Being an Informed Buyer Series - Precious Metals

This is the first in a multiple part series providing information about materials used in different types of jewelry you see for sale online.

If you've been an active watcher of this blog for more than the last couple of weeks you'll have noticed a new detail on the left hand side of the page between my Facebook info, email subscription area, and my list of favorite shops. That is a little widget from - that shows a live, updated series of numbers. is one of the world's leading sources for prices of precious metals including Silver, Gold, Platinum, Palladium, as well as base metal pricing on their other site.

I put this on my page mainly so my readers can see what today's current silver prices are. The other prices are a bonus because they're included in the widget. The pricing is in USD ($) per troy ounce.

What exactly is a troy ounce you ask (Copied from
The troy ounce (oz t) is a unit of imperial measure. In the present day it is most commonly used to gauge the weight of precious metals. One troy ounce is nowadays defined as exactly 0.0311034768 kg = 31.1034768 g. There are approximately 32.1507466 troy oz in 1 kg. One troy ounce is equivalent to approximately 1.09714 avoirdupois ounces.
The troy ounce is part of the troy weights system, many aspects of which were indirectly derived from the Roman monetary system. The Romans used bronze bars of varying weights as currency. An aes grave weighed equal to 1 pound. One twelfth of an aes grave was called an uncia, or in English an "ounce". Later standardization would change the ounce to 1/16 of a pound (the avoirdupois ounce), but the troy ounce, which is 1/12 of a troy pound (note that a troy pound is lighter than an avoirdupois pound), has been retained for the measure of precious metals. At 480 grains, the troy ounce is heavier than the avoirdupois ounce, which weighs 437.5 grains. A grain is 64.79891 milligrams (mg); hence one troy ounce is 31.1034768 grams (g) (exact by definition), about 10 percent more than the avoirdupois ounce, which is 28.349523125 g (exact).[1][2]
To maintain purity standards and common measures across time, the troy ounce was retained over the avoirdupois ounce in the weighing and pricing of gold, platinum, silver and gunpowder. Likewise, the grain, identical in both the troy and avoirdupois systems, is still used to measure arrow and arrowhead weights in archery along with projectile (bullet) and propellant (powder) weights in ballistics. The troy ounce and grain were also common to the apothecaries' system long used in medicine, but have been largely replaced by milligrams.[3]
Most jewelry many of you are familiar with is costume jewelry that you can commonly buy at mall kiosks and on ebay for next to nothing. This includes delicate, often easily broken chains, that are almost invisible on your skin when worn. These weigh far less than 1oz t - therefore they cost far less than a thicker chain would. Fine silver or gold jewelry that you purchase at a high end jewelry store are going to be pricier because you're paying for more product.

To clarify - I cannot make you a silver chain that looks like the ones you see at the mall for the same price. Its not possible. Those chains are something near 30gauge wire that has been specially produced and treated to produce a low cost very delicate chain. I can produce a fine delicate chain in silver but its going to cost you a LOT more than the mall would charge, and possibly more than some of the fancier jewelry stores would charge as well. The lowest gauge I'll generally work in for chains is 22gauge wire. That is .6mm thickness silver wire. Usually I prefer to work in sturdier weights such as 20, 19, 18 and can even work in 16gauge if you prefer something beefier. Just be aware the thicker the wire, the more product is needed to complete the piece, the more product, the higher the cost.

Lightweight nearly invisible chains weigh a fraction of an oz t, so they don't cost as much as a heavier chain would.

I recently assisted in the completion of a very large commission for a customer. 2 very simple chains - two links connecting to two links connecting to two links. Your basic link chain - with every ring doubled. The customer requested this done in 19g (1mm) and 16g (1.6mm) wire. In total the supplies alone came to $294.08 (including insured shipping)- based on the silver prices at the time of the order. 6.2 oz t of .925 or Sterling Silver. The customer knew this going into the order. The chains when completed were just over 22" each or about 2 22" necklaces in a very simple pattern - supplies alone were nearly $300. When you want a more complex design expect to pay more for supplies, then add in labor charges. We don't work for free you know.

I'm not doing this series to downplay the beauty of some costume jewelry. Rather I want customers to be informed when they go to buy something.

Metal terms & Definitions:
Gold comes in many forms - those you're most used to hearing are 24 karat, 18 karat, 14 karat and 10 karat gold.
Karat purity is measured as 24 times the purity by mass:
X = 24\,\frac{M_g}{M_m}
X is the karat rating of the material,
Mg is the mass of pure gold or platinum in the material, and
Mm is the total mass of the material.
Therefore, 24-Karat gold is fine (99.9% Au w/w), 18-Karat gold is 18 parts gold 6 parts another metal (forming an alloy), 12-Karat gold is 12 parts gold (12 parts another metal), and so forth. (again this blurb is from Wikipedia)

The USA Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has standardized the karat markings used within its boundaries for almost 7 decades now[when?]. Under these regulations, items 10-karat or greater are to be stamped with either "K" or "Kt." Decimal markings are also an option under the CFTC regulations.
Under-karating is against the law in the United States of America. There are specific mandated consequences including fines, etc., based upon the severity of the infraction(s).
In addition, there is a set of tolerances to the required karat markings in the USA (always designated with a "K" and never a "C") depending upon the use of various soldering requirements when setting stones, mounting crowns, or creating prongs for 3 examples.[11]

Gold also comes as Gold plated -  A gold-plated silver article is usually a silver substrate with layers of copper, nickel, and gold deposited on top of it. This means gold plated things are more likely to break you out if you have a nickel sensitivity.  The gold plating also depends on the components of the alloy of gold used to plate the particular piece you're looking at buying. It could be listed as gold plated - but is it plated with 24k gold or 10k gold. If in doubt ask the seller. If they don't know, they don't know their product and they should.

