Understanding Metals

Precious vs. Non-Precious

Gold, silver, and platinum are precious metals found in nature. These metals are less reactive and are easier to work with than non-precious metals.

Gold content is measure in karats; the purest form of gold is too soft, so it is commonly mixed with metals like copper and zinc to provide hardness for jewelry. Items such as bracelets, watches, and rings take more abuse are are more likely to become damaged or deformed with wear. This is not a defect of the jewelry making but a simple property of the metal. 14K gold is most often used for rings in the USA, while 18K is popular for rings in Europe and other countries.

24 Karat: 99.9% Pure
22 Karat: 91.7% Pure
18 Karat: 75% Pure
14 Karat: 58.3% Pure
12 Karat: 50% Pure
10 Karat: 41.7% Pure

Gold Vermeil is a sterling silver core with gold plating. The highest quality Gold Vermeil is 24K, but it can be made with varying qualities.

Gold-Filled is not an alloy but a heavy, thick plating on a base metal such as brass. Gold-filled jewelry is most often 18/20, 14/20, or 12/20 and must be no less than 5% gold.

Gold Plated is a simply, thin coat of gold on a base metal. This type of plating will wear off quickly with frequent wearings and is generally not used in Rococo Riche Jewelry; pieces with plated materials are always noted as such and priced accordingly.

White Gold is not mined in a “white gold” mine somewhere…most often, white gold is an alloy of pure gold with other white metals, such as zinc, nickel, platinum, and silver. White Gold is brittle and may require platinum or rhodium plating. Once the plating wears off a white gold piece, the wearer may have reaction to the base metals in the alloy.

Rose Gold is a beautiful upgrade for those who love the warmth of copper but want a precious metal. Copper is added to pure gold for the soft, red hue of rose gold. Copper quantity can vary; unlike regular gold alloys, rose gold will develop a patina over time.

Fine Silver is very soft, like gold, and has a .999 level of purity. While particularly lustrous, Fine Silver is normally not appropriate for jewelry that’s worn regularly because of the softness of the metal.

Sterling Silver is a great metal for jewelry as it has a beautiful color and wear. This alloy is a mixture of 92.5% pure Silver and 7.5% of another metal, usually Copper. Sterling Silver the metal must possess at least 92.5% pure Silver, but the other components can vary. Sterling Silver is considered the standard silver for wearable jewelry pieces.

Argentium® Sterling Silver is a newer formula used for sterling silver. Instead of being mixed with the traditional copper amount, Argentium is mixed with Germanium, a natural metal found and removed from many ores when mining and processing metal. Argentium will not develop tarnish like traditional Sterling Silver as the Germanium forms a surface barrier through which oxygen cannot pass (unlike pure silver). Argentium also has a brighter silver appearance than Sterling Silver, closer to that of Fine Silver.

Silver Plate is a thin layer of Fine Silver placed over a base metal. This type of plating will wear off quickly with frequent wearings and is generally not used in Rococo Riche Jewelry; pieces with plated materials are always noted as such and priced accordingly.

Niobium is an inert metal sometimes referred to in jewelry work as a semi-precious metal, although this is not a scientific classification. Niobium is an excellent choice for those who are sensitive to metals like copper as it will not react with skin; this metal is often used for surgical procedures.

Nickel Silver or German Silver has no silver content at all! Despite its name, Nickel Silver is an alloy that combines Copper, Nickel and Zinc and contains no Pure Silver.

Titanium is another natural metal used in jewelry. As it is inert like niobium, titanium can be a good alternative to other silver-colored metals. Titanium is strong — the strongest metal on Earth — but also lightweight, a characteristic some people may not like when compared to gold.

Palladium is often used in high-end jewelry because of its silver-white color. This metal is part of the platinum family, is generally less expensive than gold, and is rare.

Rhodium is another rare, silver-white metal used in jewelry. Rhodium is a very hard metal and the most expensive precious metal on the market, higher even than platinum and gold. Some people have an allergic reaction to this metal.

Tungsten is typically only used in men’s jewelry where a scratch-resistant surface is helpful and a hypoallergenic material is desired. The metal is a steel-gray color and is harder than gold alloys.

