Think back to when you made your very first daisy chain. We love to make and design jewellery and have been doing so for thousands of years.
Our ancestor's discovery of different materials and how to work with them was a breakthrough in the development of the art of jewellery.
We've listed the common, and not-so-common materials used in jewellery making along with a brief description and the pros and cons of using them in your jewellery designs.
Silver is a precious metal. It’s classified as one of the Metals of Antiquity: metals that humans identified and used in prehistoric times.
The major use of silver, besides being used for coinage throughout world history, was in the manufacture of jewellery and other general-use items. This is still the case today.
Silver is favourable for necklaces, bracelets, cuff links, belt buckles and body jewellery. It is perfect for fine jewellery, accessories and silverware.
The Hardness of Silver
Due to the softness of pure silver (2.5 to 3 on the Mohs Hardness scale), it is alloyed with copper.
In jewellery, sterling silver comprises of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
The Pros and Cons of Using Silver for Jewellery Making
- Jewellery craftspeople love silver because the material is soft, malleable (easily squashed) and ductile (easily stretched).
- Silver is highly reflective (it used to be used to back mirrors, but this is now done using aluminium)
- Silver can be polished to a luminous sheen.
- It is inexpensive compared to gold and platinum.
- Silver has good antibacterial properties for items like cutlery.
- Silver is durable and has a longer lifespan compared to other metals and costume jewellery.
- The softness of silver can also be a disadvantage – it may scratch and bend under repetitive daily wear.
- Sterling silver jewellery will tarnish - meaning it may take on a black or green hue.
- Silver needs to be cleaned regularly to maintain its gleam.
- Silver is sensitive to acids and corrosion and general chemicals.
- Some people are allergic to silver due to its copper content.
For a more in-depth look at Silver, read our article 'Silver: The Precious Metal and Its Wonders'
Pure Gold is a bright reddish-yellow precious metal rated in Karats (k). It is similar to silver in that it’s one of the Metals of Antiquity and was used for making coins, jewellery and even minted as a circulating currency (think Gold Standard as monetary policy pre-1971).
The world consumption of new gold consists of 50% in jewellery, 40% in investments, and 10% in industry.
The Hardness of Gold
Pure Gold (24k) is soft and rated 2.5 to 3 on the Mohs Hardness scale and therefore it's rare for it to be used in its pure form for jewellery.
Gold is alloyed with copper, silver, zinc, nickel, or palladium to produce a harder material for the jewellery trade.
Typical gold jewellery is usually 14k gold, 16k gold, 18k gold and 21k gold.
In the Alloy process, Yellow, White, Rose and Green Gold can be produced.
Much like red lipstick - there is a tone or hue for everyone. For instance, Rose gold is warming and therefore favoured by those with paler skin.
In any of its variations, gold is a popular choice for wedding bands, rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces due to its stability and longevity.
The Pros and Cons of Using Gold for Jewellery Making
- Gold is one of the finest metals used for jewellery – traditionally the choice for wedding bands.
- Gold is one of the most malleable (easily squashed) and ductile (easily stretched) metals, making it easy to work with.
- Gold is resistant to most acids.
- Pure gold will not tarnish, however, 14k, 16k, 18k will do, but much less so than Silver and over a long time.
- Gold is less allergenic than silver
- More precious and therefore more expensive than Silver.
- Gold jewellery can become scratched when worn on a daily basis.
- The presence of nickel may not be suitable for metal allergy sufferers.
Platinum is a silver-white, highly dense, and malleable precious metal.
It’s one of the rarest minerals in the world which may explain the kudos behind musicians receiving a Platinum disc, or getting a Platinum credit card, and has become synonymous with luxury and longevity.
The Hardness of Platinum
Platinum is rated 4-4.5 on the Mohs Hardness scale and therefore less malleable than gold.
Because of its hardness, pure platinum is often mixed with other metals to make it more malleable. The most common metals paired with platinum are copper, palladium, rhodium, iridium, and titanium.
The Pros and Cons of Using Platinum for Jewellery Making
- Platinum is about thirty times rarer than gold and four times stronger.
For example, the prongs holding the centre stone of a platinum engagement ring are less likely to break than those of a gold engagement ring.
- It is super durable and will never tarnish.
- Platinum is extremely corrosion-resistant and heat-resistant.