In between gold plated and Karat gold is a product called Gold Filled.
Gold-filled jewelry, also known as "rolled gold" or "rolled gold plate" is composed of a solid layer of gold bonded with heat and pressure to a base metal such as brass. Some high quality gold-filled pieces have the same appearance as 14 karat (58%) gold. In the USA the quality of gold filled is defined by the Federal Trade Commission. If the gold layer is 10 kt fineness the minimum layer of karat gold in an item stamped GF must equal at least 1/10 the weight of the total item. If the gold layer is 12 kt or higher the minimum layer of karat gold in an item stamped GF must equal at least 1/20 the weight of the total item. The most common stamps found on gold-filled jewelry are 1/20 12kt GF and 1/20 14kt GF.
This is the part I want you to pay attention to:
Gold-filled items, even with daily wear, can last five to 30 years but will eventually wear through. The gold layer on gold-plated jewelry varies greatly depending on manufacturer, so there is no single, simple comparison. Gold-filled items are 50 to 100,000 times thicker than regular gold plating, and 17 to 25,000 times thicker than heavy gold electroplate (sometimes stamped HGE or HGP—usually found on flashy cubic zirconia "cocktail rings").
If you're looking at a flashy cocktail type ring and the seller has the item listed as 24k gold - but the item is under $1900 (price for 1oz t gold in today's markets), you'd do well to ask the seller - is this gold filled, gold plated or karat gold, if they don't know for sure, think twice. If it seems like too good of a deal to be true - it probably is.

In some countries like the UK - selling items you haven't had tested by the government to verify their metal content is a serious crime, punishable with fines and even jail time in some cases.

Silver: Comes in a few forms as well.
Sterling Silver: an alloy of 92.5% silver with 7.5% copper.
In the US, only an alloy consisting of at least 90.0% fine silver can be marketed as "silver" (thus frequently stamped 900). Sterling silver (stamped 925) is harder than pure silver, and has a lower melting point (893 °C) than either pure silver or pure copper.[6] Britannia silver is an alternative, hallmark-quality standard containing 95.8% silver, often used to make silver tableware and wrought plate. With the addition of germanium, the patented modified alloy Argentium Sterling silver is formed, with improved properties, including resistance to firescale.

 Silver now comes in a 'filled' option as well. This is relatively new to the US market, occurring mostly within the last two years.

Silver filled wire is best described as: The thickness of the sterling silver overlay on this wire constitutes a full 1/10th of its overall weight (twice the content of 1/20 silver-filled wire of the same gauge). This thicker silver layer lets you work deeper, polish more—even do light engraving—without exposing the brass underneath.The sterling is bonded to a brass core (CDA #220; 90% copper/10% zinc)

Silver plating is similar to gold plating and has a shorter wear life before the base metal at the core wears through and shows through the plating. Silver plated metals are much cheaper than Sterling, Fine or Argentium Silver, and Silver Filled wire is about 1/2 the price of current Sterling market rates.

Last note - you see a lot of sellers on etsy selling "SILVER" jewelry for $5-10. This includes wire wrapped rings and chainmaille too, this is most likely NOT silver and legally they could be prosecuted for their violations. Again if it looks too good to be true it probably is.

Most of these very inexpensive listings showing silver wire designs are made with silvered enameled copper, many shops market this product as "hypo-allergenic silver" and to call it such is a bold-faced lie. Silver-toned enameled copper is simply silver plated copper with a clear enamel coating over the silver. This coating can be worn through during wear and tear, scratching and washing. It is in NO WAY 'hypo allergenic'. The closest you'll come to hypoallergenic silver is Argentium - that is an alloy of silver, copper and germanium. A more expensive, sometimes brighter alternative to Sterling Silver.

Things to remember: if in doubt of something ask the seller. Most good sellers know their product and know the questions informed customers are going to ask, and know the answers to those questions without having to get back to you in a few days. Informed sellers should know the details for every item they're selling without needing to contact the actual manufacturer and thereby losing potential customers.

An informed customer is a happy customer.

I will repeat this statement a lot as I've already done herein: IF IT LOOKS TOO GOOD TO BE probably is.

Very very rarely will you find a seller who simply doesn't know what they have and you really are getting a hell of a deal, it does happen but more often than not you'll see the sellers are out to make money just like you or I as small business people are. There's nothing wrong with that as long as they're honest about what they're selling you.

If you have questions feel free to leave comments and I'll try to answer them as best I can or point you to an online resource with more information.



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