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    What Metals are Commonly Used to Make Jewellery?

    Metals Jewellery

    Since ancient times, man has adorned himself with ornaments made of precious and semi-precious materials. The ornaments suited various purposes, from religious ceremonies, for funerals as well as to mark a rite of passage into adulthood. From the ancient Egyptians to the Harappans, the Greeks to the Romans, jewellery has been an integral part of the social fabric and remains so to this day.

    While there are a number of materials used across the world to make jewellery, an early man hit upon certain metals and later alloys that remain in use even today. Metals that resist corrosion and oxidation are most sought after for jewellery and are referred to as ‘noble metals’. The metals used most in jewellery fall under this group, namely gold, silver and platinum.

    Earliest Jewellery

    Among the earliest examples of jewellery made by man are the jewellery found in the tomb of a Sumerian queen dating back to 3 B.C.E. Among them was a robe was made of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, agate and other semi-precious stones. Amulets and crowns were also found, indicating that ancient civilisations had found ways and materials with which to smelt and shape metals for various purposes.

    The findings in the Sumerian tombs and across other ancient civilisations such as the Egyptian, Mesopotamian and others have certain similarities in the use of materials. While gold was a constant across most, silver, lapis lazuli, jade and amber were also widely found. Based on location, shells and brightly coloured beads were also used, especially among the South Americans such as the Incas and Aztecs.

    Below we will briefly look at the metals most commonly used in jewellery making, from the dawn of man to the present day.

    Gold

    Gold was discovered in Egypt over 5,000 years ago and has remained a perennial favourite among jewellers and wearers alike. One of the most versatile metals known to man, gold does not tarnish and was found in isolation, in contrast to other metals that are usually mixed with various other elements present.

    Gold has been used unceasingly since its discovery along the Nile river bed. Originally used purely for ornamentation purposes because of its extreme malleability, it was shaped into various forms with headdresses, collars, earrings and bracelets made of it.  As a result, it was soon used in conjunction with locally sourced stones such as turquoise, agate and jade to form ever more elaborate jewellery. Examples of intricate gold-work have been found across the world, from the Amazon to Australia and most of the Middle East.

    Since it is very pliable, it is often used along with another harder metal to help retain its shape. Gold changes colour based on the alloy it is mixed with, with copper used most often. Adding nickel and zinc, platinum or manganese gives it a whitish tint and this is commonly known as ‘white gold’.

    In the present day, gold of varying purities is used depending on the purpose. Gold for the purpose of jewellery is usually either 22 karat or 24 karats, with the latter considered the ‘purer’ form since it has the least alloys mixed in. Jewellery using 14 karats, 16 karats, 18 karats and 21 karat gold is also widely available.

    Cultures across the world revere gold, with many using it as a source of wealth in times of economic hardship. The yellow metal has had myriad uses since its heyday and is now used as a medium of currency, in electronic applications (because of its ductility and malleability) as well as in chemistry.

    Silver

    Another of the noble metals, silver was popular as a metal for jewellery since its discovery in 3,000 B.C.E. Changing preferences and its growing use in industrial applications saw a decline in its use for ornamentation, but it is still used on a large scale.

    Being a finite naturally-occurring metal, it is extremely sought-after especially due to its myriad uses in the scientific and technological fields. Most silver today is mined in Mexico and Bolivia, though there are deposits in Turkey as well.

    Silver in its pure form is too soft to be used for jewellery making and it is thus mixed with various alloys. The most common silver alloy is copper, with this substance known as ‘sterling silver’. It is this silver that is used in jewellery as well as cutlery.

    Famed for its antibacterial properties, silver has traditionally been used in the medical field and was worn as a way to ward off disease among early civilizations. This could account for its widespread use in Greece and Turkey where vast deposits of the metal were mined.

    Present-day use includes in electrical switches, in photovoltaic cells for solar energy as well as in soldering. Despite these industrial uses, silver continues to be mined for coins and jewellery as well as works of art.

    Platinum

    Among the rarest metals found on earth, platinum is a relatively new entrant to the world of jewellery. Though it has been in use since the early Egyptians, it is only recently that the metal has had its moment in the sun.

    Known as ‘little silver’ (a direct translation from its Spanish name ‘Platina’), it was first seen on the Casket of Thebes where it was used alongside gold and silver. It was also found among relics found in South America, predominantly in ceremonial jewellery such as nose rings.

    It’s a rarity and extreme ductility (it is more ductile than both gold and silver) make it highly sought after for various purposes. Its high melting point of 1786 degrees Celsius means it can be used for a variety of industrial purposes. Large deposits of platinum were discovered in Canada in the late 1800s and its use soon became more widespread.

    Marketed as rarer than gold, it is slowly emerging as a competitor to the yellow metal among jewellery aficionados across the world. Unlike gold and silver, platinum is usually used as it is in jewellery, giving it the moniker of ‘pure jewellery’. Its rarity and brilliance, as well as non-corrosiveness, also add to its appeal and cost.

    Titanium

    Titanium is a relatively young metal, discovered in 1791 by the British chemist Reverend William Gregor. Named after the Titans, Greek mythological beings who possessed great strength, it is among the strongest and densest substances available. Titanium is produced by combining rutile (its most basic naturally occurring form) with coke or tar along with chlorine gas which is then heated. The resultant substance is then converted chemically to an ingot.

    Titanium ingots are usually used in their natural form but alloys can also be added. Because of its properties, titanium is predominantly used for industrial purposes such as in medicine, aerospace and marine goods.

    Its hypoallergenic properties have recently made it more appealing to jewellers and consumers, especially those with allergies to metals. It has traditionally been used in implants but thanks to modern fashion trends, it is fast catching on in jewellery.

    The above are some of the most prevalent metals used in jewellery nowadays. There are a number of alloys and other metals such as stainless steel that are used in ‘costume jewellery’ due to the high gold prices that traditional jewellery metals command.

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