Copper is one of my favorites metals to work with, even though it is not a previous metal. Copper takes on a patina (darkening or coloring) with age or chemical treatment. Some believe copper has therapeutic qualities. It is well known for it antimicrobial properties. Copper has a medium golden red color easily recognized by most jewelry wearers. Copper can turn the skin colors, though those who wear copper for healing purposes do not mind. Rococo Riche Jewelry made with copper will rarely be treated with lacquers or waxes; I would rather you have natural copper on your skin than man-made or synthetic chemicals.

Brass is another favorite of mine. This alloy is made from copper and zinc. Most traditional brass has a golden yellow hue, while red brass is closer to copper or rose gold in color. It will tarnish and darken with age.

Nickel is often used in place of silver. While it has a nice, white appearance, nickel can cause allergic reactions in some people. While most Rococo Riche Jewelry is nickel-free, certain items such as pendants are available in German Silver, which is a copper-zinc-nickel alloy (and contains no silver content). Please be aware of the possibility of skin-contact reaction if ordering jewelry containing nickel.

 

Jewelry Techniques

Bead stringing is one technique I use most often. Stringing is a pretty straight-forward technique, and many hobby jewelers and crafty people use jewelry stringing techniques to make their own jewelry for gifts and such. Most often, I use 49-strand beading wire, which has a nice drape and feel in comparison to a 7-strand wire. I also use 19 strand wire on occasion. I lay out the beads and add them to the wire, closing the ends off and applying a clasp.

Hand engraving is a skill I have learned through training. While most people may imagine the machine that engraves trophies, there is no machine involved in guiding the tool. I use what is called a graver, a sharp piece of metal that is harder than the jewelry I am engraving, and push or guide it through the metal. The graver actually removes the metal from the piece, unlike stamping where the metal is simply displaced.

I like to create my own original artwork for my hand engraved jewelry, and I use hand lettering more often than not. If I have a custom order with many letters, I will use a computer program to draw up the design, print it out, and then transfer the image to my metal piece. This helps with keeping letters straight and spaced evenly for large jobs. For smaller jobs, I usually lay out the lettering by hand directly on the piece.

Metalworking involves manipulating metals from a raw sheet or wire form into the final designed form. I love working in copper and sterling silver, though I also work with brass and bronze. Unless the budget calls for it, I avoid working with traditional plated metals. I use a torch and kiln for soldering, fusing, and brazing the metal pieces. Although I try to make as many components for a piece by hand, sometimes a more complicated piece is required / desired, such as a lobster clasp or magnetic clasp, and those I buy from larger manufacturers.

If you have any questions about my techniques, please let me know! I would love to help you understand my process.

Types of Beads

Glass Beads & Crystals

Czech Glass Beads were once called Bohemian Glass and are made by hand in the Czech Republic. Czech glass beads are most often made by using a thick rod heated to extreme temperatures and used to press or stamp the glass. Czech glass beads are high quality but more affordable than Swarovski crystals. These are some of my favorite beads because of the beautiful cuts and colors available.

Swarovski Crystal beads are considered the highest quality in crystal. Swarovski crystals contain 40% lead, giving them superior clarity. The process to cut the crystal is patented, and many imitators exist. All Swarovski crystal used in Rococo Riche Jewelry is genuine Swarovski crystal.

Other glass beads I might use in my jewelry includes glass pearls, which are glass beads coated to resemble pearls (Swarovski glass pearls are beautifully made), seed beads, lamp-worked beads, and pressed glass beads. I always try to find the highest quality when it comes to glass beads, and use them often in my work.

