Martin Rees, Jeweller and Pawnbroker

White Metals used in Jewellery

Silver

Slightly harder than gold in its pure form.  In most countries silver jewellery is purer than gold - normally 92.5% of the alloy is silver, but in some countries 80% is normal.  Because the alloy is purer than gold - and it is the alloying which gives both gold and silver additional strength, items made from silver are softer than those made from gold.
For the craftsman it is somewhat harder to work than gold, but as the metal is cheaper, it is more practical to produce large items.  When new the metal will take a brilliant polish, which with normal wear slowly ages to a rich sheen.  Compared to chrome plate and steel, silver looks slightly yellow.
Unfortunately silver reacts with sulphur in the air, so it slowly turns black.  The best way to stop silver from tarnishing is to use it!  Every time it is worn, the tarnish is rubbed off.  Also see our advice on caring for jewellery.
Note that 800 silver can be legally sold in the UK as silver.  It looks almost identical to Sterling silver.  I have little experience of this quality, but suspect that it may be more prone to tarnishing.  Silver jewellery is often a great buy, and may be better value than costume jewellery, looking better when new and lasting longer.

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White Gold

Gold is alloyed with silver (and other metals) to produce the white look.  In the past, nickel was used, but that has stopped in the EU because many people are allergic to nickel.
The final product has the look of silver, yet retains the hard-wearing qualities and tarnish resistance of gold.

Platinum

Like gold, platinum will not tarnish in normal use.  However, unlike gold, pure platinum is very hard, and this makes it difficult to work.  And it's about the same price as pure gold;  no wonder platinum jewellery is expensive.
When new its colour is similar to silver, but it slowly wears to a dull grey - but as platinum is very hard, the change is slow. You can't polish it at home, but a jeweller can restore its bright finish.
When manufactured into jewellery it is also the most pure of the metals, normally 95% of the alloy is platinum, although other standards are now legal.  Until 1975 platinum was not hallmarked, therefore the exact purity of the metal used cannot be known for certain.  Since 1999 lower standards for platinum are permitted in the UK.
You won't see many items made from platinum.  But they will wear better than other jewellery, so they are worth considering.  Diamonds are often set in platinum even when the rest of the piece is gold.  The hard platinum ensures the valuable stones are secure for many years.
Apart from jewellery, platinum is also used in laboratories, because it doesn't react with other chemicals.  The assay offices use it for crucibles when testing gold or silver.

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Titanium

A strong, light metal with considerable resistance to corrosion.  It was first discovered 200 years ago (most metals have been known since antiquity), and is only now appearing in jewellery.
At first, most titanium jewellery was coloured, because the metal is easily anodised with bright colours, which retained the toughness of the metal and so lasted well.  However now we are seeing titanium in its natural white colour.
The main use of the metal is in aerospace, aircraft skins are largely made from titanium, and it is a major metal in spacecraft.  If it's strong enough to go into space, it should make good, long-lasting jewellery!

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Silver Jewellery Above: less expensive than gold, silver is ideal for heavy bracelets, yet can produce delicate shapes as in the ring shown here.

Diamond and platinum ring A Diamond set in platinum, a strong ring which will last for many years.

Titanium jewellery Titanium takes a good polish, or a pleasing satin finish.

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