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Wire / Metals

My two favorite wires are -
  • 14K/20 Gold Filled - basically a tube of 14K gold with a jeweler’s wire down the center for flexibility. It is a pleasure to work with and it is a great value, delivering the benefits of gold at a price close to that of fine silver.
  • .999 Fine Silver - a bit purer and pricier than .925 sterling silver, but it doesn’t tarnish as quickly.
I give information about various metals below, but since a lot of people are not familiar with gold filled wire, let me focus on that first. Gold filled wire is specifically manufactured for wire art jewelry. It is created by wrapping a layer of 14K gold around a jeweler’s wire. The jeweler’s wire gives a flexibility that solid gold wire does not have. The layer of karat gold gives the benefits of solid gold wire (no tarnish & no allergies), without the price tag of solid gold wire. This keeps the price of owning a unique handcrafted piece of jewelry manageable for most people.

The layer of gold IS a layer of karat gold. It is NOT a meager film deposited after the fact like plate. It does NOT wear off like plate, it does NOT tarnish like plate, and it does NOT have allergy problems like plate. If you can wear 14K gold, you can wear 14K gold filled. Gold Filled wire is considered a lifetime product, suitable for heirloom jewelry. The layer of gold does not wear off under normal wear situations, making it an excellent choice for pins, pendants, and bracelets.

Wire art jewelry is in a unique position to take advantage of gold filled wire because no heat is required to create wire art jewelry pieces. Because there are 2 types of metal and 2 separate melting points in gold filled wire, traditional jewelry techniques requiring heat are difficult to use without changing the properties of gold filled wire. Thus gold filled jewelry is not widely available.

Looking at gold filled jewelry, there is no way for you or a jeweler to tell if it is layered gold or solid gold. I’ve asked several bench jewelers if there is any piece of equipment that can be used to distinguish one from the other. So far, the answer has been that the only way to tell is to file a small notch in the piece some place that is not too obvious. Once you have filed into the wire, you put a chemical in the notch and watch for a reaction – if you get one, it indicates the presence of the jeweler’s wire in the center and is therefore gold filled. If you don’t, it is solid gold.

However, just as all gold is not created equal, neither is all gold filled. Solid gold wire can be 12K, 14K, 18K, etc – having higher percentages of gold as the number gets higher. Gold filled can not only be made with different karat gold, but different thicknesses of the karat gold. People that tell you that rolled gold is the same as gold filled do not understand the legal implications of their words. And people that tell you that gold filled is gold do not understand the legal implications of their actions. As with all jewelry purchases, understand what you are buying. The current "standard" that most wire jewelry artists use is 14K/20 gold filled. If someone is offering 14K/10 – that is a thicker layer of gold. If someone is offering 14K/40 – well, it is too thin to legally be called gold filled. (A higher number after the slash means the gold layer is thinner.) And if they are not saying 14K, well then it is probably 12K. Because of its size, gold filled wire rarely gets marked with the gold content. If you are interested, you can read more about gold filled below.

An explanation of various metals and other related terms follows. You can scroll through the information, or use one of the following links to go to a specific item. Simply page back up if you wish to return to the top of this page.

Karat Gold / Solid Gold
Yellow Gold, White Gold, Rose Gold
Gold Filled
Rolled Gold Plate/Gold Overlay
Gold Plate/Heavy Gold ElectoPlate/Gold ElectroPlate/Gold Washed, Gold Flashed
Sterling Silver - .925
Anti-tarnish Sterling Silver - .925
Fine Silver - .999
Base Metals
Karat Gold / Solid Gold - Fine Gold or 24K gold (100% gold - 24 parts gold of 24 parts total) is too soft to use for most jewelry applications. 22K (91.67% gold - 22 parts gold of 24 parts total or 22/24ths), 18K (75% gold), 14K (58.33% gold), 12k (50% gold), and 10K (41.7% gold) are commonly used for jewelry, becoming more economical and longer wearing as the amount of gold decreases. Solid gold wire is normally available in 14K, 18K, and 22K.

While 14K is pretty standard in the US, 18K is the standard in other areas of the world.  Countries that require a minimum of 18K for gold jewelry may also use a marking system based on parts of gold per 1000, which is the equivalent of moving the decimal point of the percentage number above one point to the right.  For example, 18K gold is 75% gold or 750 gold.

