— by Cullen Jewellery — Reading time 19 minutes
Precious Jewellery Metals Guide
Precious Jewellery Metals Guide
Exclusively a gold jewellery person? Love mixing metals? For many of us, the precious metals we choose to wear are a part of who we are.
We’re all for you embracing the precious metal that calls your name — from classic yellow gold, to more adventurous rose gold or icy platinum. However, if you haven’t found your perfect match yet, then this is the guide for you.
We’ll go through the ins and outs of the most popular choices, as well as the more uncommon ones, giving you a full sense of what’s out there. You may even discover a new love (again, still talking about precious metals).
Table of Contents
- Precious Jewellery Metals Guide
- Table of Contents
- Metals Used in Jewellery
- The Most Popular Precious Metals Used in Jewellery
- The History of Gold Wedding Rings
- Jewellery We Can Feel Good About? That’s Pretty Metal
- The Differences Between 9k, 14k, and 18k Gold
- All You Need to Know About Silver
- Men’s Wedding Rings
- How Do I Choose?
- To Sum Things Up
- Frequently Asked Questions
Metals Used in Jewellery
Before you decide on a piece of jewellery you like, first comes the question of what it will be made of.
The number of precious metals being used in jewellery is growing. From Britannia silver to tungsten carbide — the wide range of jewellery materials available today means more styles, colours, and textures can be created in rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.
The Variety of Precious Jewellery Metals
Each type of precious metal comes in many forms. For example, many of us already know that gold isn’t ever just gold: it could be anything from 18k white gold, to 9k white gold, to 18k yellow gold. Carats, colours, and price points add lots of variety to the precious metal pool.
Colour, karat, shine, purity, strength, price, and rarity differ between each kind of precious metal — and the perfect one for your jewellery piece might look very different to what it is for someone else.
The Most Popular Precious Metals Used in Jewellery
Trends come and go, but classic is always classic for a reason.
According to the International Gem Society (IGS), gold, silver, and platinum are the most popular precious metals used in jewellery. However, there are many more options out there, all with their own benefits.
When did gold, silver, and platinum become jewellery classics? And what makes them so timeless? Let’s start with gold.
The History of Gold Wedding Rings
Gold has been the best-known precious metal for engagement rings and wedding bands for as long as… well, how long have we been exchanging rings, exactly?
Cast your mind back. Even further. To before you were born. And back a few more centuries, to the eighth century BC.
In this period, rings shaped like snakes and other animals began gaining popularity in Western Asia. As trends do — these rings caught on, and some centuries later they were popular in Ancient Egypt and Greece.
A ring never ends — unlike other shapes, with lines that bisect them, and fronts and backs that tell us where they begin. The endless circle of a ring was an inspiring image to ancient populations — for many, it represented eternity.
Ancient Greeks began giving rings to their partners, and soon (in the grand scheme of things), the Romans were exchanging rings at wedding ceremonies. In the year 200AD, many of these rings were gold.
Jewellery We Can Feel Good About? That’s Pretty Metal
The origins of a precious metal matter just as much as the final, finished, polished product. Many of us who would rather not support mining may be looking for alternatives to the shiny things that are common to most jewellery store windows.
More and more of us are asking for jewellery we can feel good about — not just because it’s pretty, but because it does right by the planet, too. We’re asking for materials that aren’t associated with environmental destruction and other ugliness — materials that are a part of doing good in the world.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle… Your Precious Metals
As more of us become aware of the changes we can make in our lives to preserve our environment and protect fair working conditions for all people, more of us are choosing to buy recycled, upcycled, or second-hand products where we can. Recycled precious metals are no exception: recycled precious metal jewellery is gaining popularity as an ethical alternative to the mined kind.
We choose to use exclusively recycled precious metals in our jewellery range, because wearing beautiful pieces that make you feel you shouldn't have to cost people or the planet.
Gold is Forever
Due to its unique properties, gold is naturally renewable. Gold can be melted down and recycled over and over without ever losing its purity or value over time.
When we talk about recycled gold — we’re referring to gold that has been melted down from gold products that already exist. Gold bars that have been in circulation for a long time can be recycled. Similarly, retired gold jewellery can be recycled too.