- Platinum is naturally white and will not fade to yellow.
- Hypo-allergenic properties make it ideal for sensitive skin.
- The scarcity of platinum and the fact that the density requires more of the rare metal to create a ring means that platinum jewellery is typically more expensive than pure gold or white gold.
- Platinum jewellery is generally heavier than that made of gold.
What can Platinum be Used for?
The durability of Platinum makes it ideal for fine jewellery. As well as catalytic converters in the Automotive industry.
Favourites include solitaire and engagement rings, wedding bands and cuffs, watches, bracelets and necklaces.
For a more in-depth look at Platinum, read our article 'Platinum: A Noble Metal'
Titanium is a lustrous, high strength metal with a silver colour.
Titanium was discovered in Cornwall in 1791 and was later named after the Titans of Greek mythology.
The Hardness of Titanium
Titanium is rated 6 on the Mohs Hardness scale and has the highest strength-weight ratio of all the natural metals in the world.
Titanium and gold produce an alloy that is marketed and sold as 24-karat gold.
The resulting alloy is nearly the hardness of 14k gold and more durable than pure 24k gold – making it favourable for the jewellery trade.
The Pros and Cons of Using Titanium in Jewellery Making
- Titanium is completely hypoallergenic
- Titanium is scratch-resistant, lightweight and easy to colour.
- Titanium is highly resistant to chemicals and can be easily recycled.
- It is resistant to corrosion.
- Titanium is very difficult to solder unless it's been mixed with other metals.
- Titanium is not so easy to resize.
- Titanium is expensive and rare.
What Can Titanium Be Used for?
Titanium is used for watch parts and watch cases, Diving watches in particular as it is corrosion resistant.
Titanium is excellent for use in harsh environments so is often used for the hulls of submarines, oil rig supports, aircraft frames and jet engine components.
Due to how light Titanium is it is very commonly used in the sports industry for tennis racquets, bicycles and golf clubs.
Titanium is ideal for body-piercing jewellery, prosthetics, dental work and surgical implants, due to its hypoallergenic characteristics.
For a more indepth look at Titanium, take a look at our article 'Titanium'
5. Base Metals
The term ‘Base metal’ is one used in the jewellery industry for those metals that oxidise easily and tend to be mainly used for costume jewellery. These materials do not contain one of the noble or precious metals and are therefore significantly cheaper compared to the metals mentioned above. As well as Copper and Brass, Zinc and bronze are also used in jewellery making.
This is a reddish-orange metal that is most often used in alloys, electrical equipment and in Copper Findings for jewellery making.
Copper is soft and malleable and easily stretched.
Brass is an alloy of Copper and Zinc.
The colour of brass is yellow-gold and is therefore used in jewellery to resemble gold. It is often used in steampunk jewellery.
The Hardness of Base Metals
Base metals are alloys manufactured to produce different degrees of durability and malleability. Base metals can vary anywhere between 2 and 6 on the Mohs Hardness scale, depending on the alloy mixture.
The Pros and Cons of Using Base Metals for Jewellery Making
- An affordable and economical choice.
- Widely available and widely stocked.
- Can be used in 3D printing.
- Their reactivity allows a wide range of colouring techniques to be utilised.
- Their surface is usually quick to oxidise and tarnish in the air.
- More people are allergic to base metals than precious metals.
- Base metals can't be hallmarked or used in pieces that will be hallmarked.
- Older base metals might contain traces of lead.
5a. Stainless Steel
Also known as inox steel, Stainless steel is an Iron alloy.
It is durable, rust-resistant, and non-corrosive with no discolouration or oxidation. This makes it ideal for use in the jewellery making industry for items such as bead caps, earring findings and watches.
It is also commonly used for surgical instruments and for industrial purposes
A pearl is formed in the soft tissue of certain molluscs, oysters and mussels for example.
In nature, this occurs very seldom and therefore 99% of all pearls today are cultured pearls.
Pearls are commonly the same colour as the inside of an oyster shell, white and cream but hues of yellow, black and grey are fairly common.
The value of pearls in jewellery is based on a mixture of lustre, colour, size, lack of surface flaws, and symmetry.
Pearls are identified according to their variety - naturally occurring, or modern cultured pearls: seawater or freshwater cultured.
Concentric layers of deposited calcium carbonate make up a pearl, much like an onion.
