Comparing Gold, Titanium, Cobalt Chrome, & Tungsten

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When men come in to the store to make their decision on a wedding band, most of them think that the decision will be an easy one.   They don’t know that men’s bands come in so many different metals.  Here are the pros and cons of some of the most popular metals.

  • GOLD(14 or 18 karat)   PROS:  1) As a precious metal it has value and has a better chance of retaining its value: 2) Can be soldered, sized, and re-formed by jewelers, so you don’t have to replace your ring if you gain/lose 20 pounds;  3) Has a nice weight to it, not too heavy but not too light.  CONS: 1) More expensive than non-precious metals; 2) Softer metal, so it scratches. (At the same time, jewelers know how to buff gold and get it back to its former glory.)

  • TITANIUM PROS: 1) Very inexpensive (You can buy a wedding band for $100.);  2) Resists scratching better than gold; 3) Hypoallergenic, so it won’t react with sensitive skin; 4) Natural rather than a compound metal.  CONS: 1) Light weight, so it has kind of a “cheap” feel; 2) Cannot be soldered or sized.

  • COBALT CHROME PROS: 1) Looks and feels like white gold, because it has a similar weight and color; 2) Hypoallergenic; 3) Resists scratching even better than titanium. CONS: 1) More expensive than titanium, but less expensive than gold;   2) Cannot be sized or soldered.

  • TUNGSTEN CARBIDE (aka TUNGSTEN) PROS: 1) Extremely scratch resistant; 2) Comes in different colors–white, black, and gray; 3) Hypoallergenic; 4) Very inexpensive CONS: 1) Cannot be soldered or sized; 2) Cannot be cut off your finger in an emergency, but instead must be cracked using vise grips; 3) Can shatter if dropped; 4) Heavy weight, so can feel uncomfortable.

 

To give you an example of cost, I called a company we work with and asked for prices on a basic men’s ring, size 10.  The titanium version was $105, the cobalt chrome was $225, and the 14 karat white gold version was $850.  They didn’t make a tungsten carbide version, and there’s a very good reason for that.

The man who patented tungsten carbide is currently involved with many lawsuits because of what he calls “copy-cat” Chinese manufacturers.  Tungsten carbide rings are either made in China and exported to the U.S., or they are made by companies that pay royalties to the inventor.  It’s a complicated situation, and the company we work with doesn’t want to be involved.  However, the company makes rings out of tungsten ceramic, which is a different compound than tungsten carbide.

There’s a lot to know about men’s wedding bands, and picking the metal is one of the main decisions each couple must make.  My suggestion is to pick a precious metal like gold, or even platinum.   Your ring is a symbol of your union, which you plan to have for the rest of your life.  You’ll be happier with a timeless, classic ring that can also be with you through life.

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The Anatomy of a Ring

Engagement Ring - Wedding Band - Michigan

The other day a customer came in to get her ring sized.  She was amazed and somewhat alarmed to learn that our bench jewelers would be cutting her ring with a saw blade in order to size it.  Her beautiful ring–a piece of art–subjected to the saw!  But jewelry is more than art and more than an expression of sentiment.  It’s also a piece of engineering.  It’s built with shanks and prongs, bails and bezels, and many other findings.  It’s adjusted or repaired with the use of tools like saws, hammers, and torches.  Using rings as our example, let’s explore the Anatomy of a piece of jewelry.

MOUNTING: This is the general name for the metal that holds the stone(s) in place and encircles your finger to keep the ring on your finger.

SHANK: This refers to just the curved part of the ring that goes around your finger.  Shanks can have profiles(or cross-sections) that can be quite flat to very round.  The width of the shank can also vary.  And the shape of the shank, while usually circular, could be oval or even rectangular.  A EURO-SHANK is curved on the sides but has a squared off bottom.  There are adjustable shanks, too, which operate with hinges, allowing more room for a ring to slide over the knuckle. 

SETTING: Sometimes a synonym for mounting, a setting probably refers more to how the stone(s) are held in place.  Setting techniques include prong or shared prong set, bead set, tension set, channel set, bar set, flush set, bezel set, pave set, and invisible set. 

