Precious metals, hallmarks and what to look for when buying jewellery
February 11, 20204 min read
Why choose precious metals?
Most jewellery that you buy today is made either partly, or in whole, from a metal alloy. Even some of the most innovative art jewellery that uses fabric, ceramics and other craft materials, still often have clasps and mechanisms made from metal.
And so why does this matter? Many of us wear our favourite jewellery day in, day out. This means that it needs to be constructed of materials that will stand the test of time and will be comfortable to wear.
That’s why the choice of metal in your jewellery is important. Precious metals such as silver and gold are particularly prized for their durability as well as their hypoallergenic properties. In addition to their obvious beauty, this makes them a perfect choice for quality jewellery. While jewellery made from base metals such as brass may be cheaper, these metals are less durable and much more likely to create an allergy. For this reason, Brave Edith only ever uses precious metal alloys.
What are precious metal alloys?
Most gold and silver jewellery is not made from pure gold or silver but is made from an alloy of these metals. This is because gold and silver in their most pure form are too brittle and soft for jewellery making and daily wear. Therefore, the jewellery trade creates alloys, a combination of precious metals and other metals, to make them more suitable for jewellery use. This is where the commonly heard terms of Sterling silver, 9 carat gold, 10 carat gold, 14 carat gold and 18 carat gold come in. These are all precious metal alloys.
What is sterling silver?
Sterling silver is considered to be an ideal combination of mostly pure silver and metals such as copper for jewellery wear. To be classified as Sterling silver, the alloy must comprise a minimum of 92.5% pure silver by weight and a small proportion of zinc, copper or palladium. Metals that cause allergies such as nickel should not be used to alloy silver. (Brave Edith jewellery is made to exacting standards including the quality and purity of the sterling silver we use, and all our sterling silver is nickel free).
Like silver, most gold jewellery is a gold alloy comprising pure gold, silver, copper and a small amount of palladium or zinc.
The purity of the alloy (or percentage of gold in the alloy) is measured in carats. The higher the carat, the greater the content of pure gold. For example, 18ct gold is an alloy comprising 75% gold, and 25% silver/copper/palladium/zinc. In contrast, 9ct gold comprises 37.5% gold and 62.5% silver/copper/palladium/zinc. Additionally, the proportion of the different metals in the alloy can be adjusted to determine the colour. For example rose gold has relatively more copper and less silver than yellow gold.
Why you should look for hallmarks
To be sure your jewellery conforms to sterling silver and gold carat standards, you should check that it is clearly stamped with a fineness hallmark or quality stamp. This mark guarantees the quality and purity of the alloy. It is most likely to be found on the back of your jewellery.
In Australia, the sterling silver fineness stamp is usually 925, although antique jewellery may be marked STG or Sterling. This acts as a guarantee that the piece contains at least 925 parts of pure silver out of 1,000 parts of metal. (You will find the 925 stamp onBrave Edith jewellery on the back of our earrings or necklaces or on a small tag attached to the clasp of our necklaces).
Solid gold jewellery also has fineness stamps which denotes the number of parts pure gold out of 1,000 parts metal. For example 9ct gold will have a stamp of 375 (meaning it is 37.5% pure gold), 14ct gold will have a stamp of 583 (meaning it is 58.3% pure gold) and 18ct gold will have a stamp of 750 (meaning it is 75% pure gold).
What about gold plated jewellery?
Gold plated jewellery may or may not be made from precious metals. Again it is best to look for the quality stamps.
A 925 stamp on your gold plated jewellery guarantees that the underlying metal is sterling silver. This however does not guarantee the thickness of the gold plating or the carat level of the gold plate, the seller will need to confirm this. For example, all Brave Edith gold jewellery is stamped with 925 meaning that it is made from sterling silver and then plated in gold. However unlike standard gold plated jewellery, it has an extremely thick coating of 2.5 microns of 14K gold, which classifies it as a particularly high grade and long lasting form of gold plate, called gold vermeil (pronounced “ver-may”). You can read more about gold vermeil here
Lower quality gold plated jewellery that is made from base metals is usually marked GP, GEP or HGP (meaning Gold Plate, Gold Electro Plate, Hard Gold Plate respectively). Sometimes these letters also follow the carat level, e.g. “14K GP”, means it is 14 carat gold plated over a base metal. Once again, the seller will need to confirm the actual thickness of the plating.
A final note: Look for maker's marks to confirm the authenticity of design
It is important to note that as well as hallmarks, high quality jewellery will usually also be identified by a maker’s mark. A maker’s mark is akin to a designer’s logo which is applied to jewellery to indicate the authenticity of the design, while the hallmark is an indicator of the piece’s metal purity.
As with 925 stamps, you are most likely to find these stamps on the back of your jewellery or for necklaces, on a small tag attached to the clasp. In the case of Brave Edith, we use two maker’s marks, a Chinthe design on our larger pieces and BE initials on our more intricate designs. These are always placed alongside our 925 stamp.
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