When first starting an antique jewellery collection, you can be overwhelmed by the many types and styles of antique and vintage jewellery. The difference between vintage and antique jewellery is that antique jewellery is at least 100 years old, and vintage jewellery is less than 100 years old, but is at least 20 years old. Antique jewellery is often characterized by the era the pieces are made in. The various eras all have their own distinct jewellery styles, and the materials that were used also varied between the eras. This being said, it’s understandable that you have a hard time determining what type and material of jewellery you are dealing with while searching for new pieces. However, it’s of great value to have some knowledge about, for example, jewellery materials. Collecting antique jewellery can be quite an expensive hobby, so it’s always a good idea to try and spend your money wisely. To help you in making the right choices when buying your perfect pieces, we created a simple guide to teach you all about the materials that are used in antique jewellery.
What materials are used in antique jewellery?
Jewellery, and especially antique jewellery, is made of the finest materials to give the person wearing them a feeling of luxury and comfort. But what actually are these materials?
The materials that are used most in antique jewellery, are the “metals” and the “stones”. The term stones is used to describe the various stones that are used in antique jewellery, both precious stones like diamonds, and semi-precious stones like onyx. Similarly, the term metals refers to all types of metals that are used in the jewellery. These metals can be divided into precious metals and non-precious metals. In this blog, we will focus on precious metals and explain to you what these are and how to recognize them.
When collecting antique jewellery, it is important to have some knowledge about the metals that are used, because the use of certain materials can give a piece an intrinsic value. This is especially the case for precious metals, which are used a lot in antique jewellery. Precious metals are chemically inert, which means that they are less reactive than other elements, making them less prone to damage by the environment. Therefore, their properties are preserved better: they don’t lose their shine as quickly as non-precious metals, such as iron or copper. Because of these special properties and their scarcity in nature, the value of precious metals is high and stable everywhere in the world. Below, we have listed the precious metals that are most commonly used in antique jewellery and their most important features.
Silver is one of the precious metals and a very common material for both modern and antique jewellery. Silver is a relatively ductile and malleable metal, which makes it easy to work with. Because it’s resistant to corrosion and oxidation, silver is perfectly suitable as a material for jewellery. It is more abundantly available than gold, which makes silver jewellery more affordable than gold jewellery. Since silver is very soft in its purest form, it is often used in a mix with other metals to give it strength. Mixtures of metals are called alloys, which can contain different amounts of the precious metal. Silver that is used in antique jewellery is often an alloy consisting of silver and copper, nickel, or zinc. While these other metals give the silver more strength, they can also make the piece of jewellery more prone to tarnishing. The proportion of silver to the other metal in the alloy determines the purity of the alloy. The purity of the alloy is indicated with a silver grade. These numbers indicate what the percentage of silver in the material is. Fine silver, for example, is the purest form of silver and is marked .999, meaning that 99.9% of the material is pure silver. When choosing a piece of jewellery, going for .999 silver is not necessarily the best choice. Pieces that contain such a large percentage of silver are very soft and thus get easily damaged when worn as, for example, a bracelet or ring. So, if you have just started collecting and want to spend your money on a piece that will last a long time, Sterling silver, containing 92.5% of silver, might be a better choice for you.
Gold is a precious metal that is very heavy and the most malleable and ductile of all metals. It is not affected by oxidation and can only be damaged by very few chemical substances, which makes it a very suitable material for jewellery. Just like silver, gold is a very soft metal and cannot be used in its pure form. Therefore, jewelers use gold alloys with other metals, like silver or copper, to make the material more durable. The proportion of gold in an alloy can vary and this is indicated with a number of karats. In this method, the alloy is ‘divided’ into 24 parts and thus 24 karat gold means pure gold, and 18 karat gold consists of 75% gold and 25% other metals. 14 karat gold is a very common type of gold for jewellery: because of its higher percentage of other metals, the material is more durable and suitable for everyday use. Thus, although being the most expensive, 24 karat gold might not always be the best choice when buying jewellery. If you prefer a piece of jewellery that is durable but also is of higher quality than a 14-karat piece, an 18-karat piece might be a good choice for you.
The process of alloying not only gives gold more strength, but can also change the color of the gold. Apart from the yellow gold that is very often used in jewellery, white gold and rose gold are also used in jewellery. White gold is created through alloying gold with metals that have a silvery colour, like palladium and silver. Rose gold, on the other hand, often contains copper and silver to give the material a pink complexion. So, finding you perfect piece of golden jewellery should not only be about the amount of gold the piece contains, but also about your personal preference when it comes to durability and colour.
Besides gold and silver, platinum is another precious metal that is used in antique jewellery. Platinum is very rare and even more resistant to corrosion than both silver and gold. Platinum is very malleable, ductile, and of high tensile strength and therefore is very suitable for making jewellery. Because of its scarcity and special properties, platinum is more expensive than silver and gold. Platinum has a silvery-white colour and is often seen as the preferred precious metal to combine with precious stones. Unlike silver and gold, platinum is often alloyed with other metals to make it softer and more malleable instead of harder. It is very common for platinum jewellery to have high purity levels: pieces often contain 85-90% platinum.
Since platinum jewellery is often more expensive than other white metals that have a very similar look, you might wonder if a platinum piece is worth paying extra. If you compare platinum to white gold, the most important difference is that platinum is a natural metal and white gold is an alloy that’s often only 58% pure. White gold is plated with another material to give the white shade, but over time this plating will start to wear off and the piece will start to look yellow again. Platinum, on the other hand, does not change colour. So, whether platinum is the perfect material for you depends on various factors. Are you looking for a piece that you can wear everyday for a lifetime and are you willing to invest a lot of money? Or are you just starting with your collection and are you looking for pieces that are beautiful and unique but a bit more budget-friendly? After all, collecting antique jewellery is about your own style and preferences!
Enjoy choosing your perfect pieces of jewellery and feel free to contact us for some advice! -Xxx- Sophie