Explore the latest trends in jewelry design by understanding alternative metals.
Consumers have always admired the color, shine and rarity of gold and silver, fashioning the metals into coins, crowns and even dishes. For talented artisans and their patrons, fine jewelry meant gold and silver and, recently, platinum. However, other metals, such as steel and titanium, can be crafted into high-quality, durable and stylish jewelry, and jewelers have become more appreciative of these alternatives in recent years. The jewelry industry uses the term “alternative metals” to describe the trend toward using industrial metals and alloys for contemporary design.
Below is a guide to some basic information to help you learn more about these metals gone fashionable.
Known already as an attractive material for jewelry in ancient times, this gemstone’s name, Hematite, is derived from the Greek word standing for “blood” due to the red overtones of it when ground into powder. Hematite jewelry was highly sought and popular in Europe during the Victorian era, and regained popularity in when rediscovered in jewelry pieces curved by native American. Known best as curved and sculptured pieces, it sports a unique, unmatched dark metallic color, a shade of smoky-silvery black, with this unique, Tahitian-pearl-like luster, and an unmistaken shiny charcoal charm.
Known already to ancient cultures, this gemstone’s name “Onyx” is derived from the language of as old a culture as the Assyrian, where, interestingly enough, the word indicated a “Ring.” In its stunning jet black appearance it distinguishes itself from other items in our “Black Zone” as the darkest black of them all.
Black Zirconium an Onyx-smooth and Hematite-smoky black format of Zirconium, is reminiscent in its smoky blackness of Tahitian Pearls and obtains this color through elaborate processing of the Zirconium metal. It is one of the world’s foremost scratch resistant metallic substances at a rating of 8.2 to ~ 9.2 rating (steel is rated at approximately 6, second only to diamond at 10). Thus, it won’t be scratched too easily even by a diamond, the hardest, most famous “scratch-all” material. It is, therefore, used in high-tech manufacturing, where excessive friction poses a challenge, and no loss to friction-wear may be tolerated. Like most jewelry finishes, the high polished finish is the best for delayed wear and lasting look. Satin and frost finishes tend to capture sharp and hard surfaces that come in contact with them onto their minuscule surface irregularity, allowing a degree of damage that would not occur, in the same impact, in a high polish finish.
Ceramics is one of the oldest industries in the world, dating back to 24,000 B.C. Since then Ceramic has been developed to be used in many industries including but not limited to the automotive, aerospace, electronics and jewelry industries. Ceramic jewelry is usually offered in white, black or pink colors. Ceramic rings are practically scratch resistant and can withstand heavy usage. They are hypoallergenic because they are made of pure ceramic material. The color of the ceramic is throughout the ring and not just on the surface. Ceramic cannot be cut off but is more brittle and can be broken off with a hand vise if needed.
Cobalt Chrome Jewelry
Extraordinary designs for men’s wedding bands are known for their creative use of alternative metals. New to the block is Cobalt Chrome. With the ever rising price of gold, more couples are looking for more economical choices in wedding bands which more often than not, lead to the exploration of alternative metals. Men’s wedding rings in Cobalt Chrome cost a fraction of what they would be reproduced in Platinum and you still get the durability with the authentic clean look of white metal. Cobalt also has a long history of being one of the most multi-purpose materials in manufacturing including things like batteries, electroplating, jet engines, and magnets. Cobalt is also a much lighter material and hypoallergenic, making it one of the most versatile metals for wedding band design. Cobalt Chrome is the whitest of the alternative metals. It will scratch like gold or platinum and can be engraved and cut off if necessary.
Gold Overlay Jewelry
Gold overlay is an application of gold on a base metal piece. The process gives an item the luxurious look of gold for a fraction of the cost of crafting with solid gold. The gold layer in gold overlay jewelry must be at least 10 karat in quality. In previous decades, gold overlay jewelry was not very durable and the gold layer would rub off after extended wear. However, jewelers have improved the gold bonding methods and the layer of gold is thicker and more durable.
Gold Tone Jewelry and Silver Tone Jewelry
A metal with a finish that resembles gold in color and sheen is called gold tone. This is a popular finish for watches with a base of brass or stainless steel. Some products have a silver tone finish which resembles sterling silver. As a general guide, jewelry and watches that are described as gold tone or silver tone do not contain any gold or silver.
