Gold and silver have been prized for thousands of years for their beauty and rarity as well as their hardness and resistance to corrosion. Because of these qualities, precious metals are universal symbols of strength, wealth and power.
Gold is the oldest precious metal known to humankind. The metal’s luster and remarkable properties have allowed it to be crafted into the world’s most coveted and exquisite jewelry.
Gold is the world’s most malleable (able to be pounded thin) and ductile (able to be drawn to a fine wire) of all metals. In its pure state, gold is too soft to be worn for jewelry, so it is usually mixed with other metals, such as silver, copper, nickel and zinc, to make it harder. A mixture of metals is called an alloy. The quantity of gold in an alloy is expressed in karats (abbreviated as k or kt). The following chart shows the proportion of pure gold in the most common karat counts:
Silver has a long and noble history, second only to that of gold. Popular as a jewelry metal for thousands of years, it is harder than gold and much more plentiful. The abundant supply and ease of working it make silver more affordable and a good alternative to gold and platinum (although it does tarnish and need polishing from time to time).
Sterling silver is a silver alloy with a fixed standard of purity. It consists of 925 parts silver (out of 1,000) and 75 parts copper. Like gold alloys, sterling silver can be used to plate other metals.
Platinum is a pure, silvery-white metal prized for its rarity and beauty. The name “platina” came from Spanish explorers in 1735 and, ironically, means “silver with little value.” Today, we know that ounce for ounce, platinum is the most expensive precious metal because of its rarity, purity and durability. Unlike gold, platinum usually is not alloyed with other metals.
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