Pearls are predominantly used for necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings and are commonly made into a string of pearls.
The Hardness of Pearl
It is ranked 2.5-4.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, and is therefore relatively soft and so can be scratched or abraded.
The Pros and Cons of Using Pearls when Making Jewellery
- Pearls are organic, with a unique timeless quality.
- Pearls are soft enough enabling you to work them with steel pearl drills or diamond ball burrs and glued into settings with jewellery adhesives.
- Pearls can be modified with dyes, bleached or coated with lacquer.
- Pearl jewellery can be easily cared for and polished with Beeswax and when given the proper care, will retain its value for a lifetime
- Cultured pearls are affordable.
- In its organic, natural form, the pearl is a thing of beauty so it doesn't need to be cut, polished or manipulated in any way before making jewellery with it.
- Pearls may lose their lustre over time as the nacre wears away
- Natural pearls are very expensive
- They are soft, so easily damaged.
- Constant contact with even the mildest of acids or chlorine will erode the nacre of the pearl and they will lose their lustre.
Shell beads are one of the oldest forms of jewellery and over the years have seen their popularity come and go with fashion trends such as Cameo rings, earrings and brooches back in the 1800s.
Popular types of Shells used for jewellery are Paua, Mother-of-Pearl, Cowrie, Oyster, Abalone and Puka, to name but a few.
Never buy shells unless you know for sure they have been found and collected, rather than harvested. Furthermore, it can be illegal to take certain types of shells from particular beaches so never assume it's OK to do so. Check first.
The Hardness of Shell
Shell is approximately 3 on the Mohs scale of hardness.
Shells differ in shape and form and can therefore vary in hardness and brittleness and vary in how rough or how smooth they are.
The Pros and Cons of Using Shells in Jewellery Making
- Since the summer of 2018 shell jewellery has been on trend, so if you're in the jewellery making business now's the time to go beach combing.
- Shells can easily be drilled, cut and carved using commonly available jewellery and crafting tools.
- Shells can be easily cleaned, strung and polished.
- When it has been found on the beach, it's free! (it is illegal to take certain shells from particular beaches so always check first)
- Shells can be brittle and therefore fragile so extra care needs to be taken.
- Some shells can be extremely tough to drill through so you will need a small diamond drill bit and patience!
- If cutting, drilling or manipulating the shell with diamond drill bits, care must be taken not to inhale any dust as it is extremely toxic. Always wear a mask
- The industry of harvested sea shells is crippling our marine life (only use sea shells you've found on the beach and check first with the local authority that it is OK to do so)
What can Shells be Used for?
From cameos to mosaics, earrings, rings and pendants, shell inlays on utensils, antiques, artefacts and furniture - artisans love to work with shells.
7a. Animal Remains (Bone and Hair)
In the Victorian era, Mourning Jewellery was de rigueur. Whilst some may deem it a little odd or macabre, what could be more eco-friendly than re-using the bones and hair from deceased animals - possibly your own beloved pets such as with Irish jewellery artist Daniela Cardillo.
8. Seeds and Nuts
For thousands of years seeds, nuts and roots from plants have been used to adorn the body in various cultures across the World.
Popular choices of seeds and nuts for making beads or for use in jewellery making are Tagua (Ivory Palm Nut), Betel, Bodhi, Rudraksha, Acai and Buri.
The Pros and Cons of Using Seeds and Nuts When Making Jewellery
- Widely available.
- Very economical - try growing your own plants and dry the seeds.
- Easy to carve, drill and polish.
- Extremely lightweight so ideal for use in beading.
- Many seeds are fast growing making them a sustainable material.
- Fragile. Can be broken if bumped or knocked.
- Not water resistant. Seeds and nut beads can swell if in contact with water.
Wooden jewellery such as beads, bangles and pendants have been popular for thousands of years.
The necessity for using eco-friendly materials has re-popularised the use of salvaged, recycled or storm-felled wood in jewellery design.
Jewellery can be made out of any type of wood, hard woods being preferable, but the grain, colour and finish of the wood may determine which you use for your designs.
The Pros and Cons of Using Wood in Jewellery Making
- Economical, especially if you are using salvaged, driftwood or recycled wood in your jewellery making.
- Wood can be easily manipulated: carved, shaped, cut and polished.
