There couldn't be fine jewelry without metals — and the variety of metals available allows jewelry to be affordable for just about anyone.
Zales offers jewelry made with traditional metals like gold, silver, and platinum, along with modern metals like tungsten, stainless steel, titanium, and more. Here's a look at metals used in jewelry today.
Good as gold — hardly anything is. A timeless choice for all types of jewelry, gold is the most easily worked of all metals because it is naturally very malleable. To create jewelry that is strong and durable, pure gold is alloyed with other metals such as copper or zinc to add strength and color.
Gold is naturally yellow in color, but when silver or copper is added, its natural warmth is enhanced.
The amount of pure gold in the jewelry depends on its karat. The higher the karat, the greater the purity — but also the lower the durability. That's why most yellow gold jewelry is 14K or 18K gold.
Yellow gold is also the most hypoallergenic of all gold types.
A lustrous pink metal, rose gold can range from red rose to pink gold shades. To create the pink color of rose gold, pure gold is combined with copper and silver. The more copper added to the alloy, the rosier the gold will appear.
Rose gold does not need to be dipped or coated as the color is pure through. It's not considered hypoallergenic and does require more polishing than other golds to maintain its shine.
To create the white‐silver color, gold is mixed with palladium and silver or with nickel, copper, and zinc. White gold also needs to be coated with platinum or rhodium to improve whiteness and add durability and shine.
White gold jewelry will occasionally need to be re‐dipped after the coating wears away.
To determine the karat gold used in a piece of jewelry, check its markings, also called its hallmark. This is usually found on the inside of the shank or the reverse side of a pendant, earring, or bracelet. Here's what to look for:
Karat Gold Hallmarks
|Karat Measure||Hallmarks||Hardness||Gold Purity|
Rare and precious, platinum is a bright white metal thirty times rarer than gold. It is extremely durable, doesn't tarnish, and is hypoallergenic. It's shiny, beautiful, and will last for generations — an excellent choice for jewelry.
Because it's so strong and hard, intricate engravings can look sharper and more precise in platinum, and the white look of the metal makes it perfect for showing off diamonds and gemstones.
When used in jewelry, it's usually mixed with similar metals — iridium, palladium, ruthenium, rhodium, or osmium. For a piece of jewelry to be labeled as platinum, it must have a purity of at least 90% platinum. Look for the hallmark "PLAT" stamped on the inside of the shank (rings) or on the back of the piece.
Sterling Silver Jewelry
Once considered even more valuable than gold, today silver is the most affordable of all the precious metals. Because pure silver is too soft to be used in jewelry making, it's mixed with copper or other metal to create sterling silver, which is more durable.
Sterling silver must contain at least 92.5% pure silver, which is why it's stamped as .925. You can find this hallmark on the inside shank of a sterling silver ring or stamped on the back of jewelry.
Sterling silver can range from bright white to grayish white, and can have a matte or shiny finish. Silver tends to tarnish and scratches easily, so always store your sterling silver jewelry in tarnish preventative bags and in a cool, dry place.
Alternative Metals Jewelry
In addition to the big three metals — platinum, gold, and silver — modern options are making their way onto the jewelry scene. They're especially popular with men, who like the lightweight feel and added durability. Here are a few of our favorites:
Cobalt jewelry is made from the same material used to build jet aircraft engines and surgical tools. It is harder than stainless steel and therefore, harder to scratch.
Although not 100% scratch proof, cobalt is much harder than titanium and all other precious metals including platinum, gold and silver. It's also hypoallergenic.
Stainless steel has gone beyond the kitchen to become a desired metal in watches and jewelry. Stainless steel is a silvery‐white color with a mirror finish and chromium layer that retains its shine and color very well and resists tarnishing.
Among the toughest of metals, stainless steel withstands wear and tear well, making it an excellent choice when lifestyle or occupation demands extra durability.
Titanium is as strong as steel but 45% lighter in weight. In fact, it has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal.
It's similar to platinum in its resistance to tarnishing — that's what makes it a smart choice for spacecraft as well as jewelry, especially for pieces worn every day.
Titanium is versatile, lightweight, hypoallergenic, and resistant to corrosion, with a metallic color that can shift from white to dark to colorful according to the way it is processed.
Tungsten is very heavy with a gray‐white color and a lustrous finish. This hypoallergenic metal has the highest melting point and the most strength of all metals — in Swedish, it means "heavy stone." Due to its hardness, the shine tends to be long lasting.
Choosing the Right Metal for You
A few factors to consider when choosing a metal for your jewelry:
Its basic worth. Metal prices fluctuate daily according to supply and demand. The more rare and precious a metal is, the more limited it is in availability. Rarity can drive demand, making a rare metal, like platinum or gold, more likely to maintain its value over time.
Consider a metal's ability to withstand daily wear and tear, as well as the longevity of its fashionableness. For example, while tungsten is highly durable, it is not considered a precious metal.
Metals that are hypoallergenic minimize the possibility of an irritating allergic reaction. Purer metals like platinum and titanium tend to be hypoallergenic, posing little risk of potential irritation.
All metals will scratch and even occasionally dent. However, some metals, like titanium and tungsten, are scratch resistant.
Can the metal be re‐conditioned to make your jewelry look like new? Some metals can be easily restored. Others, while durable and strong, may not take as well to the reconditioning or resizing process.
The rarer the metal, the more expensive it will be. Therefore, items made of platinum and gold will generally be more expensive than other metals.
Some appreciate the weighty feel of jewelry, while others prefer to feel like they are wearing nothing at all. Platinum is the densest and heaviest metal — 40% heavier than gold. Titanium and stainless steel are among the lightest.