Jewellery - Materials and Methods

Materials and Methods

In creating jewellery, gemstones, coins, or other precious items are often used, and they are typically set into precious metals. Alloys of nearly every metal known have been encountered in jewellery. Bronze, for example, was common in Roman times. Modern fine jewellery usually includes gold, white gold, platinum, palladium, titanium, or silver. Most American and European gold jewellery is made of an alloy of gold, the purity of which is stated in karats, indicated by a number followed by the letter K. American gold jewellery must be of at least 10K purity (41.7% pure gold), (though in the UK the number is 9K (37.5% pure gold) and is typically found up to 18K (75% pure gold). Higher purity levels are less common with alloys at 22 K (91.6% pure gold), and 24 K (99.9% pure gold) being considered too soft for jewellery use in America and Europe. These high purity alloys, however, are widely used across Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Platinum alloys range from 900 (90% pure) to 950 (95.0% pure). The silver used in jewellery is usually sterling silver, or 92.5% fine silver. In costume jewellery, stainless steel findings are sometimes used.

Other commonly used materials include glass, such as fused-glass or enamel; wood, often carved or turned; shells and other natural animal substances such as bone and ivory; natural clay; polymer clay; and even plastics. Hemp and other twines have been used as well to create jewellery that has more of a natural feel. However, any inclusion of lead or lead solder will cause an English Assay office (the building which gives English jewellery its stamp of approval, the Hallmark) to destroy the piece.

Beads are frequently used in jewellery. These may be made of glass, gemstones, metal, wood, shells, clay and polymer clay. Beaded jewellery commonly encompasses necklaces, bracelets, earrings, belts and rings. Beads may be large or small; the smallest type of beads used are known as seed beads, these are the beads used for the "woven" style of beaded jewellery. Another use of seed beads is an embroidery technique where seed beads are sewn onto fabric backings to create broad collar neck pieces and beaded bracelets. Bead embroidery, a popular type of handwork during the Victorian era, is enjoying a renaissance in modern jewellery making. Beading, or beadwork, is also very popular in many African and indigenous North American cultures.

Advanced glass and glass beadmaking techniques by Murano and Venetian glassmasters developed crystalline glass, enamelled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (goldstone), multicoloured glass (millefiori), milk-glass (lattimo), and imitation gemstones made of glass. As early as the 13th century, Murano glass and Murano beads were popular.

Silversmiths, goldsmiths, and lapidaries methods include forging, casting, soldering or welding, cutting, carving and "cold-joining" (using adhesives, staples and rivets to assemble parts).

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