Metals for Jewelry: The Ultimate Guide

Metals for Jewelry: The Ultimate Guide

Metals for jewelry include platinum, gold, and silver – we have some of these metals in our extensive collections of semiprecious metal beads and findings. They do not oxidize and are not damaged by acids in their natural state.

If you’ve ever seen an antique gold coin freshly retrieved from the earth, you’ll see how the dirt rubs off, revealing the gold in precisely the same condition as it was created centuries ago.

These precious metals are primarily used in jewelry production. They have qualities that make them great for bending, sculpting, polishing, and displaying any stones or enamels put into them to their best advantage.

Unfortunately, pure gold and silver are too soft on their own as metals for jewelry, so they are mixed with other metals to create alloys suited for various uses and come at various hues and prices. Although these alloys are still referred to as precious metals, the hallmarking process ensures and controls their quality.

Metals for jewelry like copper, nickel, and silver can be utilized to get started and for mock-ups. Rugged stainless steel is used to press rough finishes into precious metals, but it is not suitable for jewelry production. Instead, you could choose to start with silver as you gain confidence working with metals before moving on to varying karat golds and platinum.

Workhardening is the intentional or unintentional increase in the hardness of a metal caused by hammering, rolling, drawing, or other physical activities. Although the initial few deformations inflicted on metal by such treatment damage it, continued deformations enhance its strength. The crystalline structure of metal explains this seeming contradiction.

The crystals slip against one other as stresses are applied; however, due to the crystal structure’s intricacy, the more such slips are compounded, the more they tend to obstruct future slipping because of the numerous dislocation lines crisscross.

Tempering is the process of enhancing the properties of a metal, particularly steel, by heating a metal below its melting point and then cooling it in the air. The technique toughens the material by lowering internal tensions and reducing brittleness.

Tempering temperatures vary greatly depending on the type of steel and intended application; for tool steels that must preserve their hardness, the range is commonly 200°-250°C (400°-500°F). In addition, cold-working, such as drawing wire or rolling sheet steel, is often hardening.

Xinar has been selling semiprecious beads and findings, as well as artisan jewelry for over twenty years now. Check out our collections today!

Properties of Metals for Jewelry

The melting temperature and specific gravity of precious metals for jewelry and alloy are different (density). When working with metals, these qualities are helpful to know.

Platinum (Pt)

Platinum is a thick white metal that is frequently used in diamond mounting. It is the priciest of noble metals. Platinum has grown extremely popular in recent years due to the popularity of white metals. It is challenging and reasonably simple to deal with, although it must be soldered at extremely high temperatures.

Platinum does not oxidize when heated because it is so pure, so solder joints do not need to be fluxed, and platinum work does not require pickling. Before soldering, platinum can be given a highly polished finish that the heat will not harm. Platinum can become gritty and brittle if heated incorrectly with a decreasing flame.

Gold (Au)

Carats are used to characterize gold. The term “carat” is also used to represent the weight of a stone, but when it comes to gold, it refers to the 24-part ratio of gold to alloy. To make different colored golds, varied quantities of silver, palladium, copper, and rarely zinc are added.

Because there are more non-gold elements, the smaller the carat, the more diverse hues can be generated. In addition, melting temperatures varies amongst alloys; for example, the melting point of 18-carat white gold is higher than that of 18-carat yellow gold. In jewelry-making, designers also use gold-plated and gold-filled beads and findings.

Palladium (Pd)

Palladium has a higher melting point than copper and silver. It is found in white gold. Therefore, it should be annealed before working with gold, as with all precious metals.

Because of the more significant gold content, higher carat golds stay softer for longer than lower carat golds. Because metal only hardens as it is worked, annealed gold will not have hardened when you resume working on it after several days.

Silver (Ag)

Except for enamelwork, granulation, and some chainmaking, pure silver 999.9 is a dazzling white metal that is too soft for most jewelry-making applications. As a result, a small quantity of copper is added to pure silver to create standard or sterling silver, which is more durable. 925 parts are silver, with the remaining 75 being copper. Other silver alloys contain less silver. However, they do not qualify for the 925 legal designations. Silver itself does not oxidize. Silver is the base metal for our sterling silver beads and findings.

Because 925 contains copper, it oxidizes when heated and exposed to the air. Silver is a pliable metal that, over time, will workharden. To keep it supple and pliable, it is annealed.

