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24 carat question…?

We’ve looked at different materials for making jewellery but now let’s tackle the classic!

By gold we’re talking here about the genuine article, not gold coloured metal, but the element itself.  Whilst we think about gold as being a durable material which will last hundreds of years (think Staffordshire Hoard perhaps) it is a dense but soft and ductile metal, which means that while the metal itself may last it is likely to have much fine detail worn off over time if exposed to harsh conditions.  It is an excellent metal for jewellery making because of these properties though, and even more so because it does not tarnish in air or water, so will retain its lustre, and is not very chemically reactive.

 

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

 

Gold is generally mined from the earth, most commonly as gold nuggets, but also within rocks in veins and alluvial deposits.  It an also be found as a compound with other elements but this is less common.  Although it is not very reactive it does react with some elements and compounds, and the term “acid test” arises from using nitric acid to test for gold as it can dissolve base metals and silver but not gold.

Gold is of course not only used in jewellery (although nearly 50% of all gold mined is used for jewellery), it has been used in coinage and it’s understood that today around 10% of gold is used in industry and according to the World Gold Council  nearly 175,100 tonnes of gold have been mined and this would fit into 21 cubic meters if it was all put together!  But it is known to have been used in jewellery making for around 7000 years – unbelievable!!!  It’s as popular as ever for jewellery making and 2013 saw the largest volume increase in jewellery demand for 16 years.  (There are lots of interesting facts on the gold.org website if you fancy some gold trivia).

 

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Now as you will know gold isn’t always ‘gold’.  While yellow gold remains ever popular, white gold has massively captured imaginations with ever increasing in popularity, and rose gold sets off certain skin tones and gemstones beautifully.

Yellow gold is still the most popular colour, but today gold is available in a diverse palette. The process of alloying—mixing other metals with pure 24 carat gold—gives malleable gold more durability, but can also be used to change its colour.  All gold essentially starts out as yellow gold, different colours are created by allowing the metal with white metals.  White gold is then usually plated with rhodium to create the shine and appearance we are used to.  For those not familiar with white gold (…are you out there?!) be warned that this plating WILL need renewing, the regularity of this depends upon the quality of the plating and the amount you wear the item (i.e. white gold engagement ring worn all the time will need re-plating more frequently than a rarely worn pendant.

 

Gold rings

 

The soft warm colour of rose gold is created with the use of copper, you can find out the technical composition of different golds in a variety places but you may want to start here.  There are other colours of gold created through addition of other alloys or through coatings to the surface of the gold, these are fairly rare in the UK and require a little extra care so do look at particular instructions when purchasing anything unusual and be wary of fakes!

We’ve all heard of carats and you may be familiar with the use of this as a measure for gold and gems, in gold the purity of the metal is measured in carats rather than its weight (which is measured in troy ounces).  The measure of the carat is how much pure gold is alloyed with other metals.  The purest gold is 24 carat and this means that there are no other metals mixed in with the gold, lower carats (eg 18 or 9 carats) contain less gold and a combination of other elements.  In the UK 9 carat is the minimum, and whilst this is the least valuable as it effectively contains the least gold, it does have some advantages as it is harder and therefore more durable, whilst this makes it slightly harder to work with in terms of jewellery making it does mean it can take a bit more rough and tumble.

 

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What do we like…?

Well we all tend to have a favourite item of jewellery, many designers work with gold but here are a couple of our favourite items from around the web:

I love this intricate but chunky ring from Lavan Jewellery (handmade in the UK) and even better they do a massive variety of sizes.

Beautiful 9ct gold pebble necklet from Sheila Fleet, I love the tactile and texture achieved in this look.  If you’re interested in jewellery influenced by nature do check out some of Sheila Fleet’s other designs, I really like the Rowan collection with subtle use of gems.

Striking Hemisphere earrings from Susi Hines, this unusual design is really eye-catching, and of course we love a bit of bling 😉

 

Palladium, the young pretender?

Palladium is one of the six metals in the platinum group, like platinum it is a rare precious metal, mined mainly in Russia and South Africa.  It was not identified as a separate element from platinum until 1803 when it was isolated.  Palladium was quite rare until 1930 when the International Nickel Company of Canada began producing it in significant quantities.  In 1931 a German company developed and patented alloys of palladium with silver and gold, and at the time it was used in dentistry.