PRONG: Tiny metal wires that suspend the stone, holding it in little “claws” (HEAD), so that light can enter the diamond from all sides. 

BEZEL: A frame of precious metal that surrounds the stone, bezels can be thin like a wire or wide so that the side of stone is unseen. 

FINISH: Whether the metal is shiny or more dull depends on the finish.  You can have a polished finish, which is shiny or a matte finish, which is smooth but less shiny.  Other finishes like satin, hammered, engraved or stone can give texture to the surface of the ring.

MILLGRAIN: This is a common embellishment on the shank of a ring.  It’s a border of tiny beads that acts as a boundary or edging.

I could go on–there seems to be about ten- thousand terms that bench jewelers use.  I learn a new one almost every day.  Instead, let’s re-cap with a picture and save Anatomy 102 for another day.  The important thing to glean from today is that jewelry is a designed and constructed piece of art.  It’s engineered to be art that you can wear.

Engagement Ring with an Engraved Finish

Engagement Ring with an Engraved Finish

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver and Gold Revealed

Two of the most common metals used in jewelry, silver and gold have colorful pasts and lots of varieties that can be difficult to understand.  Let’s try to unravel the history and the mystery.

SILVER:

This element, called argentum by the Latins (which explains the Ag symbol on the periodic table), was discovered in approximately 4000BC.  The word argentum means “white and shining.”  Silver was the original white metal.  It has been mined in many places on Earth, including the United States.

Sterling silver signifies an alloy composed of 92.5% silver (If you see a little stamp on your jewelry that says 925, that means it’s sterling silver).  The other 7.5% is generally copper, which contributes strength and hardness.  Newly developed silver alloys, like Argentium, have a higher percentage of silver and a substitution of the element germanium(Ge) for some of the copper.  These alloys are said to tarnish less, so they don’t need to be rhodium-plated.  Rhodium(Rh) is an element that resists corrosion, but it’s also a very white metal so it’s often plated over white gold to improve that metal’s “whiteness.”

silver nugget

 

GOLD:

This metal has also been used in jewelry for thousands of years.  It has always been a symbol of wealth and stature.  The ancient Egyptians worked gold into jewelry.  So did the Chinese, as early as 1100BC.  While gold was originally found in the Middle East, today most of the world’s gold production is in Africa.  Other gold-producing countries are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Russia, and the United States.

Pure gold, 24 karat gold, is very soft.  It’s alloyed with other metals to enhance its hardness, strength, and character.  Typical alloys are 10 karat (41.7% gold), 14 karat (58.5% gold), 18 karat (75% gold), and 22 karat (91.6%).  The karat mark will be on an inconspicuous place on your jewelry.  Here in the U.S., for example, 14 karat gold would be stamped with 14K or 585.   Gold is usually mixed with metals that will enhance the color desired in the final product.  So white gold is alloyed with white metals like nickel, palladium, silver or zinc.  Rose gold is alloyed with copper.

Not all gold jewelry is karat gold.  Less expensive fashion pieces can be gold plated, vermeil, or gold-filled.  These are all different, even though sometimes they are seen as interchangeable.  Electroplating is a process that coats the gold over a piece of jewelry made with nonprecious metals like iron or nickel.  The gold plating is very, very thin–only microns thick–and eventually wears away. Vermeil is gold plated over sterling silver rather than a base metal.  The thickness of the plating is at least 2 microns.  But when a single human hair is 50-100 microns thick, you know just how thin that plating can be.  Gold-filled jewelry has approximately 100 times more gold than a gold-plated piece.  The gold is bonded over brass or another base metal.  It’s usually stamped as 14K G.F. and will not wear off like gold plating.

gold bars

There is so much to know about metals.  This really just touches the surface.  The important thing to remember is that not all metals are equal.  The purer the metal, the more valuable it will be. So when you’re buying jewelry, be sure of the metal(or metals) it’s made of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Little Black Dress” of Jewelry

Every well-dressed woman has certain “go-to” pieces in her wardrobe–a black dress, patent leather pumps, a cardigan sweater. . .These are the articles frequently pulled out of the closet.  They work in a variety of situations and always improve the ensemble.

