If you admire pretty and shiny objects called jewelry, I am sure you have wondered what material they are made from. I am here to tell you that there are so many precious metals in jewelry that you will be surprised.
Lucky for you, I have made a list of metals and non-metals that are utilized in the making of rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces and other objects. Since jewelry is a broad subject, I am diving deep in precious metal jewelry only.
Jewelry is usually made from the eight precious metals and some other ones, although non-metals do play a role too.
Precious metals that are used to make jewelry are based upon a mix of three main attributes:
Rarity of a metal indicates in what percentage it is found on earth’s crust. It is probably the most important factor in determining a jewelry metal.
If it is hard to find such as gold then the metal is rare, if not like iron, which we use in different forms in our daily lives, it is not rare, thus not being used in jewelry.
Durability of a metal can be determined in various ways depending on the metal. Some are hard but easily oxidized such as copper and iron, and some are soft and malleable like lead. Some are even in liquid form in room temperature like mercury.
Sometimes a metal undergoes tarnish, even a precious one like silver. Tarnish is a thin layer of dark stain formed as it goes under a chemical reaction, but unlike rust the inner layers are not affected.
So for a metal to be durable in jewelry terms, it should not be reactive and oxidized, be soft or liquid at room temperature or easily tarnished.
Appearance of a metal is simply its desirability. To be considered precious and jewelry-made, the exterior of a metal needs to be lustrous and not easily scratched. But often people value rarity than exterior.
For example, tungsten is the hardest and most scratch-resistant metal, but considered to platinum or gold, tungsten carbide rings have lower value.
For a metal to be “exotic” in jewelry term, it has to have all the above properties. Without one of these, a metal might be rare, but not “Jewelry Precious”.
Copper is a metal that has a red color, is soft and not scarce. It has a wide variety of industrial uses, but not in jewelry in pure form.
Iron is a metal that is found in high amounts, is durable but lack the exterior. So, no one makes jewelry out of iron, because it would not sell.
Nickel is another example of transition metal carrying magnetic properties like iron, is durable and has a silvery appearance, but is not rare. In fact, iron and nickel are two elements that make the earth’s core. But it itself cannot be considered precious to make its way into jewelry.
Besides, nickel causes allergies and skin problems if worn for a long time. Although, some countries use nickel coins and it’s also used as an alloy to make stainless steel, which is worked in jewelry.
Gold on the other hand is rare, durable and a desirable metal with its shiny yellow color. Gold is actually one of the first metals used in both currency and jewelry from the beginning of history and civilizations, along with silver.
It might not be as hard as some of the other metals like tungsten, but the malleability of gold actually makes it easier to work.
Keep in mind that not all metals that meet the above criteria are used in jewelry the same. Some can be toxic, allergic to skin and radioactive such as osmium.
Even though osmium is from platinum family, when powdered, it could form a nasty toxic called osmium tetroxide that damages the eye. However, combined with other alloys, osmium jewelry can be pretty exotic (and of course expensive).
At the moment, there are eight elements that are considered “precious metals”. They are:
There are other exotic metals and compounds excluding the above eight, that can be made into pretty awesome wearable stuff. Some popular ones are as follows:
- Cobalt chrome
- Stainless Steel
These are the metals used in jewelry, and which I will be concentrating on this website. But for your curiosity’s sake, I am also making a list of non-metallic jewelry material here, and they are:
- Gemstones such as diamonds, pearls, ruby, sapphire, topaz, emerald and etc.
- Exotic wood
- Exotic Bone
- Carbon fiber
Gold is one of the noble metals that occur naturally. Its non-reactivity and shiny yellow color have made it admirable for us humans since forever. Total gold consumption is 50% in jewelry, 40% in investments and 10% in industry. Gold has a melting point of 1064 degrees Celsius.
This valuable metal was discovered 6000 years BC in the middle east. Being one of the rare and malleable metals, goldsmiths have found it easier to work with.
Besides being a desirable metal for jewelry purposes, gold has been known as the ultimate trade currency since the dawn of time because its ductility makes it easier to make coins out of it. Some Arab nations still use gold coins called Dinar.
Like gold, silver has been kicking around in the jewelry industry and trade market for thousands of years. It is just as ductile but less rare than gold, thus carrying lesser value, making it more affordable.
Other than that, silver is used in bullion coins, solar panels, water filtration and mirrors. It has the highest electrical and thermal conductivity and is the most reflective in all metals. Since pure silver is too soft like gold for all these purposes, it is often alloyed with copper.
It is also used in photography and medicine. Today 1 kg of silver is priced almost 500$.
Platinum is the most sparkling, exotic, strong and scratch-resistant among its family metals. It has a white-silvery color and can be found world-wide, but it’s scarcity being the fact that it is 30 times rarer than gold, makes it an exotic metal.
Commonly it is alloyed with iridium or osmium to make jewelry.