Why We Use Recycled Gold
At Cullen Jewellery, all of the precious metals used in our jewellery are recycled — including our gold.
Why do we use recycled gold? As an ethical jewellery company, our goal is that every piece of jewellery we create makes the world a little brighter. This means the materials we use in our jewellery (and the practices we use to create it) do good.
The Issues with Mining
Gold mining has a dark history — and present. Mining is linked to human rights abuses, unethical labour practices, and destructive environmental impacts. To put things in perspective: over 20 tons of ore needs to be mined to produce a single gold ring. When we imagine how many of them are being made every day, it’s easy to see how relying on mined gold can result in environmental devastation.
Mining destroys the natural environment, creating unsightly chasms in the earth and a whole suite of issues: water pollution, carbon emissions, and habitat loss for animals and plants. Countless mines also encroach on the lands and sacred sites of indigenous peoples.
At Cullen Jewellery, we are committed to providing ethical, environmentally-conscious fine jewellery. By using exclusively recycled gold in all of our ring settings, we are choosing not to support unethical gold mining practices.
The Differences Between 9k, 14k, and 18k Gold
Gold is naturally soft, which means that before it can be made into jewellery that is intended for everyday wear, it is mixed with other metals to strengthen it. For gold wedding and engagement rings — it’s essential that the gold lasts a long time, holds its lustre, and doesn’t scratch. Adding metals such as silver, tin, nickel, zinc, and palladium to gold reinforces its strength, and creates what’s known as an alloy.
The purity of a gold alloy is expressed in karats (k), with gold content measured as parts out of 24.24-karat gold is pure, solid gold, whereas 9-karat gold (where nine parts out of 24 are pure gold) is generally the lowest amount of gold an alloy needs to contain to be still considered gold.
Being pure gold, 24k gold possesses the richest gold colour, but it’s also very soft and malleable, making it impractical for everyday wear.
Did you know?
A gold ring will usually have a three-digit number stamped on the inside of the band, indicating the purity of the gold alloy. The number 375 indicates 9k gold — as nine parts out of 24, expressed as a percentage, is 37.5%. 18k gold will have a 750 stamp to represent its 75% purity, and 14k gold will be marked with the number 585.
Why Choose 18k over 14k Gold?
18k and 14k are more commonly used in gold jewellery. They come at a similar price, but differ in durability and lustre.
18k Gold Makes for Longer Lasting Jewellery
18k gold is the alloy of choice used by most high-end jewellers. The strength and price point of 18k gold alloys are comparable to 14k gold, but 18k gold jewellery tends to last much longer. There are several technical reasons why this is known to be the case in the jewellery making community. For one, 18k gold has a higher elongation percentage than 14k gold, which means it is more likely to bend than break when pressure is applied. For a gold ring or pendant, this is important, as if any of the claws in your stone’s setting were to snap, you could lose the stone. This is why 18k gold tends to be preferred in engagement rings.
14k gold is also more likely to corrode than 18k gold due to its microporosity, making it less ideal for long-lasting wear.
Other Benefits of 18k Gold
Being closer to pure gold, 18k gold is more hypoallergenic than 14k gold. 18k gold has a lower percentage of other metals in the alloy, making it safer to wear for people with metal allergies. It also possesses that beautiful, buttery appearance and unmistakable shine that has captivated gold lovers for centuries.
The Perks of 9k Gold
9k gold is a strong alloy, ideal for chains and bracelets — which can be caught on objects and may snag more easily than other jewellery pieces like rings. Higher-carat gold is often used for very special, once-in-a-lifetime pieces like wedding and engagement rings. However, for fashion jewellery, 9k gold is sometimes more suitable, as it comes at a lower price point than purer forms of gold. Which means, you can have more of it.
Which Colour Gold?
Some of us are sure they’re gold-toned or silver-toned jewellery people, maybe from birth. Some of us love both equally — or think they look best when worn together.
Then there’s the third group: those who are undecided between yellow gold, rose gold, and white gold jewellery. This next section is for you.
