 37.5% gold.

Gold jewellery will carry a hallmark which guarantees its authenticity and, as part of this the item’s fineness, or purity will be stamped.

Different caratages of gold can scratch each other so we would recommend that you wear rings of the same carat together, e.g. with gold wedding and engagement rings.

At Fraser Hart, we offer a stunning range of jewellery that combines two or even three precious metals, within a single piece of jewellery. These are referred to as Two Colour Gold or ‘Three Colour Gold’.

Gold should be cleaned regularly in order to maintain its beauty. You can do this yourself using a lint-free cloth.

Yellow gold

Yellow gold is the natural and traditional colour for gold jewellery. However, because of the different alloys and carats of gold, gold jewellery may have subtle colour differences. The first decorative yellow gold jewellery was probably created in a cultured centred in, what is today, Eastern Europe in 4000BC. Today, yellow gold is used in a whole range of jewellery from wedding and engagement rings to earrings and pendants.

Yellow gold jewellery will carry a hallmark which guarantees its authenticity and, as part of this the item’s fineness, or purity will be stamped.

White gold

White gold has been used in jewellery since the 1920s. To create white gold, gold is alloyed with metals such as palladium and silver to create a bright white lustre. White gold jewellery is often plated with rhodium to increase its durability. Over time this coating can wear but white gold jewellery can easily be re-plated by a trusted jeweller such as Fraser Hart. Generally, white gold jewellery is considered more contemporary than yellow gold. White gold is a more affordable alternative to platinum wedding rings and engagement rings, and is also the ideal metal for ever-popular vintage-inspired jewellery.

White gold jewellery will carry a hallmark which guarantees its authenticity and, as part of this the item’s fineness, or purity will be stamped.

Rose gold

Also known as pink gold. Created by mixing gold with a copper alloy, rose gold has become an extremely fashionable metal for jewellery – from rings and earrings to bracelets and pendants – a trend that is here to stay. With its gorgeous warm pink tones, rose gold makes a stunning backdrop for diamonds, and rose gold diamond engagement rings and wedding rings are a beautiful, increasingly popular choice.

Rose gold jewellery will carry a hallmark which guarantees its authenticity and, as part of this the item’s fineness, or purity will be stamped.

Silver

Throughout history, silver has been one of the most precious metals in jewellery. Ductile and malleable, it can easily be flattened into thin sheets or drawn into a fine wire and is therefore easy to work with. Frequently used in fashion jewellery, its affordability has made it a desirable alternative for jewellery designers and wearers alike.

With its lustrous white colour, silver is the brightest reflector of any metal and can be polished to a very high sheen that even platinum can’t achieve. However, it is a very soft metal and the silver you see in jewellery is alloyed with other metals, usually copper, to give it the durability it requires. A mixture of 92.5% pure silver and 7.25% copper is known as sterling silver, the most common form of silver alloy, and has a purity, or fineness of 925. If the item weighs more than 7.78 grams, it must carry a full silver hallmark; if it weighs less than this, it must carry a 925 stamp. At Fraser Hart, we only use sterling silver in our collections of silver rings, earrings, pendants, necklaces and bracelets.

Silver naturally tarnishes due to sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere reacting with the surface of the metal however, this is less likely to happen if you wear your silver jewellery regularly. Like gold, silver can be susceptible to damage by materials such as bleach and chlorine. Silver jewellery can be easily cleaned using a soft lint-free cloth.

 

Palladium

Palladium is a member of the platinum family of metals and has all the lustrous white appearance of platinum but is more affordable. It shares many of the same properties as platinum; it is naturally hypoallergenic so suitable for those with sensitive skin and hardwearing.

Palladium has been used in jewellery since the late 1930s but we are seeing a recent surge in its popularity, particularly in wedding rings. It is lighter and less dense than platinum so palladium is particularly popular amongst men who are not used to wearing jewellery every day.

Like platinum, palladium develops a beautiful natural patina, or sheen, over time. And if it is scratched, the metal is simply displaced, not lost, and scratches can easily be polished out.
Palladium 950 and palladium 500

It is now a legal requirement for palladium jewellery that weighs over 1g to be stamped with a fineness mark by the assay office with either 950 or 500, as appropriate. If an item of palladium jewellery is stamped with 950, it consists of 95% palladium and 5% other alloy; if it is stamped with 500, it contains 50% palladium and 50% other alloys. At Fraser Hart we offer two different levels of fineness, Pd950 and Pd500. Most of the palladium wedding rings we offer at Fraser Hart are crafted in palladium 950.Our Pd950 rings are made up of 95% palladium and 5% other platinum group metals such as ruthenium. A popular metal for wedding rings as it will never tarnish.Our Pd500 rings are made up of 50% palladium and 50% other metals such as silver and copper.

Titanium

Discovered by the Reverend William Gregor, an English pastor, in 1791, titanium was named after the Titans, the first sons of the Earth according to Greek mythology. It was discovered in sand deposits and rocks and, in 1910, was eventually produced commercially and in its pure form. Titanium is the ninth most abundant element in the Earth’s crust.

Titanium is a lustrous grey metal that is lightweight, strong and highly durable. It is as strong as steel but 45% lighter, twice as strong as aluminium but only 60% heavier. It’s non-corrosive and hypoallergenic so suitable for sensitive skins. Its masculine colour makes it particularly appropriate for men’s jewellery and its lightness makes it ideal for rings for men who are not used to wearing jewellery every day. Please note, titanium rings cannot be sized. Because of its properties, there is also a growing trend for titanium to be used as a material for watch cases and bracelets with brands such as Rado, Tissot, Breitling and Skagen adding titanium watches into their collections.