Platinum is one of the least reactive metals with a melting point of 1763 degrees Celsius, making it extra resistant to heat and corrosion. It is also resistant to tarnish making it a long-lasting object for wear.
Platinum is known as white gold and mostly used in wedding and engagement rings. It is also applied in catalytic converters, laboratory equipment, dentistry and chemotherapy. It won’t hurt to know that platinum-based jewelry is super expensive as well.
Like platinum, palladium is also silvery-white in color and has the lowest density and melting point of 800 degrees Celsius. Palladium can be found as an alloyed metal with gold or its family metal group mostly in Russia, Ethiopia, North and South America.
The Largest uses of palladium is in the automobile industry, but there are some in jewelry as well.
Palladium is the newest metal of the platinum family. It has the same color but being less dense, it is more affordable than platinum. Same as platinum, palladium is usually used in exotic wedding and engagement rings.
Palladium jewelry is 95% pure and naturally shining, unlike gold that is close to 50% and in need of rhodium plating to keep it lustrous.
Rhodium is a noble metal with silver-white color, corrosion-resistant, hard and naturally occurring like the rest of platinum family. It is beneficial to other jewelry in providing scratch and tarnish resistant plating and reflectiveness.
If you have a nickel allergy, rhodium plating is a must for your wearable. Rhodium is often found as a by product of platinum mining, making it incredibly rare and also the most expensive metal among its family.
Pure rhodium jewelry is not common. Generally it is consumed for rhodium plating, so that people don’t have to sell their old jewelry and buy new ones every time. Rhodium detectors are also used in nuclear reactors.
Ruthenium too carries the same properties of resistance and hardness. Besides its much rare usage in jewelry, ruthenium is most often applied in electrical contacts and solar cells. Compared to platinum, it has a darker color. 5% ruthenium mixed with platinum gives the hardest platinum alloy.
Because of its hardness, jewelers use is it in diamond setting rings only, otherwise the other stones will get scratched. Just 0.1% of ruthenium strengthens titanium’s corrosion resistance up to hundred times.
Ruthenium is found freely in nature mixed with other metal members of its family. You can also extract it from used nuclear fuel, although it will be radioactive that way.
This incredibly rare metal is brittle, hard and quite expensive. 1 gram of iridium is currently priced at almost 35$. It was discovered by a British chemist at the same time as osmium.
Iridium is known as the most resistant metal to corrosion and acidic solutions. Its main uses are in hardening platinum alloys, cancer treatment, pen tips and compasses.
Iridium is the second most densest metal after osmium. It has a strong 2445 degrees Celsius melting point and is rarely found on earth’s crust. It’s said once earth was rich in iridium, but most of it was dissolved in earth’s core when the planet was still in its hot molten phase.
With its largest appliance being in electronic-related fields, iridium jewelry is very uncommon.
The metal that is getting more and more fame and publicity because of its high demand in different areas with the highest density and melting point is osmium. Osmium is hard, brittle, lustrous with an exotic bluish-silver color.
It is mostly mixed with other metals due to its high density and utilized for making electrical contacts, phonograph needles and tips of fountain pen.
The only downside to this amazing noble metal is its toxic oxidizing agent called osmium tetroxide. It’s highly noxious and damages the eye, causing even blindness.
However, the metal osmium is sometimes mixed with gold, platinum or titanium to create magnificent osmium diamonds and stars. Jewelers are finding better ways to avoid its toxicity, thus the demand for it is on the rise.
Other exotic metals and compounds:
Titanium is a strong, corrosion-resistant and white in color transit metal. It has a melting point of 1670 degrees Celsius which makes it a good refractory metal.
Titanium is the seventh most abundant metal on earth, it can be found in igneous rocks, living things, bodies of water and even meteorites. However, pure metallic titanium is pretty rare.
Titanium is used in steel as an alloying agent and in stainless steel to reduce carbon content. Professional jewelers engrave it with laser engraver since its greatly durable providing exterior of a lifetime.
Even though titanium is much stronger than gold and silver, it is yet light-weight, comfortable and cheap. In addition, you don’t have to worry about your finger turning green because titanium rings are hypoallergenic with anti corrosion and tarnish properties.
Because of its hardness, titanium rings cannot be resized. So if your finger shrinks in a case of emergency, the ring must be sewed off.
The name Tungsten comes from Swedish Tung Sten meaning Heavy Stone. That’s right, tungsten is heavier than most metals. It’s found in compounds rather than alone on earth. Tungsten has the highest melting point of 3422 degrees Celsius among all metals discovered.
It is often used in the production of hard substances, namely tungsten carbide. This material is used in jewelry to make all types of rings. A little bit of caution though, if you notice a swollen finger take the tungsten ring off immediately.
Tungsten does not bend like gold or silver no matter the pressure. If there is too much pressure it will simply break. Tungsten carbide jewelry is slightly more affordable than other precious metals and with correct polishing, it will give you the same feeling of wearing gold or platinum.
