When it comes to buying jewellery, there is a huge choice of stones, finishes, styles and materials to choose from nowadays. There is a lot to consider such as type of stone, the right ring size, style, finish and even how to care for your jewellery properly. Most jewellers make a distinction between fine and fashion jewellery; fine jewellery is made from precious metals and precious stones, whereas fashion jewellery (aka costume jewellery) is made from a range of mixed materials and inspired by the latest fashion trends.
Silver is the most common of all the precious metals, not as expensive as gold, but very popular and both stronger and lighter in weight. Sterling silver can tarnish however as well as scratch, so needs to be looked after. Sterling silver consists of 92.5% silver and 7.5% base metal for added strength. Gold jewellery generally comes in 9, 14, 18 or 24 carat gold. You can also get gold-plated jewellery, which is a cheaper option where a thin layer of gold covers another base metal. Vermeil is a 14, 18, or 22 carat gold plating at least 2.5 micrometres thick over sterling silver base. You can also get “gold filled” jewellery, which simply has a thicker layer of gold over the underlying metal. Platinum is the most expensive precious metal used in jewellery and is very strong and has a white/silver colour. Often used as a mount for diamonds, platinum has become a really popular metal for engagement and wedding rings.
Gemstones are crystallised minerals which have been formed over millions of years, with the most popular being diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires. These gemstones are normally set in gold or platinum in finished jewellery items. When it comes to diamonds, the quality is determined by Carat (weight), Colour, Clarity and Cut (known in the trade as the 4 C’s). The Carat is simply the weight of the diamond and comes from the past where Carob seeds were used as units of weight because of their uniform size and weight, the weight of an average carob seed is 200mg, equal to one carat. Diamonds are found in all colours, the most common are yellowish to white, but unusual colours like green, red, blue, violet or two-tone are extremely rare and therefore expensive. The clarity of a diamond relates to how free it is from surface blemishes and internal inclusions.
Pearls used in jewellery are referred to as natural or cultured. Natural pearls are formed naturally and are very rare and expensive. Cultured pearls are cultivated on oyster farms. The larger the pearl, the more valuable it is. Freshwater and saltwater pearls look quite similar, but pearls from the sea are more highly valued. You can get more information on precious metals, gemstones and jewellery from retailers such as H Samuel.