Palladium is a member of the platinum group of metals and is actually a precious metal as rare as Platinum. This metal has been used increasingly in jewelry since 2000. Palladium features a silvery white color that retains its luster and doesn’t tarnish or turn yellow. It is often alloyed with gold to produce a white gold that holds its color better and is less irritating to the skin than gold-nickel alloy. With its bright color and durable nature, Palladium is a popular material for wedding jewelry which is expected to keep its appearance for decades.
Inspired by the recent rise in popularity of precious metals, Platifina creates a new collection of pure rhodium-plated sterling silver jewelry. Pure rhodium plating, the most precious platinum metal, is combined with sterling silver to create durable jewelry that is tarnish and scratch-resistant. Platifina jewelry possesses a rich white metal luster, making it a brilliant new alternative to platinum, white gold and silver jewelry.
Platinum is in the family of metals called the noble metals. Historically, Platinum has traded at about twice the amount of gold. That is not the case anymore because of gold’s steady rise in price, but because there is a higher percentage of Platinum used (95% versus 75% for 18k gold) in making jewelry, the same design can cost twice as much in Platinum than it does in Gold.
Contrary to popular belief, Platinum is more malleable than white gold, but is more durable. It can endure many years of wear without showing the signs of fatigue that white gold jewelry exhibits. It is also significantly more expensive for three primary reasons: Platinum in jewelry weighs approximately 70% more than similar volume of 14kt white gold, Platinum is 95% fine versus 14kt white gold purity at 58.5% and Platinum melts at 3,215 Fahrenheit compared to gold at 1,948 F making it very difficult to work with.
Some advantages to Platinum include:
- Platinum maintains its white color indefinitely whereas white gold will need periodic rhodium plating.
- Platinum is more resistant to metal fatigue and erosion and will endure a longer life.
Stainless Steel Jewelry
Steel’s popularity as a jewelry material, especially in men’s jewelry, has increased in recent years. Steel is an iron-carbon alloy that has been used for millennia in crafting tools, structures and manufacturing. Stainless steel was developed in the 19th Century with a composition of 10 percent chromium and 0.15 percent carbon added to iron. Stainless steel resists corrosion better than earlier alloys. It does rust, but the rust (or oxide) is a thin layer that protects the metal from reacting with water or air. With its attractive grey color, strength and relatively low cost, stainless steel jewelry is a good alternative to pricier jewelry metals such as silver or white gold. Stainless steel rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and watches resist tarnish and are hypo-allergenic.
Surgical Stainless Steel Jewelry
This steel is scratch-resistant and resists corrosion, even after multiple cleanings. It is called surgical steel, because of its use as medical steel for implants and surgical tools. Body jewelry is another use for this steel especially belly rings, crafted of surgical stainless steel that offers a hygienic steel product to consumers. Surgical stainless steel is a steel alloy composed of iron, carbon, 12-20 percent chromium, 8-12 percent nickel and 0.2-3 percent molybdenum.
A common metal, Titanium became valuable to industry in the mid-20th century as an indispensable aerospace material. Titanium has a weight of about half that of steel and can be alloyed with other metals to enhance its properties. Titanium is also hypo-allergenic, unless alloyed with nickel, making it suitable for medical equipment and implants including artificial hips. These properties make titanium an excellent choice for body jewelry. Many men are choosing titanium wedding rings for their durability; this jewelry really will last for decades.
Tungsten forms super dense alloys when added to other metals and these alloys are used in products ranging from golf club heads to weapons. Tungsten is as strong as steel and about twice the weight.
Tungsten carbides are compounds of Tungsten and carbon: monotungsten carbide (WC) or ditungsten-carbide (W2C). A Tungsten carbide compound is denser than silver, steel or Titanium, and Tungsten carbide jewelry is effectively wear proof. Pure Tungsten jewelry is available; however, pure Tungsten is not as hard as the carbides. Many men are choosing tungsten wedding rings for their durability; this jewelry really will last for decades. Tungsten is scratch proof and will look the same after 2-3 years of wear as it does when new. It is only engravable with laser engravers. Tungsten cannot be cut off but is more brittle and can be broken off by hand vise if needed.