Style and Colouring
Choosing between rose gold, white gold, and yellow gold has a lot to do with your personal style, what kind of jewellery you’re looking for (wedding ring? fashion piece?).
Wearing certain colours can highlight and accentuate aspects of your appearance that you love, too — so you might even want to use colour theory to aid your decision.
When you’re making your decision, think about where you’ll be wearing your jewellery piece. What colour do you associate with special occasions? What best represents your love story — is it something rare as rose gold, or warm like yellow gold?
Alternatively, you can have some fun researching colour wheels and getting to know what colours flatter your skin tone, hair colour, and eye colour best. Are you a warm winter? A cool spring? Or maybe you just love how warm tones look on your skin and you can’t really pinpoint why. Experiment, explore your options, and have fun along the way. Remember that you don’t have to follow any rules. Wear whatever you feel great in.
Beyond What Meets the Eye
Finding the right colour gold for you isn’t just about how it looks. Rose gold, white gold, and yellow gold all have their own properties that affect how they behave, too. Some are easier to resize than others, and some forms are more hypoallergenic than others.
Is it hypoallergenic?
If you have a metal allergy, you’ll want to choose a gold alloy that is as close to pure gold as possible. Rose gold also won’t be a good choice for you. Rose gold is an alloy with a high proportion of copper, which is what gives it its lovely warm colour. However, the copper can cause a reaction if you have a metal allergy.
How easy is it to resize?
Rose gold solder is relatively new in the jewellery industry, which means awareness is very low. Many traditional jewellers won’t offer it as an option for your resize. At Cullen Jewellery we have access to rose gold solder. When you have a rose gold ring resized with us, the precious metal used in the ring and solder will be matched in strength and colour. Other jewellers might also use a lower-carat solder when doing a resize due to the lower cost.
White gold does require regular rhodium plating — so if you want something a bit more low maintenance, platinum will give you the colour you want without the need to maintain it.
The Platinum Family
There are several elements in the platinum family that are perfect for fine jewellery.
Platinum solder is also less common due to its high cost and high melting point, which makes it challenging to work with. Platinum has a higher melting point than gold, which means that heating platinum enough to make it into a liquid solder would also burn the stones.
Resizing Platinum Rings
If the metal in the solder isn’t a match for the metal in the ring, you will be able to see a join in a different colour where the resize has taken place. However, at Cullen Jewellery we use a new, specialised laser machine that can solder precisely with platinum while keeping the stones intact.
All You Need to Know About Silver
Just as gold is never just gold, silver is never just silver, either. Silver is a precious metal that shows a lot of variation.
Britannia Silver and Sterling Silver
Sometimes jewellers name-drop different kinds of silver, from Britannia to sterling. For people who aren’t jewellers themselves, this can be a little confusing. Not to mention, there is plenty of contrasting information out there. And the standards for silver have changed over the years. Anyone can be forgiven for not keeping up!
We’ve polished up our silver knowledge, so you don’t have to. First of all — we’ll look at the two most popular silver alloys: Britannia silver and sterling silver. Britannia silver is 95.8% pure silver. It used to be the commonly accepted standard for silver coins. Now, it has been replaced by sterling silver. Sterling silver consists of 92.5% pure silver.
What About Silver Jewellery?
Silver jewellery has been beloved since ancient times, and it certainly hasn’t lost its charm since. Silver looks especially flattering on cooler skin tones, but if your undertones are warm, silver can also really pop because of the tonal contrast.
Silver is similar in colour to platinum and white gold, but less durable than either. Most of us will want to wear our engagement or wedding rings every day — therefore white gold or platinum is usually preferred in rings, as it will last for as long as you want it to.
Silver jewellery — or shall we say, silver jewelry — is most popular in the USA. It is sometimes mistaken for stainless steel or stainless steel jewelry.
White gold is normally rhodium-plated, which makes it especially lustrous. However, this rhodium plating will begin to wear away after a year or so, which means your ring will need to be taken in to be plated again. The regular maintenance required to keep a white gold ring in perfect condition is usually the reason why people choose platinum as an alternative. Platinum doesn’t require regular plating to maintain its colour, and its density makes it very strong and durable. Platinum is also more hypoallergenic, which makes it preferable for people with a metal allergy.