Silver and gold solders have different properties.

Solders are available in a variety of qualities and flow temperatures. Always use a suitable solder for the job.

Silver Solders

Long strips of silver solder are available in various thicknesses and widths.

Silver Solder Types

Enameling

Only use if the piece is going to be enameled.

1488.2˚F

Hard

It should be used first during projects.

1448.6˚F

Medium

The medium may be used in the middle stage. But, again, it’s a little sticky.

1358.6˚F

Easy

Easy is just perfect for final soldering.

1324.4˚F

Extra Easy

They are often used as the last resort by jewelers. However, when applied to silver, Extra Easy tends to tarnish swiftly.

1140.8˚F

Gold Solders

Red, white, and yellow solders are widely available in the market. They are available in pennyweights (dwt) or rectangles. White-gold solder is labeled quantitatively rather than hard, medium, or easy. It is provided in carats and should be used with the gold of the same carat.

Types of Gold Solders

22-carat

Only use with 22-karat gold. For 22-carat gold, there is just one appropriate solder.

1652˚F

18-carat

Only use with 18-karat gold.

Hard: 1525˚F

Medium 765°C

Easy: 1320˚F

9-carat

Only 9-carat gold should be used.

Hard: 1465˚F

Medium 1390°F

Easy: 1330˚F

Gold Annealing

Other metals are annealed differently than gold alloys. For example, some are quenched and pickled right after annealing, while others are permitted to cool in the air before being picked. Yet, others are allowed to cool to “black heat,” around 1040 degrees Fahrenheit (560 degrees Celsius), before being picked. If you’re not sure how to anneal your gold, consult your supplier, but try the following procedure if you’re not sure.

1. Make a strip of 9- or 18-carat white, yellow, or red gold (or both). Heat it with a mild nonoxidizing (reducing) flame on your soldering block.

2. Quench the gold in water before cleaning it in the pickle.

3. Bend the gold using a pair of pliers to test its softness. It has been appropriately annealed if it bends easily. If it is difficult, go to step 4 after bending.

4. Anneal the piece once more, allowing it to cool completely on the block. Then pickle it to clean it before trying to bend it again. If it’s still tricky, move on to step

5. Anneal the gold once more and permit it to cool for about a minute before quenching and pickling.

6. Use the pliers to bend it again. Keep track of how this particular gold item was annealed.

Using Copper in Jewelry

Copper is a reddish-brown metal that is available in sheets and wire. When annealed, it becomes incredibly soft, making it perfect for mock-ups. Silver solder is used to finish it.

Jewelry Making Metals: Nonprecious Metals

Aluminum, lead, zinc, titanium, and niobium are nonprecious jewelry making metals. These metals for jewelry are used because of the colors obtained by anodizing or heating them. However, to avoid contamination when heat is applied, nonprecious metals should be kept well away from valuable metals.

Jewelry Making Metals: Nonprecious Metal Properties

Each metal and alloy, like precious metals, has its own set of characteristics. When working with metals, they are helpful to know.

Lead (Pb)

Pure lead is a soft gray metal. It’s frequently utilized as a model or support when dealing with other metals.

Zinc (Zn)

Zinc is a pure white metal that is commonly alloyed with other metals. Because of its low melting point, it is utilized in silver solder.

Aluminum (Al)

Aluminum is a light gray metal with a small grain that can be easily turned on a lathe but is difficult to shape and cannot be welded. Its primary application in jewelry is when it is anodized to produce a range of colors.

Titanium (Ti)

Titanium is a white, pure, hard (yet light) metal with an extremely high melting point, making soldering problematic. However, it can be anodized and used to create huge but lightweight jewelry items.

Copper (Cu)

Copper is a pure, soft brown metal that work hardens quickly. To make them more useful or change their color, it is alloyed with silver and gold. When you anneal copper, it will turn black first, then pinkish. Quench the metal when you see this pink color.

Workhardening Metal

During hammering and shaping, a metal’s molecular structure is squeezed; it gets work-hardened and must be annealed before it can be worked again.

Utilizing Copper

Copper is a reddish-brown metal that is available in sheets and wire. When annealed, it becomes incredibly soft, making it perfect for mock-ups. Silver solder is used for soldering it.

1. Cut a 3 in, 18-gauge copper sheet into a tiny square. Heat the sheet with a torch until black.

2. Using insulated tweezers, pick up the treated copper.

3. Submerge the copper in cold water. Take note of how the black appears to flake off. Copper oxide is the black covering (known as firescale).

