guide to metals

Ah, shiny, precious metals. In most cases, they are the foundation on which an entire design is anchored, lending depth, dimension, and an edge of luxe. Here are a few things to consider when choosing accessories made of metal.

Make it a point to check that weight-bearing links are solidly crafted (e.g. wrapped links instead of open loops, heavier gauge metal instead of flimsy wire, hammering for strength) – to at least withstand some accidental pulling.

Type of metal and its price may or may not be a deciding factor depending on where you live, your skin sensitivity, available budget and so on. As expected, the price of raw materials fluctuates from time to time, so we occasionally need to adjust shop prices to reflect market situations. Just bear in mind that the same silver-coloured metal chain can have vastly different price points depending on whether it’s composed of aluminium, nickel, sterling silver, fine silver, white gold, platinum, etc.

In many cases, base metals are plated with gold, silver, “white gold”, rhodium and so on. While this makes the look of precious metals more affordable, the coating will wear off over time if it’s very thin – even faster if you try to polish it. Be aware of what sort of mileage you’ll be expecting.

As far as possible, we try to avoid plated base metals because we would like our jewellery to give you years, if not a lifetime, of wear. Plus, you never really know what they’re made of, whether they’ll give you the itchies, and the plating rubs off quite easily after a while.

Sterling silver
An alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.25% of another metal, usually copper, added for strength. Sterling naturally tarnishes over time but can easily be restored to its shiny state with a silver-polishing cloth.

Argentium® sterling silver
Like sterling silver (92.5%) but laced with a tiny amount of germanium which keeps it shiny and tarnish-resistant.

Fine silver (Thai Karen hilltribe)
Traditional handmade jewellery components with higher silver content than sterling; we use 97% to 99.9% fine silver obtained from fair trade sources. Fine silver is “whiter”, softer and more tarnish-resistant than sterling silver.

Hilltribe gold vermeil
Traditional handmade jewellery components consisting of 99.9% pure silver plated with 1 micron of 18K gold for strength, followed by 2 microns of 24K gold with 6 additional microns of protective coating.

24K gold vermeil
Sterling silver which has been plated with at least 2.5 microns of high-carat gold, usually 22-24K. The look of opulent gold for much, much less. Due to the sterling silver core and relatively thinner plating, vermeil can tarnish over time.

14K yellow or rose gold fill
5% or 1/20 of the total weight of a base metal (usually brass or copper) covered by sheets of 14K gold in a mechanical bonding process, which results in a metal that looks and wears as durably as solid gold. Safe for sensitive skin, goldfill has 50 to 100,000 thicker gold content than regular gold plate. You’ll notice it does not scratch off or wear off as easily as those gold-plated items.

A gold-coloured alloy of copper and zinc. The antiqued brass that we use is Vintaj 100% solid natural brass – not “brass-finish”. Sometimes we also use warm golden vintage raw brass stampings and charms which lend pieces an opulent flair, as well as hand-oxidised raw brass which appears dark brown to black and is great for highlighting the colours of other components.

A gold-coloured alloy of copper and tin. The bronze components we use are from Nina Designs, which are made from a high quality Italian bronze alloy consisting of approximately 90% copper and 10% tin. The manufacturing process of bronze is less toxic than of brass, which produces zinc oxide. Bronze will oxidise over time, turning darker and more muted. Some might prefer this look, but if you don’t, take care to keep bronze pieces in their airtight ziplock bags and use a commercial bronze cleaner if needed.

A patina is a surface layer that forms when a metal reacts with the oxygen in our air, e.g. rust on iron, black tarnish on silver. This happens naturally over time, but some sterling silver and brass-based jewellery pieces feature patinas that have deliberately been introduced by oxidizing agents. Our silver pieces are oxidised by the natural sulphur content in eggs instead of by chemicals (liver of sulphur, silver black). The resulting black layer is usually buffed away for a distressed, weathered appearance that brings out textures and details.
The most common metal allergy is a reaction to nickel, which is sometimes added to certain alloys to whiten the metal. Some white gold and silver-coloured plated base metal might contain this irritant, so if you have super sentitive skin, you might want to stick to fine or sterling silver, high-karat gold, niobium, titanium, nickel-free or plastic-based pieces. Don’t buy mystery metal accessories!
Pure gold is too soft to be used in jewellery or anything much, so what you get are alloys. 14K yellow gold is commonly made from 58% pure gold, 25% pure silver, and 17% pure copper. White gold usually has nickel or palladium in it, rose gold has a higher percentage of copper, while green gold is just gold and silver. Check out Wikipedia for more information.