When it comes to a jewelry wardrobe, what are those classic, “go-to” pieces?   What should every woman have in her jewelry box?  Based on the opinions of many, here are the top five.  They make wonderful holiday gifts because you know they’ll be worn over and over again.

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  1. DIAMOND STUD EARRINGS are not only classic, but also a great investment.  Since the setting for the earrings is a minimal part of the cost, and diamonds rarely go anywhere but up in value, this “must” is the perfect gift.  At Dearborn Jewelers, we have a trade-up program for customers who’ve purchased their diamond stud earrings from us.  Fair market value for the earrings can be used towards the purchase of a larger pair of studs.
  2. GOLD HOOP EARRINGS, in white and/or yellow gold, are an important mainstay in a woman’s jewelry wardrobe.  They can be dressy or casual, and they coordinate with other pieces of jewelry.
  3. DIAMOND PENDANT NECKLACE just sparkles at the base of her neck.  It’s another great investment,  since, again, Dearborn Jewelers has a trade-up program.  And a diamond pendant and earrings together?  Stunning.
  4. A GOLD OR SILVER CHAIN that can be worn alone or with a pendant is an essential part of any jewelry wardrobe.  Small, simple chains are great for layering with other necklaces.  Probably the most versatile chain is a 16-18 inch adjustable wheat or box chain. (One hint for gift-givers, though, is to pair a pendant with that chain.  A chain by itself is probably not the most exciting gift.)
  5. A WRIST WATCH rounds out the top five.  At Dearborn Jewelers we carry the Tissot brand, which is a Swiss-made watch.  We have a wide selection in stock.

If you are looking for that perfect gift for the woman in your life, check to see if she has these classics.  If not, stop by Dearborn Jewelers of Plymouth.  We can help you round out her jewelry wardrobe.  If she has them all, maybe what she needs is a jewelry box.  We have those, too!

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Carats vs. Karats

What’s the difference between carats, karats, carrots, and carets?  They all sound the same, but they have very unique meanings.  And two of them, carats and karats, are commonly used words in the jewelry industry.

CARAT:

Used to describe the mass of a diamond and other gemstones, a carat is a measure of weight.  One carat is equal to 0.2 grams or approximately 0.007 ounces.  The name, carat, comes from ancient times when carob beans were used on a balancing scale to measure the weight of light objects like gemstones.  A carob bean doesn’t weigh much but, more importantly, carob beans are very consistent in their weight and size.  Each one weighs about 0.007 ounces (about the same weight as a paperclip).  Another way to think about it is that it takes about 142 beans to make one ounce.

balancing scale

1 carob bean = 1 carat diamond

Historically, weighing light objects wasn’t done consistently. The carob bean was used throughout the Middle East and Europe.  Grains of wheat or rice were used elsewhere.  And the carat was used to weigh other things besides gemstones.   There wasn’t a standard carat weight that was used in all countries.  But in 1907, the 4th General Conference on Weights and Measures adopted the “metric carat”, equal to 0.2 grams or 200 mg, as the official and world-wide measurement for diamonds and gemstones.

KARAT:

The term, karat, is usually used to indicate the fineness of a gold alloy.  It is a measure of purity.  Twenty-four karat gold signifies 100% pure gold.  So, using your knowledge of fractions, you can determine that 18 karat gold has 75% gold and 25% other metals. (You can also see my previous blog on metal alloys.).  Fourteen karat gold has 58% gold and 42% other metals.

Interestingly enough, the measure, karat, came from the German carat.  The Germans had a gold coin, called a “mark”, which weighed exactly 24 carats (4.8 grams).  The purity of the gold in the coin was expressed as the number of carats of gold present in the 24-carat coin.  Somehow, the letter was changed from “c” to “k” and the karat was born.

So, what about “caret” and “carrot?”  Well, a caret is a wedge-shaped symbol indicating the place where something is to be inserted.  And a carrot?  Well, I’ll let Bugs Bunny explain that one.