Color of gold will vary with the other metals in the alloy.  I pretty much buy my gold and gold filled from just one supplier.  I can’t say that I can see any visual differences between the 14K and 18K alloys, so choose the one you are most comfortable with.

To give an example of price differences, a 10 wire bangle in 14K gold filled might be in the $90 to $125 price range. The same bangle, made in 14K solid gold could easily be $500 to $750 or more – just depending on the current gold market. Unlike traditional jewelry, there is no way to hollow out or thin out the gold to reduce costs. (The price of both gold filled and solid gold fluctuates with the gold market.)
Yellow Gold, White Gold, Rose Gold - 24K is yellow, but is too soft to use for jewelry. Metals/alloys are mixed with the gold to give it strength and durability, resulting in 22K, 18K, 14K, 12K, and 10K gold. The mix of alloys (which ones and what percentages) used in each mixture determines the color of the resulting gold. The metals/alloys used, the percentages used, and the resulting colors may vary by manufacturer. As a rule of thumb -

~ Yellow gold - 22K, 18K - uses silver and copper alloys
~ Yellow gold - 14K, 12K, 10K - uses silver, copper, & zinc alloys
~ White gold - 18K - uses silver, copper, & palladium alloys
~ White gold - 14K, 10K - uses silver (trace levels), copper, zinc, & nickel alloys
~ Rose - same alloys as yellow gold, but the % of copper is raised & the % of silver is lowered.

White gold was developed to imitate platinum. The white gold made with palladium is much whiter (and much more expensive) than the white gold made with nickel. White gold made with nickel can have an extremely yellowish cast to it and is normally rhodium plated as part of the finishing process. White gold made with palladium has a grayish cast to the color if compared to rhodium plated white gold. Rhodium plating on wedding bands and other heavily worn jewelry will wear out over time and require re-plating.

It really is not feasible to plate finished wire jewelry. Most people that see white gold filled wire find they prefer sterling or fine silver, so I do not work with white gold wire.

Rose gold filled wire is available in a fairly large range of wires and I use it on occaision.
Gold Filled - A layer of karat gold is bonded to a base metal through heat and pressure. When used to create wire, the gold is formed into a seamless tube around a base metal core, which is usually brass, and then drawn out to the desired thickness. The finished product has a fairly thick outer layer of karat gold, is very durable, and is considered a lifetime product. The gold layer of 14K/20 will not wear off with normal wear, as it will with gold plate. For heavy wear - for example, rings to be worn everyday, 24/7 - consider switching to 14K/10 or solid gold.

Gold filled can be made from various karats (percentages) of gold, various colors of gold, and various thickness of gold. 14K Gold Filled produces a strong wire with all of the advantagesof 14k gold. It requires the same care as jewelry produced from 14K gold and is suitable for making heirloom jewelry - at a fraction of the cost of 14K solid gold. As the base metal is completely covered by a durable layer of 14K gold, allergies to the base metal are not a problem. If you can wear 14K solid gold, you can wear 14K/20 gold filled. (I have always said I would take back a piece if it caused an allergic reaction and have yet to receive a return.)

Gold filled wire is usually available in 12K/20, 14K/20, 18K/20, and 14K/10. When reading these numbers, the "leading" 12, 14, or 18 refers to the karat gold. The "trailing" 20 or 10 refers to the ratio of the gold layer to the brass layer, by weight. The bigger the number, the thinner the layer of gold, for example:
20 => 1/20th gold => 5%
10 => 1/10th gold => 10%
Rolled Gold Plate/Gold Overlay - Rolled gold plate is the proper name, according to FTC regulations, for what often gets called rolled gold. People will tell you that "rolled gold" is the same as gold filled, because they are both made via the same process, but there is an important legal distinction - to be called gold filled, a product must have a thicker layer of gold than is required to use the name rolled gold plate. The minimum gold layer for gold filled is 1/20 (ex: 14K/20) or 5% by weight, whereas the minimum gold layer for rolled gold plate is only 1/40 (ex: 14K/40) or 2.5% by weight.

To look at it another way, think of the difference between 10K gold and 14K gold. While they are made by similar processes, 14K gold is required to have more gold in it than 10K gold. Similarly, gold filled is required to have more karat gold in it than rolled gold plate.

