I want to create a quick reference sheet about metals, so naturally I turned to the internet. I don't work with wire or metals a whole lot, so I knew I needed to do some research.
Turns out there is A LOT of information on the internet. (Who knew? I'm starting to think my reference sheet isn't going to be too quick.) If this is a topic you've always wanted to know more about but just haven't gotten to, here are some teasers to get you started.
The term precious metal refers to rare metals of high economic value. The term usually includes platinum, gold, and silver. Base metal is a catch-all term in the jewelry industry for metals used in costume jewelry. In metal working, base metal is any metal that is not one of the noble or precious metals.
And that's another term (and a new one for me). A metal is “noble” if it is highly resistant to corrosion. So a metal can be “noble” without being "precious." Gold, silver, and platinum are considered to be both noble metals and precious metals. Other noble metals are ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, and iridium.
Sterling Silver is 92.5% Silver and 7.5% metal alloy, usually copper. The alloy added to sterling silver makes the silver more durable. Sterling silver is typically marked "Sterling" or .925.
Silver-filled is a lamination of .925 sterling silver and a less costly metal (such as nickel). This produces a surface of sterling silver or fine silver that is hundreds of times thicker than a silver plating. (More about lamination when we get to gold-filled.)
Nickel silver has no silver. Nickel is a combination of 65% copper, 18% nickel, and 17% zinc. It is sometimes called German Silver, dressing it up a bit, but the same underneath.
Argentium® Sterling Silver is basically sterling silver, but replaces some of the copper with germanium. This gives it "increased ductility, high tarnish resistance, and greater thermal resistance for easier welding and laser forming." The silver content remains 92.5%, to keep the name “sterling silver”. (It is actually patented and trademarked by Argentium Silver Company, UK).
Pure karat gold is 24kt, meaning 24 out of 24 parts are gold. Since pure gold is too soft to be functional, it is alloyed with other metals for durability, cost and color. 14kt is 14 parts gold out of 24, and the remaining 10 parts are other metals (which can be copper, silver, nickel, zinc, tin, palladium and/or manganese). The reason you get different colors of gold is due to the different alloys used.
Gold-filled, like silver-filled, means that an item has a layer of karat gold bonded on the outside of another metal called the base metal. The process generally uses heat and pressure to apply a layer of karat gold. The minimum layer of karat gold must equal at least 1/20 of the total weight of the item.
Gold filled and silver-filled are hundreds of times thicker than regular plating, and about 17 to 25,000 times thicker than heavy electroplated gold and silver.
Vermeil, pronounced "vehr-MAY," is a plating of karat gold over sterling silver.