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Jewelry Care Guides

Metals Info and Care

Gold Jewelry - What You Should Know

When you are looking at jewelry, it's important to know the quality of what you buy. Sometimes jewelry is characterized as gold, but really contains very little gold, or none at all. When you see several pieces of jewelry that all look similar, yet are priced very differently, the metals used (for example, 14 karat gold, versus gold-filled wire, versus yellow colored base metal) may account for the vast differences in pricing.

If you're simply looking for a "hot" trendy item, gold colored "base metal" may be fine, since you will only wear it for one or two seasons. Base metals may tarnish, discolor, or even degrade in a short to longer period of time, leaving you with no value and jewelry you can no longer wear.

When you want a fine, classic piece of jewelry, you expect it to last for years. Precious metal prices are near all-time highs, so it's even more important to get what you pay for. Precious metals should wear beautifully and maintain their quality over time.

U.S. laws and Federal Trade Commission guidelines govern the way gold jewelry must be described. There are specific definitions, according to the "fineness" (the amount of pure gold it contains). Here are the technical definitions:

  • An item that is simply called "gold" is 24-karat gold (that is, pure gold) throughout. 14 karat gold is 14/24, or 583/1000, parts gold. 18 karat gold is 18/24, or 750/1000, parts gold. In the U.S., the word "gold" with a modification refers to gold that is a minimum of 10 karat fineness or higher (also called "karat gold"). The 18 karat gold standard is most typical of Italian and other European countries.
  • At Fortunoff, the karat gold jewelry we carry is either 14 karat or 18 karat.
  • Vermeil is sterling silver, over which a layer of gold at least 2.5 microns (approximately 100 millionths of an inch) thick has been applied. The gold is generally 14, 18 or 24 karat, depending on the designer's choice, and frequently its karatage is specified.
  • Lesser thicknesses of fine gold, applied over silver or over base metals such as bronze or steel, contain less gold content than vermeil. They include gold filled, gold plate, and electroplate. These thinner coatings are suitable for items such as necklaces or earrings, where the durability of the coating is less crucial. U.S. laws and FTC regulations are very clear about the thickness or content of gold in these products.

Silver Jewelry - What You Should Know

Sterling Silver is a precious metal, used in jewelry because it combines strength, durability and a natural white color. As with gold, U.S. laws and Federal Trade Commission guidelines govern the way silver jewelry must be described, according to its "fineness" (the amount of pure silver it contains). An item that is "sterling silver" contains at least 92.5% pure silver. At Fortunoff, the majority of silver jewelry we carry is sterling silver,

Silver tarnishes naturally when exposed to light and air. This process, called oxidation, can create an interesting and desirable patina that can be enjoyed or conversely, removed using polishing cloths specifically made for silver jewelry. Anti-tarnish coatings on silver jewelry can scratch or wear off unevenly, creating the appearance of water spots or similar discoloration. This Sterling Silver should be wiped, not forcefully rubbed with a polishing cloth.

If your silver jewelry was purchased within the last ten years, chances are good that it has been coated with an anti tarnishing agent.

Since high-purity sterling silver has a tendency to tarnish, various techniques are employed to inhibit tarnishing. Manufacturers often coat the silver with another white metal, such as rhodium (a valuable platinum-family metal), while others apply a thin polymer or other clear finish. ometimes a tarnish-resistant coated piece of paper may be enclosed within the plastic bag or pouch that holds the silver jewelry.

Thin coatings of silver may also be applied over base metals. Known as silver plated or silver coated jewelry, these are better for necklaces or earrings, where durability is not key. There are no regulations governing the amount of silver in such items, however. [Beware of costume jewelry or base metal jewelry that is described as "silver," but actually only silver colored base metal.]

The bottom line here: make sure you compare "apples and apples" because every manufacturer uses its own mix of metals to create its unique look and price range. Don't be fooled by costume jewelry or base metal jewelry that is described as "gold" or "silver," when in fact the jewelry contains no precious metal. Buy only from a fine jeweler you trust, who carries the jewelry quality you deserve and expect.