As Titanium is not a precious metal it does not require a hallmark.

 

Plated Metals

Perhaps of all the metals commonly used in jewellery and watches, plated and plated-style metals can be the most confusing.

Gold plating

Gold-plated jewellery and watches have the appearance of gold without the price tag. Gold plating is a method of applying a thin layer of real gold to a base metal by an electro-chemical process. The base metal is usually sterling silver or stainless steel, although Italian brand Bronzallure uses bronze in its unique yet sophisticated collection of jewellery. The base metal is dipped into a bath of electroplating solution with a lump of solid gold. When an electric current is applied, a thin layer of gold is deposited on the metal. If silver is coated with at least 2.5 microns of 18ct gold, it is known as vermeil. Silver coated with 9ct gold or fewer microns of 18ct gold is gold plating.

Yellow and rose gold plated jewellery with a sterling silver core should carry a full silver hallmark if it is over the obligatory hallmarking weight. If properly cared for, gold-plating lasts for years without tarnishing or wearing away. Do avoid wearing gold-plated jewellery in the shower or when swimming, and clean only using a soft cloth.

Vermeil

Vermeil jewellery is made from a base of sterling silver that is coated or plated with 18ct gold that’s at least 2.5 microns thick. Vermeil items should carry either a full silver hallmark or a 925 stamp it they are under the hallmarking exemption weight for silver of 7.78g. The beauty of gold vermeil lasts for many years without tarnishing or becoming worn if properly cared for. Avoid wearing gold vermeil jewellery in the shower or when swimming, and clean only with a soft cloth.

PVD

PVD, or Physical Vapour Deposition, is an alternative to gold plating that some watch brands, including Longines and Guess, use on their gold colour watches. PVD is the process where titanium nitrade is absorbed into stainless steel, and a coating of real gold gives a brilliant golden lustre. PVD offers an extremely hard-wearing finish and is highly resistant to corrosion.

Rolled gold

Rolled gold is formed of a base metal (usually brass, copper or silver) covered by sheets of gold in a mechanical bonding process. The coating is thick and makes up a minimum gold content of 5% of the total item’s weight. Rolled gold with a core metal of sterling silver should carry either a full silver hallmark or a 925 stamp if the item is under the hallmarking exemption weight for silver. Rolled gold on a base metal cannot be hallmarked. Rolled gold is perfect for fine jewellery and will last a lifetime if properly cared for. Avoid wearing rolled gold jewellery in the shower or when swimming, and only clean with a soft cloth.

Bonded gold

Bonded gold is produced when a thick layer of gold is fused onto a base metal or sterling silver core. The finished piece of jewellery must be about 10% gold by weight. Bonded gold with a core metal of sterling silver should carry either a full silver hallmark or a 925 stamp if the item is under the hallmarking exemption weight for silver. Bonded gold on a base metal cannot be hallmarked. Bonded gold jewellery should only be cleaned with a soft cloth.

Stainless Steel

Prized for being strong and affordable, stainless steel is a popular metal for jewellery and watches. It is not truly stainless and may require some cleaning but, if it does get scratched, scratches can usually be polished out. A lightweight, non-corrosive metal that makes it ideal for those with sensitive skins, stainless steel is more frequently used in fashion jewellery from brands such as Emporio Armani and is commonly used in cufflinks. It is also a favoured metal for watch bracelets and cases.

Hallmarks

Hallmarking dates back nearly 700 years and represents the earliest form of consumer protection. Hallmarks are small markings stamped on silver, gold and platinum articles. A hallmark means that the item has been independently tested and guarantees that it conforms to legal standards of purity or finesse. These tests are carried out only by an Assay Office; in the UK there are four Assay Offices – London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Sheffield.

It is illegal for any jeweller or trader to describe a precious metal as silver, gold or platinum unless it is hallmarked. However, silver articles weighing less than 7.78 grams, gold articles weighing less than 1 gram and platinum articles weighing less than half a gram are exempt from hallmarking.

Compulsory hallmarks

Until 1998, a hallmark comprised of four compulsory marks. However, modifications to the Hallmarking Act effective from 1st January 1999 made the date letter mark optional. These are the three compulsory hallmarks:

The Sponsor’s Mark

This is the unique mark of the company or person responsible for sending the item for hallmarking. The sponsor may be the retailer, manufacturer, importer, wholesaler or an individual. The Sponsor’s Mark consists of at least two letters within a shield and no two marks are the same.

The Standard Mark

The Standard Mark indicates the precious metal content of the item, i.e. the purity of the precious metals in parts per thousand. For example, 750 parts per 1000 by weight is equivalent to 18ct gold. The number is contained in a shield depicting the precious metal

The Assay Office Mark

This indicates the particular Assay Office that tested and marked the article. There are now only four Assay Offices in the UK – London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow

Optional hallmarks
Date letters

Until 1999, a date letter indicating the year of the article being hallmarked was compulsory. It is no longer obligatory but can be applied in addition to the compulsory hallmarks.

Commemorative marks

These are special hallmarks that celebrate major events such as the Millennium or Diamond Jubilee. They are most frequently used when a piece of jewellery has been created especially to commemorate an important event.

Traditional Marks

These are traditional standard marks for precious metals that can still be used today.

Common Control Marks

This is a mark used by countries which are signatories to the International Convention of Hallmarks. It is a mark that will then be recognised by all the member countries of the convention.