Gemstone & Stone Beads

Gemstones and semi-precious gemstones are my favorite bead to work with right now. Most stone beads that I incorporate are natural, while others may be heat treated for more intense natural color, stabilized to add strength, or otherwise bleached, dyed, or enhanced.
More often, I look for gemstone beads which have not been dyed and are natural, but I will always note in the description any characteristics as passed on by the stone company. Some beads I do not have detailed information on, such as type or origin. While a few types are easily distinguishable, others are too similar in look for me to determine; for those, I simply follow the stone manufacturer’s description of “natural gemstone” or “manmade gemstone” in the listing.
So what is a gemstone versus a semi-precious gemstone? Much of the definition has to do with rarity and value. Many gemstones are not used for beads, either because the stone is too soft (like an opal) or high value (like diamonds).
Here are a few precious gemstones available as beads.
  • Rubies
  • Sapphires
  • Emeralds
  • Tanzanite
Semi-precious gemstones include but are not limited to the following.
  • Agate
  • Amethyst
  • Amazonite
  • Citrine
  • Moonstone
  • Tiger Eye
  • Quartz Crystal
  • Malachite
  • Rose Quartz
  • Tourmaline
  • Turquoise
  • Lapis lazuli
  • Apatite
  • Iolite
  • Aquamarine
  • Topaz
  • Peridot
  • Jade
  • Garnet
  • Carnelian
  • Fluorite
  • Jasper
  • and many more!
Gemstones often undergo treatments to harden or enhance the colors, and the American Gem Trade Association has established that jewelry makers must disclose any information about stone treatment.

Metal Beads

These beads are categorized as either precious metals or base metals. Precious metal beads are usually 22K, 18K, 14K, vermeil (which is gold over sterling silver), gold filled, and sterling silver. Metals and alloys such as copper, nickel, brass, bronze, and pewter are examples of base metal beads. Any pewter beads used for Rococo Riche Jewelry will always be lead-free.

Pearl Beads

Who doesn’t love pearls?! Pearls may be labeled as natural or cultured from either freshwater or saltwater. The finest pearls are blemish-free and have an excellent luster, graded at AAA, and pearls that are non-uniform and not as smooth will be graded lower, down to a C. Pearls are often bleached or dyed for better color, with the exception of Tahitian pearls, which naturally grow in different colors.

Wood Beads

Wood beads are pretty simple in explanation. They may be stained, painted, or carved, and come from a variety of tree types. Wood beads are perfect for more masculine jewelry pieces.

Other Natural Material Beads

Beads may also be made from coral, seeds, horn, bone, paper, and amber. Coral, shell, and bone are usually bleached and dyed for better color.

Acrylic Beads

Acrylic beads are made from different types of plastic and are usually the most inexpensive type of beads. They are available in almost any color and shape imaginable and are sometimes made to look like pearls, gemstone and stone beads. Rococo Riche Jewelry rarely uses acrylic beads unless they are vintage or desired for a lighter piece.

Reputation

Who made this? Am I really getting what is described? With all the thousands of websites selling jewelry, it can be hard to determine which companies to trust. I have seen many popular jewelry sites with sky-high “retail” prices marked down to nearly nothing — as an artist, I know these prices are covering materials and not much for the laborers making the jewelry. Comments from reviewers often reveal the true quality of the piece (plastic beads instead of the semi-precious gemstones in the description, terrible workmanship that falls apart quickly), which matches the value and sale price. This is fine for some people — it is an easy purchase without much consideration, and that’s okay if the purchaser is okay with that!

However, I make all my jewelry by hand in my Kansas-based studio — and I want your jewelry pieces to last. I have no employees, though my husband may tape up packages and drop them off at the post office occasionally. I design and create each piece, take my own photos, run my own social media and advertising, do my own taxes, and put together each package for shipping. While I use many components such as beads, die-cut charms, leather cord, etc., made by other companies, I do not use kits and I do not resell completed pieces. As I continue with jewelry making, I am learning new techniques and ways to make even more of my components.

As for materials, I work with wholesale companies who are upfront about each piece so I know exactly what is going in to my jewelry. When I use vintage components from estate sales and antique stores, I will note this in the description with as much detail as possible. Reputation is important when shopping for jewelry, so next time you see an incredibly low-priced bracelet on Etsy or an inexpensive necklace via a Facebook ad, take the time to find out if the “handmade” piece described is what you are getting in the mail. And, of course, if you ever have any questions about a piece from Rococo Riche, feel free to send me a note. 🙂