Saturday, October 18, 2014

Metal Quality: stampings and testing info

I've had a few questions from my customers about metal stamping and how to determine metal quality. It's a common issue that we deal with as jewelers, especially as allergies and sensitivities are becoming more and more common in our culture.
I thought it might help if I wrote on this subject- to help educate and reassure my customers about the quality of their jewelry
- Maureen BZ
a few of my stamps 
some info about Metals Testing for people who have had a reaction to their jewelry:

It’s true, some of us are more reactive to certain metals than others. Whether it is a genetic thing (mom and grandma both couldn’t wear silver) or a chemistry thing...

OR, Perhaps your favorite moisturizer mixed with silver makes your piercing sad, or your new love for lap swimming has made your sterling sour (as pool chemicals can do a number on metal and stone, you should remember to take your jewelry off before taking a dip. I need to remember to do this too....I often get half way though my workout and realize I still have on all my rings...oops)...

anyways, metals can be part of a skin reaction. And when you have a reaction, it’s best to know exactly what metal you are dealing with.

Unless you are certain of your metal (there should be a quality stamp on your piece- unless it is super tiny, then you need to rely on the trusted word of the maker-) 

Quality stamps say if a piece is “sterling”(which can also be stamped “925”) 
Fine silver is sometimes stamped (it’s pretty rare to have a piece that is 100% fine silver. in the case of a piece that is part fine silver and part sterling (which is an alloy-mix- of fine silver and other metal) the piece will usually be only marked "sterling" or ".925"

this is pretty straight forward, golds are marked by Karat so, 10k, 12k, 14k, 18k, 22k, Pure gold is 24k, and is rarely used in jewelry these days. (it was however used in ancient “primitive” tribal and religious jewelry)

Some countries have different standard for gold marking.
When I was living in Italy I noticed that the goldsmiths marked their 18k “750” (which stood for 75% of the metal was fine 24kgold)
Italians don’t normally sell 14k or less in Italy- the gold of choice is 18k or nothing. almost all of the 14k gold that is produced in Italy is exported to other countries, like the US and Australia)

Platinum is usually stamped Pt

Palladium (a metal that is gaining popularity in the jewelry world lately) is stamped Pd

other than that, it is pretty straightforward-
Pewter is marked “Pewter”, Copper (when marked) is “Copper” etc... (not that you really need to mark the base metals, but sometimes I do it as a service for my customers)

Some things to be aware of:

many jewelers have their own signature stamp. It can look like almost anything. (mine is a shortened version of my name “BZap” and I stamp it on anything that is large enough to handle a stamp without ruining the finish of the piece.

**If you see the letters “HGE” it is often code for “heavy Gold electroplate” (unless your jeweler has those initials...though you should ask just to be sure)***

also, one problem with relying on quality stamps is that anybody with a hammer and a $20 stamp (that’s about how much a stamp costs in the US) can stamp a piece of metal. In the US at least you don’t need any credentials to buy a metal quality stamp.(we have no guild system like in Italy)

In my 30 years of being in this business I have yet to meet anyone sleazy enough to mis-stamp their metals...but, there are some pretty bold criminals out there, looking to make a penny any way they can.... So, if you are suspicious of a metal there is one way to be sure you are getting what you paid for...

You need to get an acid test. (and not the kind that was done by the hippies in the 1960’s)

A properly done acid test can tell you if your metal is silver, gold, platinum or something else. It can tell you if the piece is solid or plated. You can bring the piece to your local jeweler to find out just what you have....

Just so you know, you can get metal quality tested at most commercial jewelers- they do an acid test- they file a tiny bit into the metal and drop a bit of acid and watch to see what color the reaction will be.

(here's an explanation how they do it ) 

If you ever have questions about the quality of your metal jewelry you can see if your local jewelry shop will do a test. (they may charge a fee, I'm not sure how much but it shouldn't be very much at all- you can see it is a quick and easy test)

look, I am not writing this to make anyone nervous or upset, nor am I pointing fingers at anyone. I am certain that all of my jeweler friends (and I have a LOT of jeweler friends) are thoroughly and obsessively honest about their wares. In fact, most of us are real “material snobs” and take great pride in bringing our customers the very best. 

Yes, there are many phenomenal perfectionists in my craft. But like everything, there are bad apples too. So, after reading my notes on stamps and metal testing you know a little bit more about how to spot a snake in the grass. (believe me, us honest jewelers love to see the snakes be brought to justice)


thanks for taking the time to read this article- I love to help my customers be well informed!

feel free to pass it along- give your friends a heads up on their jewelry knowledge, they will thank you for it!
Have a good one!

ciao- Maureen BZ- Metalsmith/jeweler and owner of Cosmo’s Moon Jewelry on Etsy.

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