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Current Jewelry Trends

stackables-blogSTACKABLES are in fashion!  People like to stack bracelets, necklaces, and even rings.  This trend has led to thinner, smoother styles that stack easily.  The picture above features “bamboo” bangles from Thistle and Bee.  The agates and topaz stones can be easily offset so the bangles fit nicely together.

In reading articles from Huffington Post and Harper’s Bazaar,  I learned that stacking is rather an art form.  It strives for a carefree feeling, fun and not too heavy. If you are stacking necklaces, stick to thinner chains, smaller pendants or charms, and only a few small stones or beads.  It’s best if you stagger the lengths and not wear anything too chunky.  If it’s rings you want to stack, try mixing metals and textures.  Again, it’s best if the rings have flat edges and small, single, or no stones.  Keep your stacked rings to one finger per hand.  It’s just as important to have fingers bare, so that the eye goes to the stack.   Bracelets, on the other hand, can be wide and bold.  The more, the merrier with these!  You can dress up both arms and stack them to your elbows if you want.  Mixing a couple of different metals is fun, and using different shapes and thicknesses is preferred.  The main caution is to minimize other types of jewelry if you’re wearing a lot of bracelets.

ROSE GOLD is quite the rage!  This alloy of gold and copper is not just for the strawberry blonde.  Some people say it looks great on those with a warm skin tone–think peaches and autumn.  But other people say it looks wonderful on those with a cool skin tone–think strawberries and summer.  Obviously, rose gold is a lot more versatile than one might think.  Rose (or pink) gold looks fabulous with the vintage ring styles that are popular right now.  It has a delicate femininity that coordinates with the vintage look.

CIGAR BANDS are an up and coming trend, according to David Connolly.  These are wider than the traditional wedding band, and they can be ornate or simple.  Think of years back, when men proposed to the women they loved with an actual paper cigar band!  Years ago we had a client who kept the paper her husband had used to propose and, decades later,  had us custom make a gold version of it.  She was ahead of her time!  Or maybe it’s just that trends operate with the “what goes around, comes around” philosophy.

Trends are fun to observe, even if you don’t want to follow them.  They are more obvious if you know what to look for.  For instance, the Pantone Color of the Year is Marsala, so make sure to look for it this fall!  If you pay attention to people’s jewelry, you’ll see more stackables and rose gold.  Have fun and don’t forget to see our selection of rose gold and stackable jewelry!

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Etruscan Jewelry

IMG_0701In early April I had the good fortune to go to Italy with my husband, marking our 30th wedding anniversary.  One of my favorite days in Rome was the day I went to Villa Guilia, a museum dedicated to the Etruscans.  The Etruscan civilization was dominant in central Italy from about 800BC – 500BC. As artists, metal miners, architects, farmers, and seafaring traders, the Etruscans were able to generate a lot of wealth.  Their wealthiest had a demand for beautiful jewelry to accompany them to the afterworld.  So the Syro-Phoenicians came to Etruria and taught the art of granulation and filigree.  Granulation is the soldering of tiny beads of metal to a metal base.  Filigree is finely twisted threads of metal, soldered together onto the surface of an object to make an intricate “lacy” design.  The Etruscans generally used 18 karat gold, an alloy of gold and copper, to make their jewelry.

When the Roman Republic was established, it was the beginning of the end of Etruscan power.  By 200 BC, the city-states of Etruria were assimilated into the Roman Empire.  But it was far from the end of Etruscan influence.  They were the ones who introduced the growing of grapes and olives in the region.  Their words appear in the roots of many Latin words.  Renaissance artists like Michaelangelo admired their sculpture and painting.  And the Castellani family from Italy was influenced by their jewelry.

Fortunato Pio Castellani was an Italian jeweler and art dealer during the 1800s, when Etruscan jewelry was being found in archeological excavations.  Because of high society’s interest in this ancient art and because of a strong sense of nationalism, he began to search for ways to duplicate the delicate techniques of the Etruscans.  The “lost” art of granulation was still practiced in the small municipality of Sant’Angelo in Vado, on the eastern edge of what was formerly Etruscan territory.  He learned from its artisans and brought Etruscan jewelry back into the mainstream.  He also collected original Etruscan pieces, displaying them at his shop in Rome.  This shop passed from generation to generation until Castellani’s grandson died in 1930.  Then the amazing collection was donated to the Italian state, and that’s what I saw at the National Museum of Villa Guilia.

