Metal Beads

Whether as the focal or as the accent, metal beads continue to be a popular choice in jewelry design. Knowledge of the different types of metals, their finishes and their durability will help you to select the best metal beads and findings for your designs.

Metals Defined

Metals come in so many colors and finishes, it is sometimes difficult to know exactly what you need. When selecting metal beads, findings, and chain use our handy chart to help you make the perfect selection.

Metal Characteristics
Aluminum “Anodized” aluminum means aluminum wire or jump rings are placed in an electrically charged solution and then dyed. The resulting color can vary in depth, even in the same batch. The color can be scratched, so work carefully with pliers or coat the tips of pliers with Tool Magic. Color can change over time. The coating is fairly hard but can be scratched.
“Bright” aluminum is clean, shiny and light. Aluminum is 3-1/2 times lighter than copper. It may dull over time, but washing in hot soapy water or tumbling will restore the shine.
Brass Brass is an alloy of 70% copper and 30% zinc; tin and antimony are sometimes added as an anti-tarnish measure. Yellow brass has more zinc; red brass has more copper.
Bronze Bronze is an alloy of approximately 90% copper and 10% tin.
Copper Copper is a soft metal so most copper beads and findings are actually pewter or brass coated with copper.  It tarnishes quickly so it should be stored airtight.
Enameled Copper Enameled Copper is soft copper coated in a layer of colored enamel. The coating is quite flexible and durable. The color can be scratched, so work carefully with pliers or coat the tips of pliers with Tool Magic. “Silvered” enameled copper has a layer of pure silver plated onto the soft copper before the enamel color layer is applied. This creates brighter and lighter colors than regular enameled copper.
Fine Silver Fine Silver is also called pure silver, it is .999 – 100% silver and is generally too soft for most jewelry components.
Gold Fill Gold Fill means a layer of gold surrounding a base metal core. Gold-fill is usually described as a fraction, such as 14/20. The first number refers to the number of karats of gold of a total 24 karats. The second number means that the gold layer is 1/20 the total thickness of the wire. The layer of gold in a gold-fill jump ring is about 100 times thicker than the gold in a plated layer, and it will not flake off.
Gold Overlay In Gold Overlay, the gold layer constitutes less than 1/20th of the weight of the metal, but it is substantially thicker than gold plate.
Gold Plate In Gold Plate the gold layer is not less than 10 karat fineness and the minimum thickness of the plating is one-half micron (or approximately 20 millionths of an inch) of gold.
Jeweler’s Brass Jewelers Brass is also called NuGold, Jeweler’s Bronze, and Red Brass. It is an alloy of 85% copper and 15% zinc. Freshly polished jewelry brass is very close to the color of high carat gold. Jewelry brass develops a soft patina at a rate similar to copper.
Niobium Niobium is a strong, lightweight, hypoallergenic wire that can be anodized to give it vibrant color. Niobium is a reactive metal, that is, if you pass an electrical current through it, the surface of the metal changes color. There are no dyes involved. The color depends on the amount of voltage in the electrically charged solution. Colors may be consistent or may vary within a batch. The color can be scratched, so work carefully with pliers or coat the tips of pliers with Tool Magic. Color can change over time. Clean with soap and water, not harsh chemicals.
Pewter Pewter is a silver white alloy (mixture) of at least 90% tin with antimony and copper. Originally, pewter was cast with lead. Today it is generally cast without lead, although imports from China can still contain lead. ‘Britannia’ metal is a non-leaded form of pewter.
Rhodium Rhodium is a rarely occurring member of the platinum metals group. It is used as a protective layer over electroplated surfaces because of its hardness and high reflectivity, and its extraordinary resistance to corrosive substances. Electroplated surfaces that are coated with rhodium are scratch resistant and will not discolor or tarnish. Over time however, the rhodium coating can wear off if over-polished or treated harshly.
Sterling Silver Sterling Silver is an alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper (or other metal).  Because silver is a soft metal, the addition of other metals makes sterling silver suitable for jewelry. The natural patina that develops on sterling silver is due to the copper content. When sterling silver comes into prolonged contact with ozone, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur, perspiration, household chemicals, industrial chemicals, lotions, hairsprays, and perfumes, the tarnish rate increases.
It can be minimized by storing jump rings/jewelry in anti-tarnish tissue, zip plastic bag or airtight container. Argentium Sterling Silver is a sterling silver alloy which has had some of the 7.5% copper replaced with the metalloid germanium (a natural chemical element with properties between those of metals and nonmetals). In silver alloys, the main strengthener is copper, which reacts easily with oxygen, moisture and sulfides to create tarnish. Germanium chemically bonds with oxygen to form a protective barrier that prevents sulfides in the air from having contact with the smaller percentage of copper in the alloy, thus inhibiting tarnish. When stored in anti-tarnish tissue, zip plastic bag or airtight container, argentium sterling silver may never tarnish at all.
Silver-Fill Like gold-fill is to karat gold, silver-fill is a cost effective alternative to sterling  silver. Silver fill is a layer of sterling silver that has been mechanically bonded to a brass or copper alloy core. Depending upon the manufacturer, it is at least 1/10th by weight .925 silver and has a significantly thicker layer of silver than traditional silver plating. The fabrication is completed with an anti-tarnish coating. It has the same properties as sterling silver so it can be lightly hammered, soldered and tumbled. Tool Magic on tools helps prevent scratches and a nylon hammer is best for work hardening.
Silver Plate Silver Plating is used primarily because it is more economical to produce silver jewelry components with an inexpensive base metal and then coat them with a thin layer of silver, usually around 0.05 millimeters or less. Over time, the plating can wear off or become scratched. The extent to which this occurs depends on the thickness of the plating and the color of the underlying material.
Surgical Steel/     Stainless Steel Some stainless steel may be hypoallergenic but the content of stainless steel varies.  Surgical Steel is a stainless steel made of chromium, nickel, and molybdenum. The word “surgical” refers to the fact that this type of steel is well-suited for making medical instruments that are strong, corrosion-resistant and easy to clean and sterilize. It does not mean the metal is hypo-allergenic.
Vermeil Vermeil (vermáy) is sterling silver plated with gold.
Zamak Zamak is an acronym for zinc, aluminum, magnesium and copper

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