Silvery-white palladium, source: Wikipedia

Silvery-white palladium, source: Wikipedia

Jewellery designers started using palladium in the late 1930s, and the use increased during World War II when it was used as an alternative to platinum.  The supply of palladium dropped in later years and the price was relatively high compared to other metals so it was seldom promoted as a jewellery metal.
In 2009 Palladium was officially recognised as a precious metal and received a voluntary hallmark in July 2009, and a compulsory one in January 2010.  Since this recognition it has increased in popularity within the jewellery world, combined with the huge rise in the price of gold and platinum at around that time, palladium offered an attractive alternative to those seeking a white metal.  It features both the advantage of around half the price point of platinum whilst retaining the durability associated with it.  Further it is a much lighter metal so offers designers the chance to make larger statement pieces which are easy to wear, hypo-allergenic, affordable and with no risk of tarnish.
Some argue that palladium should not be considered as an equal alternative to platinum, and that it is best thought of as an alternative to white gold.  However, it has the advantage over white gold of not requiring rhodium plating to maintain it’s colour.  Additionally palladium 950 provides a higher purity than white gold and has a whiter colour, although it is slightly darker and greyer than platinum.
Palladium owes much of its increased publicity to the British based Palladium Board, established to promote the use of the metal within fashion.  It kicked off its 10 year “Palladium Visions” campaign in 2012 by creating initiatives with leading British designers, most notably Dame Vivian Westwood and Hussein Chalayan.
Throughout the US and China, the Palladium Alliance promotes the metal through sponsorships within the jewellery trade.  In January 2013 the winner of the Alliance’s first annual design contest was awarded 30 ounces of palladium to create a jewellery line.
It seems clear that palladium has a future in fashion jewellery, not just because of its price but because of its qualities with offers the designer a freedom of expression that would not be comparable in other precious metals, but it is also starting to become more popular in wedding jewellery, could it be that one day in the future it will be uttered in the same breath as gold and platinum, accepted into the fold and no longer an outsider…
 

 

The most precious of metals…?

Gold and silver have been the “go to” metals for jewellery for a long time, but there are alternatives (we’ll be taking a look at some of the newer ones in future posts) but we thought we would look at that premium metal which is becoming ever more popular with wedding jewellery…Platinum.

Platinum Nugget, picture from Wikipedia, copyright  Heinrich Pniok.

Platinum Nugget, picture from Wikipedia, copyright Heinrich Pniok.

The history of platinum dates back more than three thousand years, beginning with the ancient civilisation of Egypt. Archaeologists have found Egyptian gold pieces from as far back as 1400BC that contain traces of platinum.

Platinum came to the attention of European scientists in the mid 1700’s but remained fairly obscure till the 1890’s when French jeweller Louis Cartier started using it. It became more popular in the 1920s and 30s especially in Art Deco jewellery. It also became popular for engagement and wedding rings a trend that continues still today. It is the most expensive precious metal due to its rarity; platinum is one of the rarest elements in the earth’s crust, above gold and silver. It is dense and hard wearing, which makes it the strongest and best setting for precious gems; it also requires only minimal cleaning.  Unlike silver, it does not tarnish and it has the advantage over rhodium-plated gold, in that it does not wear away with time.

Platinum & other materials pin set by Lacloche Freres, from the V&A Collection, bequeathed to the museum by Miss J.H.G. Gollan

Platinum & other materials pin set by Lacloche Freres, from the V&A Collection, bequeathed to the museum by Miss J.H.G. Gollan

Due to its desirable characteristics, there has been more of a push in recent times to have the metal seen not just for classical wedding jewellery but as a metal used in innovative design and trend based jewellery. The Lonmin Design Innovation award was set up 11 years ago to recognise and reward outstanding design in platinum. A previous winner of this award in 2012 was Laura Strand the head designer at Purejewels for their Platinium Heritage Collection, this range asks up-and-coming designers to submit platinum design ideas for the PureJewels range, and the collection is something to behold so please do check out the link!

Platinum has it all beauty, rarity, longevity and purity (nothing else has to be added to ensure its high shine and whiteness) but it also has a hefty price tag! Of course this means that we area always on the look out for an alternative and a strong contender can be found in the form of its cheaper relative Palladium! More about this lookalikey metal in a future post….