If you are as interested as I am in historical jewelry, you may want to pursue the details of the Etruscans.  I found www.mysteriousetruscans.com  to be a helpful site.  And, of course, if you get the chance to visit Rome, I highly suggest you take a couple of hours at the National Museum of Villa Guilia.

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January’s Birthstone–Garnets are Great! Why?

Garnet and Diamond Pendant

Garnet and Diamond Pendant

Garnet and Diamond, Vintage Style Ring

Garnet and Diamond, Vintage Style Ring

Garnets have a lot to offer those of you born in January or with loved ones born this first month of the year.

1) Wide Selection of Colors

One important quality of a garnet is the wide selection of colors it comes in.  Traditionally, the January birthstone has been a deep red color, almost brownish red.  Not everyone likes that brownish hue, although Pantone has named “Marsala” as the 2015 color of the year.  The term, garnet, however, refers to a whole group of minerals with many species and varieties.  If you like a softer red with a purplish hue, try a Rhodolite garnet.  If you want a bright spring green, go for a Tsavorite (sah-vuh-rahyt) garnet.  And, if orange is your color, there’s always a Spessertine (sometimes called Mandarin) garnet.

2) Affordable

Another great aspect of garnets is their affordability.  Compared to other birthstones, like April’s diamond, May’s emerald, July’s ruby, or September’s sapphire, garnets are an absolute bargain!  Why is this so? Well, it’s partly because there is an adequate supply that meets demand.  Garnets are mined in many places including Sri Lanka, Madagascar, East Africa, India, China, Australia, Brazil and the U.S.  I also think garnets suffer from a lingering bad reputation they acquired from their common use in Victorian times.  The Bohemian jewelry that was so popular then looks dark and dated to us now.  Over a century later, the deep red garnets are less expensive than other colors of the group.

3) Not Enhanced

Finally, for those of you who are concerned about the enhancements done on many fine gemstones–whether it’s heat treatment to improve color or fracture filling to improve clarity–rest assured that garnets come to the market without such common enhancements.  Their color, high refraction, and lack of eye-visible inclusions are all natural.

If you think of gemstones as kids in the classroom, Garnet is the easy-going, good-looking one who never asks for special treatment.  Why wouldn’t you want to make friends with a garnet? Above are some of the pieces we have in stock at Dearborn Jewelers.  If you’re interested in a green, orange, or any other color of garnet, just let us know and we can order it for you.

Pantone Institute Introducing Color of the Year--Marsala

Pantone Institute Introducing Color of the Year–Marsala

Designing Your Anniversary Ring -A Symbol of 30 Years

After thirty years of marriage, my husband knows me, my love of gems, and my path towards the

jewelry industry. He actually likes jewelry, too, and, over the years, has bought me some

beautiful pieces. But he said to me, months ago, “I really can’t surprise you with jewelry

anymore. It doesn’t make sense when you’re the one with the knowledge and

connections.”

Instead we did something I’d highly recommend to any couple. . .we designed our

anniversary ring together, following a few basic steps.

 

1) BRAINSTORMING

We pulled out the post-it notes and some wine and brainstormed about what our marriage meant to us.

Big things and little things. . .no answer was refused. . .until our brains felt empty of ideas.

 

2) ORGANIZING

We organized our multitude of post-it notes into broad categories, trying to see the bigger picture of what

our marriage meant. The goal was to consolidate to one or two broad themes.

 

3) DESIGNING

Taking our themes as inspiration, we began to design our ring. What design elements

would best portray those themes? We drew. . .not very well, mind you. . .on our post-its

instead of writing on them. But, after several iterations, a ring began to take shape.

 

4) COMPUTER MODELING

Then I took that sketch to Dearborn Jewelers. With their Computer-Aided Design

(CAD) program, Countersketch, they can help you make your drawing into an actual

model that can then be cast and finished into a ring you can wear. . . .well, for at least the

next 30 years. Every time I look at that ring, I see the symbol of our life together.

Anniversary Ring