metals - andrea zatarain, jewelry design

Fine Silver and Sterling Silver

Pure silver is a joy to work with similar to pure gold. In its pure form, pure silver does not tarnish but is very soft so it is not always an option for jewelry that will get a lot of wear and tear unless the wear and tear is part of the design. Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver with usually 7.5% copper to help make it more workable. The copper in the alloy is what usually tarnishes. It is stamped “sterling” or 925. Other metals I can work with other metals like steel, aluminum and offer basic wedding bands in stainless steel, tungsten, titanium and cobalt. Please email me for more details. Titanium wedding bands are great for very active men who work with machinery or are rough on their hands.


The Karat of gold refers to the percentage of pure gold used to make the alloy. Pure gold is the only naturally yellow metal and is very soft which makes it more challenging to work with but not impossible. Pure gold is marked as 24K.

22K means it contains 22 out of 24 parts pure gold (91.6% pure gold, 8.4% alloy) and is usually stamped 22K.

18K means it contains 18 out of 24 parts pure gold (75% pure gold, 25% alloy) and can be stamped 18K or 750 (usually in Europe).

14K means it contains 14 out of 24 parts pure gold (58.3% pure gold, 41.7% alloy) and can be stamped 14K or 583 (usually in Europe).

The metal combination in alloys is what changes the color of gold. The higher the carat the more yellow will come through so 18KW will have a more warm tone than 14KW. For yellow gold you will usually find a combination of pure silver and copper in various percentages to make up the alloy. The more copper is used, the redder the color. The more silver is used the paler the color. For white gold, you will find two main alloy categories. One containing nickel silver which is less expensive but some people are allergic to nickel. The other is using Palladium (another pure metal) which is slightly more expensive than the nickel alloy. Most jewelry companies like to plate white gold with Rhodium to make it look whiter and retain the polish longer. I do not like to use Rhodium plating except with very few exceptions. The way I see it it is similar to having a piece of furniture made of mahogany and then paint it over hiding the natural material.


Platinum needs to be worked differently than gold and is more dense than gold. It has been traditionally used to make very fine jewelry work like filigree or fine settings that need to be barely there. Few jewelers today work with the finesse found in antique jewelry.

With today’s high gold prices, it would seem logical that platinum jewelry should cost less than gold jewelry. Not necessarily. Gold is used with an alloy and is less dense than Platinum. So for example, the same piece of jewelry will weigh 10 grams if made in 14KW (58.3% pure gold) and 15.75 grams in Platinum (90 to 95% pure platinum depending on alloy). The 14KW piece will use 5.83 grams of gold and the Platinum piece will use 14.17 to 14.96 grams of pure platinum.

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