Precious metals have been used in jewelry for over 7000 years. Because of their high value and scarcity, it has been treasured and admired by the likes of kings and queens. But what makes metal precious? There are 3 main factors that make metal precious:
- metals that are rare
- metals that are highly valuable
- metals that are resistant to corrosion and chemical reactions
Precious metals are also known as noble metals and there are eight elements that can be identified as precious metals.
Although gold is more valuable than silver today, there was a time (believe it or not), when silver was the more treasured metal. Gold and silver have been used for centuries but platinum has only been used since the sixteenth century when it was discovered in South America. In today’s market, platinum jewelry is by far the most expensive. The reason being its high density, which makes it more scratch resistant. It is also more difficult to work with because of its high melting point and needs a trained hand. Platinum and white gold are sometimes plated with rhodium to give it a whiter color. An electrical or mechanical process is used to plate jewelry. Plating is when a thin layer or coating of another metal is added to the surface of the metal. It can enhance the color and the appearance of the metal and also protects the surface.
Before precious metals can effectively be used for jewelry making it is alloyed to improve its hardness. The harder the metal the more it holds its shape and the more resistant it is to scratches. Gold is alloyed with silver and copper which can not only change its hardness but also its color. Silver is alloyed with copper to create sterling silver and platinum is most commonly alloyed with iridium, palladium or ruthenium.
It takes skilled hands to transform precious metals into fine jewelry, and that is why these intricate works of art remains one of life’s most treasured gifts.
7000 years of jewelry – edited by Hugh Tait
Metalsmithing for jewelry makers, Traditional and contemporary techniques for inspirational results – Jinks McGrath
Professional Jewelry Making, A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Jewelry Techniques
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