In practice, suppliers use the term rolled gold plate for products with a 1/40 thickness of gold and they use gold filled for products with a 1/20 and 1/10 thicknesses of gold. To eliminate any confusion in my jewelry line, I only work with gold filled. I never use rolled gold plate.
Gold Plate/Heavy Gold ElectoPlate/Gold ElectroPlate/Gold Washed, Gold Flashed -
Plating puts a meager layer of gold on a base metal. The layer of gold is measured in microns(µ). The various terms may use different techniques, but the primary differences between them are the minimum thickness of gold required to be deposited -
~ Gold Plate - .5 microns (approximately 20 millionths of an inch)
~ Heavy Gold ElectroPlate - 2.5 microns (~100 millionths of an inch)
~ Gold ElectroPlate - .175 microns (~7 millionths of an inch)
~ Gold Washed or Gold Flashed - less than .175 microns thick

If you have ever watched someone applying gold leaf to a picture frame, the very fragile pieces of gold leaf they use are usually .2 to .4 microns thick, which is why the crafts person using them has to work so delicately with them. Gold Plate is not much thicker than gold leaf. It does not stand up to wear, showing the base metal fairly quickly. It is not suitable for jewelry that is to be worn often, treasured for a lifetime, or passed from one generation to the next. I never work with gold plate.
Vermeil - Vermeil is gold plate of at least 2.5 microns thick on sterling silver.
Sterling Silver - .925 - 925/1000ths pure silver. Sterling silver produces very pretty jewelry. It does require special care due to tarnish, which is why I prefer to use gold filled or Fine Silver. I suggest storing sterling pieces in plastic bags with anti-tarnish strips when you are not wearing them.  You can also keep them tarnish free by using a toothbrush and toothpaste to give them a quick periodic bath.  Do this frequently enough and you will never see tarnish on your silver.

In the US, "regular" sterling silver is typically alloyed with 7.5% copper (sometimes referred to as 7.5% copper sterling).
Anti-Tarnish Sterling Silver - .925 - As long as the silver alloy is 92.5% silver, it is legally called sterling silver. Changing the remaining 7.5% of the metals/alloys in the mix can help to reduce tarnish issues in sterling silver. It doesn’t mean it won’t ever tarnish, it just will not do so as quickly as "regular" sterling silver.

Argentium Sterling Silver is a relatively new alloy that gets high tarnish resistance from its use of germanium. It is pricier than regular sterling silver - but who wants to clean tarnish?

Platinum Sterling Silver is another relatively new alloy that gets its high tarnish resistance from its use of platinum. It is even pricier than argentium sterling silver and come in a choice of grades - .925/1% platinum; .925/3.5% platinum; and .925/5% platinum. The .925/5% platinum may be a good alternative to white gold.

As these metals become more widely available in wires, you will see them used more in wire jewelry.
Fine Silver - .999 - 999/1000ths pure silver. Because Fine Silver is purer than sterling, it does not have as great of a tarnish issue, although it is more expensive than sterling.  You can help keep your silver tarnish free by using a toothbrush and toothpaste to give it a quick periodic bath.  Do this frequently enough and you will never see tarnish on your silver.
Palladium - as a "white" metal that doesn’t tarnish, it is an option to white gold. It is similar in color to platinum (some say it is greyer and some say it is duller), but it is lighter and currently less expensive than platinum. It has not been readily available in wire, but this may change if it becomes more popular in the jewelry market in general.
Platinum - Platinum wire is usually available. It is quite a bit more expensive than gold, but if you like white gold and price is no object . . .
Base Metals:
  • Copper - Copper tarnishes VERY QUICKLY! It takes a lot of care to keep it looking good. Some people believe that wearing copper helps with arthritis.
  • Brass - Copper and zinc alloy. The more copper the alloy has, the richer the color.
  • Bronze - Copper and tin alloy. A little more orange-red than brass.
  • Nickel Silver - Copper, nickel, and zinc alloy. No silver at all!
  • Titanium - light weight, gray-brown, can’t be soldered.
  • Niobium - soft, can be anodized, can’t be soldered.
  • Pinchbeck - Pinchbeck was an English jeweler that invented a formula of brass and other alloys (perhaps including a small percentage of gold, but probably not) that looked like gold. It was popular in the 19th century, but the formula appears to be gone and no one has ever duplicated it. It is longer-wearing than gold electroplate or gold washed and is seen in cameo settings from that time period.