4. Using stainless-steel tweezers, remove the copper from the water and place it in a warm pickle. Allow it to sit before removing it using tweezers. Rinse under cold water. The firescale needs to be removed.

5. Bend the copper strip between your thumb and fingers. It should be highly adaptable. Straighten it out and lay it on a firm surface, such as steel or wood. Use your ball-peen hammer to pound it.

6. Bend the strip between your fingers and thumb once more. It will be considerably more complex than the first time you bent it. This is because copper has been “workhardened.”

Annealing

Before cooling, the material must be heated above its recrystallization temperature for a specified amount of time. The cooling rate is determined by what metal you are annealing.

Ferrous metals like steel, for example, are generally allowed to cool to ambient temperature in still air, but copper, silver, and brass can be cooled slowly in the air or swiftly quenched in water.

The heating process causes atoms in the crystal lattice to move and the number of dislocations to decrease, resulting in a change in flexibility and hardness. As the heat-treated material cools, it recrystallizes. The material properties are determined by the crystal grain size and phase composition, determined by the heating and cooling rates.

Following annealing, hot or cold manipulating the metal parts changes the material structure again, requiring additional heat treatments to get the desired qualities. On the other hand, heat treatment can soften metals and prepare them for further processing, such as forming, shaping, and stamping, and prevent brittle failure if the material composition and phase diagram are known.

What is the Function of an Annealing Furnace?

An annealing furnace heats a material over the recrystallization temperature, then cools it once it has been kept at the correct temperature for enough time. Once the heating process has induced atom movement to redistribute and eliminate dislocations in the workpiece, the material recrystallizes as it cools. The recovery stage, recrystallization stage, and grain growth stage are the three annealing stages.

Stage 1: Recovery

The furnace or another heating equipment is employed to raise the temperature of the material to a degree where the internal stresses are eased.

Stage 2: Recrystallization

New grains develop without residual tensions when the material is heated above its recrystallization temperature but below its melting point.

Stage 3. Grain Development Stage

New grains form when the substance is cooled at a given rate. The substance will then be more workable. Following annealing, other processes to change mechanical characteristics can be performed.

When is Annealing Necessary, and Why Is It So Important?

Annealing is a technique for reversing the effects of work hardening, which might occur during bending, cold forming, or drawing. For example, it may become impossible to work with or crack if the material grows excessively hard.

The material is rendered more ductile and hence suitable to be worked again by heating it over the recrystallization temperature. Annealing also eliminates tensions that can develop as welds solidify.

Heating hot rolled steel above the recrystallization temperature also shapes and forms it. While steel and alloy steel annealing are widespread, other metals such as aluminum, brass, and copper can also benefit from the process.

Annealing is a technique used by metal fabricators to aid in creating complex pieces by restoring the material to a pre-worked state. After cold working, the technique is critical for maintaining ductility and lowering hardness. Some metals are also annealed to improve their electrical conductivity.

Is Annealing a Good Option for Alloys?

Alloys can be annealed, with partial or complete annealing being the only procedures available for non-heat-treatable alloys. The 5000 series alloys, on the other hand, can be treated with low-temperature stabilization procedures. Depending on the alloy, annealing temperatures range from 300 to 410°C, with heating periods ranging from 0.5 to 3 hours, depending on the size of the workpiece and the type of alloy. Alloys should be cooled at a maximum rate of 20°C per hour until they reach 290°C, beyond which the cooling rate is unimportant.

Advantages

The key advantages of annealing include enhancing a material’s workability by improving toughness, reducing hardness, and enhancing ductility and machinability. In addition, metals’ brittleness is reduced while their magnetic properties and electrical conductivity are improved by heating and cooling.

Disadvantages

The main disadvantage of annealing is that it can be time-consuming depending on the materials being annealed. In addition, high-temperature materials can take a long time to cool down enough, especially if they are allowed to cool naturally inside an annealing furnace.

Applications

Annealing is utilized in many sectors where metals must be worked on into intricate structures multiple times.

Annealing: Who Discovered It?

Annealing has a long history, as indicated by the word itself, which derives from the Middle English word ‘uneven,’ which means to kindle, bake, and temper.   While we don’t know who invented annealing, its etymology indicates that it was used at least 900 years ago.

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