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Metal buying guide – everything you need to know about gold, silver and platinum

Whether it be a necklace for someone’s birthday, some earrings to say thank you, or a diamond ring for that all important question. Whatever the occasion and whoever the recipient, buying a piece of jewellery can be the perfect gift for a loved one.

With so many precious metals to choose from, making the right decision can be tricky. Gold? Yellow gold? Silver? Platinum? Chances are you’re going be spending a fair amount of money on your purchase, so you want to make the right choice.

This guide helps to make your decision easier by explaining everything you need to know about each metal…

Gold

Gold is one of the most popular precious metals and has been used for jewellery making for over 6000 years. In its purest form, gold was featured in Ancient Egyptian art and was referred to as a divine and indestructible metal. The Ancient Greeks also saw gold as a precious metal and believed it was crafted from water and sunshine.

The metal is soft and ductile which makes is perfect for crafting into different shapes. Pure gold however, is too soft to be made into jewellery so other metals such as silver, copper and zinc are often mixed with it to create an ‘alloy’, which increases both strength and durability.

When creating an alloy metal, the ratio of pure gold to other metals is measured in carats, which are divided into 24 parts. The infographic below shows the percentage of gold in the different carat labels:

Gold Carat Chart

Though gold’s natural colour is yellow, the metal is also available in other hues: white and rose. The ‘yellow’ colour is seen as the most traditional, while white and rose gold are becoming increasingly popular.

Yellow gold

Yellow gold is a timeless classic and is often something that gets passed down from generation to generation. As its name suggests it has the natural gold colour, but there can be some variations of this yellow due to the different carats available. For example, a 9ct yellow gold piece of jewellery will appear a lighter yellow than an 18ct one as it has been mixed with copper and silver.

White gold

White gold has been fashionable since art deco in the 1920’s and has grown in popularity since. To create white gold, pure gold is mixed with one or more silver metals like palladium, nickel or magnesium. White gold is seen as the more affordable option to platinum as it shares the shiny silver appearance.  Like yellow gold, there can be some variations in the colour, depending on the amount of pure gold that is mixed with other metals.

Contemporary white gold is usually enhanced by rhodium plating (sometimes just called ‘plating’). Rhodium is a metal from the platinum group which is naturally silver and bright, so plating white gold with this metal ensures that the jewellery has a shiny and bright finish. It also helps to cover up any staining or discolouring from the alloying process. If white gold is plated, it may wear slightly over time due to contact with other hard objects. If this is the case, your jewellery isn’t ruined and can be re-plated.

Rose gold

Rose gold first became fashionable in Russia in the 19th Century and in recent years it has had a huge surge in popularity. Currently, this choice of gold is right on trend, especially in watches. Rose gold is seen as a stylish and elegant alternative to yellow or white gold. To create the red/pink ‘rose’ colour, pure gold is combined with copper. Just like the other colours, the different carats of rose gold may have a slight different shade.

Gold plated

Sometimes items are labelled as ‘gold plated’ which means metals like copper or stainless steel have been covered with a thin layer of gold (of any colour) by chemical or electrochemical plating. By doing this, the items have the appearance of gold by come with a much more affordable price tag.

Silver

Silver is an extremely popular choice for jewellery and it has been used for centuries to create necklaces, bracelets and other items. Silver is combined with other alloys to make it more malleable and more ductile, allowing the material to be beaten in to sheets or drawn in to wire. Due to this, silver is perfect for making all types of jewellery.

Due to its bright colour and shiny lustre, silver works beautifully with diamonds and other precious gemstones.

Another reason for the popularity of silver jewellery is that it is more affordable compared to other metals like gold and platinum.

Sterling silver

Sterling silver is an alloy created with 92.5% silver mixed with copper. Any item of jewellery made with sterling silver that weighs more than 7.78 grams must be hallmarked with ‘925’.

Silver plated

Like gold and other metals, an item can be labelled as ‘silver plated’. This means a thin layer of silver is applied to over a different material, to give it the appearance of silver. The advantage being it is much cheaper in price.

Platinum

Like gold and silver, platinum is ductile and malleable which makes it a great material for jewellery. The difference with this metal is its purity, which means it is naturally hypoallergenic and non-reactive – so is suited to those with sensitive skin.

Platinum is a popular choice for engagement rings and wedding bands as its durability and strength makes an ideal setting for diamonds and other gemstones. In addition, platinum develops a natural bright silver tone over time (a patina), which adds to its appeal.

Traditional platinum will always be hallmarked to show its purity, the most common being 850 (85% purity), 900 (90% purity) and 950 (95% purity).

Platinum jewellery is commonly bought as an investment and then passed down through generations as an heirloom because of its strength and durability. Unlike gold, platinum doesn’t chip but can wear slightly and can get scratched over time, especially when it comes in to contact with stronger materials like diamonds. However, if your jewellery does become scratched, it can be re-polished.

Platinum plated

When looking at jewellery, you may come across the term ‘platinum plated’, which means a thin layer of platinum is applied over another metal (usually silver) to give it the appearance of platinum but for a much more affordable price.