Men’s Wedding Rings
For men’s wedding rings, which normally don’t have to accommodate a gemstone, there are a few more options when it comes to material.
Silver-toned, hypoallergenic, and durable — titanium jewellery is a popular metal that won’t tarnish, discolour, or corrode. It’s also hypoallergenic and very durable, and it can be lustrous or may feature a more matte effect or satin finish.
Tantalum has a dark, gun-metal grey colour that distinguishes it from its silver-toned counterparts like platinum and white gold. It’s strong and shatterproof, it won’t corrode, and it’s hypoallergenic. However, it is conductive — so it’s not the best choice if you’re an electrician.
Tungsten carbide is a derivative of carbon and tungsten. What makes it really special is that it is, completely, scratch-resistant. However, tungsten carbide can crack if it is dropped or hit, which is something to keep in mind if you’re adventurous.
Carbon Fibre Jewellery
Carbon fibre is jet-black and very durable. It’s a really unique choice for men’s wedding rings. It’s also scratch-resistant, which means it will look great for longer. But keep in mind, carbon fibre rings can be difficult to get resized.
How Do I Choose?
From this guide, which is only a snapshot of the many jewellery materials available to us today, it’s clear how many options there are out there for wedding rings, engagement rings, and statement jewellery. But the many options don’t have to feel overwhelming — you can also see it as an opportunity to find something that isn’t just good, but perfect.
So, how do you make that choice? Is there anything else to consider? If you’re in the market for a ring, and you want it soon, browsing our ready-to-ship rings is a good place to start — as we can get these to you in a much shorter timeline. However, if you know you want something more customisable — feel free to reach out via phone or email, or book an appointment in a showroom. Our goal is always to help you find a piece that’s ideal. Because when you’re really happy — so are we.
To Sum Things Up
- There is a rich variety of precious metals used in jewellery.
- Platinum, white gold, rose gold, and yellow gold are some of the most popular precious metals used in wedding and engagement rings.
- Gold rings have been around since the eighth century BC.
- At Cullen Jewellery, all of our precious metals are recycled, to reduce the impacts of mining.
- Gold is naturally soft, which means it needs to be alloyed with other metals to strengthen it before it is made into jewellery.
- The purity of gold is expressed in karats (k), as a fraction out of 24. 24k gold is pure gold.
- 18k gold is preferred over 14k gold in engagement rings as it tends to last longer and has a richer lustre for a comparable price point.
- 9k gold is a strong alloy, making it ideal for necklaces that may catch on objects more easily.
- Choosing a gold colour can depend on a number of things, including your skin tone, your personal style, and the occasion your jewellery piece is for.
- Some precious metals are more hypoallergenic than others. Rings made from yellow gold, a durable metal, are usually easier to resize than rings made from other metals. At Cullen Jewellery, we can resize most precious metal rings.
- Platinum is often preferable to white gold as it doesn't require regular rhodium plating to maintain its colour.
- Silver alloy standards have changed over decades. Sterling silver has replaced Britannia silver as the current standard.
- Platinum and white gold are more durable than silver, making these materials more suited to jewellery that will be worn every day.
- Non-metal jewellery options for men’s wedding rings like carbon fibre are really unique, and come with different pros and cons. Carbon fibre is highly durable.
Your questions, answered.
Yes! We offer free, signed-for international shipping on all orders.
In the USA, 10k gold is the jewelry metal standard for something to be sold as gold, whereas in Australia, it’s 9k, and in other countries it can be lower. Different gold alloys tend to be preferred in different countries due to preferences for sturdier or more lavish gold. For our jewelry making, we use 9k gold for pieces like necklaces and pendants as they need to be more durable, whereas we prefer 18k gold for rings, as this alloy is best suited to ring prongs that need to be both strong and malleable to keep stones in place.
Absolutely! All Cullen Jewellery rings come with one free resizing within the first six months of purchase. *Free resize to maximum of 2 sizes up or down. Not available on all rings, please confirm before purchase. Read more about resizing.