Metallic tungsten is hypoallergenic, except if it is alloyed with nickel.
Cobalt is a silvery-grey, hard, lustrous and magnetic metal. A powdered blue pigment of cobalt known as cobalt blue is used in jewelry, ceramic and painting since ancient times. Cobalt is also applied in rechargeable batteries and electrical vehicles.
In the jewelry industry, cobalt is used as cobalt chrome, a mixture of cobalt and chromium that is hypoallergenic and gives a unique shine.
Cobalt chrome is super flexible when making rings or bracelets of it with camo, meteorite, carbon fiber and even diamonds. The material is engrave-able but not too scratch-resistant, although it can be reconditioned.
Stainless steel or inox is known for its corrosion resistance. Made up from a minimum of 11% chromium and maximum of 1.2% carbon, it is notably used for making fancy, cool and affordable rings, bracelets, pendants, and watches.
Resistant to rust, oxidation and discoloration, this unplated metal will not fade over time, is hypoallergenic and desirable for permanent jewelry sets.
Zirconium is a grey-white, lustrous, strong transition metal that resembles titanium. It is solid at room temperature and quite malleable. Its powder is highly flammable but won’t ignite in solid form.
It is corrosion and chemically resistant in a level that it is being applied in nuclear reactors. It’s even used in dental filling and treatment.
Like titanium, zirconium is strong, unbreakable but light-weight. A ring made of zirconium is abrasion and scratch proof on level 9 of ceramic measure, meaning only diamond the hardest material can scratch it.
Black zirconium jewelry is skin-friendly and fairly affordable. Unlike stainless steel, black zirconium rings are impossible to resize, so keep that in mind when purchasing one.
Non-metallics used in Jewelry:
A gemstone is a piece of exotic mineral crystal cut and polished into different shapes. Almost all kinds of jewelry comes with a gemstone inside it. Wedding and engagement rings, bracelets, necklaces, chains even crowns.
These gemstones vary in rarity, hardness, color and value. The most popular and exotic gemstone is diamond, others are ruby, sapphire, emerald, pearls, turquoise, topaz and opal.
Except for diamond, there is no world-wide accepted standard grading system for gemstones. Their value usually comes from cut, clarity and color. Some of them go through various treatments for color and clarity.
Sometimes the most rare, appealing and durable woods are also used to make rings and bracelets. Some exotic wood are African blackwood, agar wood, ebony wood, sandalwood, bogwood, koa, purple heart, rose wood and zebrawood.
Meteorites are fragments of rocks that fell down to earth from space. They are either parts of comets, asteroids or meteoroids.
Meteorites are rarer than diamonds, gold or silver. Some of them can be quite valuable at 1000$ per 1 gram. Meteorite jewelry are hard but since some have nickel in them, you might face with nickel allergy, if not then you are good to go purchasing one.
Silicon is a non-metal mostly found in rocks, soil, sand and glass. It is hard, brittle and blue-grey in color. It is the second most abundant element on the planet after oxygen. Silicon is widely used in the electronics industry.
In jewelry it comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. It is super cheap and great if you are looking for affordable promise rings, wraps and bracelets.
Ceramic is a mixture of clay and other earthly material including metals and minerals, structured into fashionable necklaces and rings. There are three types of ceramic; earthenware, stoneware and porcelain.
Ceramic is hard but fragile, in a way that it out stands chemical reactions but is weak to physical changes (breaks easily). Its variety of usage allows it to be made to almost anything, from rings to tiles and sculptures.
When uncommon animals die, their bones are made into rings and other wearable. In most cases, dinosaur bones which are too small or cannot be put to good use in a museum or paleontology, are manufactured into fashionable objects.
Just like exotic animal bones, their skin is also put to good use. Leather fashion is no mystery, it’s durability is why some people pursue leather clothes and jewelry. Mixed with minerals or precious metals, handmade leather jewelry can be demanding.
Strong yet durable, this hypoallergenic non-metal is probably the most comfortable material used in jewelry. Carbon fiber is stronger than steel but less heavy, making it pretty simple to work with. Unfortunately, it is not bendy or re-sizable.
Carbon fiber jewelry can be expensive, but not as expensive as precious metals or diamonds.
The jewelry industry is a broad subject and cannot be put into detailed explanation in some pages. It is not something you wouldn’t be able to live with if you don’t have it in your life, but rather something of value.
It’s true, the particular value a piece of jewelry may or may not provide is totally subjective. Each person has a different taste and measures the worthiness of jewels otherwise.
Nevertheless, I hope that this article has made your job easier and provided you some hindsight about what metals are exotic, beautiful, rare, affordable and long-lasting.
Each and every Precious Metal in Jewelry is gorgeously unique, depending on your taste and of course financial status, I sincerely wish that you find your perfect piece of jewelry from this website.