If you’re deciding what sort of charm bracelet to buy, then you’ll want to spend some time considering the metals used in their production. Both silver and gold charm bracelets are hugely popular, and it’s worth pondering exactly which to go for before committing to a decision. Most of the time the decision will be informed by personal preference – you’ll go, as you should, with whichever material looks to be the best. But sometimes it’s also worth considering other factors – a material’s durability and need for maintenance, for example.
When you think of expensive jewellery, you most likely think of gold.While it isn’t the world’s most valuable metal, it has throughout history been synonymous with opulence, power and prosperity. Just think how thoroughly the word has infiltrated the language: we enter ‘golden ages’, we hunger for ‘golden opportunities’, we describe well-behaved children as being ‘as good as gold’, and profitable ventures as ‘gold mines’. We even award gold medals to our best performing athletes and the most desirable celebrity jewellery is often cast from gold. Is it any wonder that we should want to wear it, too?
You might have heard the quality of gold described in terms of its karat rating. This is a number, between one and twenty-four, which describes the purity of the metal.Effectively pure gold is 24k, while 18k is between 75 and 80% pure. Historically, the carat could be further divided into four grains, which in turn could be divided into four quarts, in order to give more specific ratings. In most instances, it is sufficient to just use the metal’s carat rating in order to describe its purity.
There are a few reasons why a jeweller might want to alloy gold with other, baser metals. The most obvious is that of cost – since, say, copper, is far cheaper than gold is.The second has more to do with the physical properties of the metal. Pure, twenty-four carat gold is very soft, and therefore very delicate.If it were to be crafted onto something which must endure constant subtle stress – like a piece of dangling jewellery – then it would over time break.
Fortunately, there is a way of uniting the virtues of the different karat ratings – something which is at once shining and beautiful and strong enough to withstand the pressures of life. That comes in the form of gold plating.Gold-plated items are those which are made from baser metals and given a thin outer coating of purer gold.This allows gold’s aesthetic appeal to be married with the strength and ductility of, say, copper or steel.
If gold is the pinnacle of splendour, then silver must at least be a close second.It is very different in appearance to gold, having that cold, grey look, though it still retains an attractive lustre.For some, silver will always be far preferable to gold when it comes to jewellery.It’s less bling-y, and is therefore less prone to outshining the jewels and other flourishes which might be embedded into an item of jewellery.
Silver is a great deal more difficult to maintain than gold, since it can suffer from corrosion in the form of tarnish. Tarnish is a thin, ugly, dark film which forms across the surface of a silver item as it reacts with airborne hydrogen sulphide. Unlike rust, tarnish is self-limiting and will stabilise at a given level rather than annihilating the silver. This is because the topmost layer of tarnish will protect those beneath from further damage.
In order to keep it looking at its best, silver jewellery therefore requires maintenance. Through regular, gentle polishing, the effects of tarnish can be kept at bay.When you rub silver with a microfiber cloth, all of the tiny strands will make a millions of microscopic scratches on the surface of silver, thereby creating a pleasing shining surface. This might sound labour-intensive; fortunately, this can be done by simply wearing the item. Silver which is being constantly rubbed against sleeves and skin will thereby be kept in good repair.
Like gold, silver is often alloyed with baser metals in order to both save money and to achieve different practical properties. But unlike gold, the purity of silver is described, not in carats, but in millesimal fineness. This rating refers to the amount of pure metal in parts per thousand.So, for example, silver with a rating of 925 would be 92.5% pure silver. Incidentally, this is also the standard by which sterling silver is measured.
Silver is an excellent conductor of electricity – better than both copper and gold. But since copper is far cheaper and gold is better able to resist corrosion, these two materials find themselves more often used in wiring and connector applications too.