- Wood is lightweight so makes an ideal choice for a statement necklace or earrings, large pendant, chunky bangle or huge beads.
- Wood absorbs water so avoid soaking.
- It will be prone to knocks, bumps and bashes so care must be taken especially with wooden watches and rings.
- The natural colours of wooden jewellery may fade or darken over time due to the natural elements.
Some of the most desirable gemstones used in jewellery making are Diamonds, Ruby, Emeralds and Sapphire.
The type of stone or gemstone you choose can depend on what the stone means to you (e.g. birthstone, heirloom), how it looks (the grain, colour, shape), how it feels (the texture or energy it gives you), where you sourced it from, (found on a beach, recycled, a stone that is local to your area) or a special memory it gives you.
The Pros and Cons of Using Stone in Jewellery Making
- The variety of textures, colours and finishes is vast.
- Can be faceted, cut, drilled, polished, carved and manipulated in many ways.
- Possible investment - If the stone is precious.
- Some stones can be affected by chemicals, greases and contaminants.
- Chips and breakages may occur
- Special diamond tools are required to manipulate stone so it can be expensive to work with.
Glass beads, particularly Venetian, are historically one of the first glass jewellery objects to be made popular.
Today, we see various forms of glass in jewellery design such as Fused Glass (dichroic and art glass), Lampwork, Murano (Venetian and Millefiori) and Sea Glass.
Glass rods can be heated and shaped into beads such as in lampworking. Glass can be heated and fused. Cold glass can be engraved, cut, shaped, drilled, ground and polished. Or, glass can simply be used in its natural form such as we see in sea glass (beach glass).
The Pros and Cons of Using Glass for Jewellery Making
- Glass can be heated to create various different shapes and forms
- Available in a myriad of colours
- Glass beads can be easily and cheaply produced and are more economical than a crystal (glass with lead in)
- Glass is very fragile. Whilst it is very hard, it can also be easily chipped or broken.
- Glass jewellery can be heavy so it is best to make delicate beads, earrings, necklaces and pendants.
- Cold-working tools have to be made out of synthetic diamond grit due to the hardness of glass, making the tools expensive.
Enamel is a glass-like layer which is very hard and scratch resistant. It is made by fusing a glass powder at high temperatures onto metal.
Sometimes referred to as Vitreous enamel or Porcelain enamel, common techniques in enamelling are Cloissonne, Champleve, Baisse-Taille and Plique-A-Jour.
12. Acrylic, Resin and Plastic
Acrylic beads are very affordable and therefore make a great starting point for a beginner jeweller who wishes to dabble in beading.
Resin is poured into a mold to form shapes. It cries out for things to be added into the resin whilst setting so is very versatile and fun to explore.
The Pros and Cons of Using Acrylics for Making Jewellery
- Affordable, especially when buying wholesale or in bulk.
- Acrylic is a good alternative to glass as it is lighter, yet stronger, and stays cool in hot weather.
- Durable and flexible in that it can be formed into shapes and all sorts of colours.
- Resin can have items added to it whilst in the mould, making it fun and explorative.
- Can scratch and mark easily. (but can also be buffed out easily)
- Will melt if exposed to a flame.
- Releases toxic fumes when at high temperatures so you need to be careful of using any rotary tools to cut or grind the acrylic.
- Not as shiny as glass.
13. Clay: Ceramic, Porcelain and China
Ceramic beads can either be made in a mold to repeat the same shape over and over, or made by hand to create a more organic feel.
It is very on-trend to make jewellery from broken pieces of china. This can be done by cutting shapes or circles out of china or porcelain plates, or by using found beach pottery which has been washed and smoothed by the sea and used in the organic form it has been found in. Helpful Resource: How To Drill Ceramic & Porcelain tile, by Eternal Tools
The Pros and Cons of Using Ceramic/Porcelain for Jewellery Making
- Very hard wearing and scratch-resistant.
- Hypoallergenic, so ceramic wedding bands are a good alternative for those who have allergic reactions to metals.
- Porcelain in particular is extremely hard to cut, drill or grind.
- Can be brittle making it easy to chip or crack.
13a. Polymer Clay
In its many forms and colours, Polymer clay is an affordable, versatile and durable material to work with when jewellery making.
Polymer clay is a good material for beginners as it is super easy to use and comes in an array of colours and sheens, as in the wide range of metal clay available.