Metal Finishes for Classy Jewelry


Jewelry often comes plated with another metal to give it a particular color or increase its durability. Rhodium is likely the most popular plating material. It's a silvery-white precious metal, too rare to use on its own. Rhodium plating is most often used on white gold and sometimes sterling silver, protecting the metals from damage and discoloration. Black or colored rhodium is also used to decorate a piece or give it a different tint.

Different Metal Jewelry Finishes on Five Bracelets
.10 ct. t.w. Diamond Heart Ring in Sterling Silver with Black Rhodium. #925624

Why Use Metal Finishes?

There are many reasons to plate metal jewelry with different metal finishes. In fact, those benefits often relate directly to the type of metal itself. For example, palladium plating works on white metals and even base metals in fashion jewelry. A member of the platinum group, it has a natural silvery color that is strong, lightweight, and durable. Though jewelers consider it one of the rarest metals, you can still find 95% pure palladium jewelry.

Also a member of the platinum group, ruthenium is sometimes used to plate jewelry to give it a dark, silvery-gray, or jet black color. Ruthenium plating is very strong and resistant to scratches, making it a good choice for soft metals. And just like rhodium, ruthenium is too rare to use as the primary material for jewelry. In short, if it makes pieces stronger and prettier, it's a good option.


Types of Jewelry Finishes

Most jewelry has a high polish finish, which involves buffing the metal out to a mirror-like shine. To make a metal go from shiny to sparkly, the surface could be diamond-cut, using sliced faceting to create a reflective shimmer, similar to that of diamonds.

But high-shine isn't for everyone. A matte finish provides a non-reflective look applied by first polishing and then abrading the surface. A satin finish also offers a lusterless appearance but comes silky smooth with a frost-like facade. Though not as dull, a brushed finish can give low luster to a piece, using a very fine texture that seems applied with a wire brush.

If you like the tactile nature of a brushed piece, then you'll love textured jewelry. Texturing is a unique and varying technique that creates an interesting surface either by hand or with machinery. Florentine is a special kind of texturing formed by engraving a cross-hatched pattern along a surface. Hammered finish jewelry also provides texture, crafting a dimpled surface that looks as though applied through various strikes of a hammer.


How Metal Jewelry Finishes Work

Jewelry designers have become quite creative over the years, discovering new ways to give jewelry finishes a different look and feel. They are still coming up with new types of jewelry finishes. One fairly new trick is the gunmetal finish. Gunmetal is sometimes called a "hematite finish" because of its likeness in appearance to a hematite stone, which has a dark, silvery-gray color. This finish is achieved through many different techniques, sometimes involving black rhodium, ruthenium, or even a special gel rubbed over the surface to change the color.

Another style that has surfaced is the vintage look. To make jewelry appear old (yes, on purpose), an antique finish is usually applied with a scattered black coating or through oxidation. When a ring or other piece, especially sterling silver, becomes oxidized, it reacts with oxygen to create discoloration or tarnishing, making it appear weathered.

An industrial technique called PVD has also recently made its way into modern stainless steel jewelry designs. An alternative to plating, PVD, which stands for "Physical Vapor Deposition," is a layer of colored film that forms over stainless steel in a vacuum chamber. PVD appears in sporty watches because it is durable in harsh outdoor conditions. It often has a black sheen but comes with other metallic colors as well.


Pick The Right Finish for Your Occasion

What metal finish works for you depends largely on your style and what event you have in mind. Rhodium plating over white gold has a simple and classy appearance, and yellow gold with plating offers opulence to elegant occasions. Textured metals for bracelets and necklaces offer a unique appearance and work well with eclectic and fun outfits. If you plan to be out and about or have an active day, consider jewelry that remains durable long-term. This is especially true for an engagement ring or wedding band, which someone may wear daily.


Metal Finish FAQs Answered

Selecting the right metal finish may seem complicated, but it quickly becomes very straightforward with a bit of know-how. Consult these answers to the most common metal-finish questions when selecting jewelry pieces that suit your needs.

How do you care for metal-finished jewelry?

Care heavily depends on the type of precious metal, what kind of jewelry you own, and how high-polish it is, but there are some commonalities. Steam may remove oils or greasy residue without much wiping. Soap and water are a solid option, as long as you use non-abrasive cloths and mild solutions. Ultrasonic cleaning won't scratch the surface of anything plated with softer metals. Be very careful with ultrasonic devices as some gems are suseptable damage from the process.

How do you plate metal jewelry?

This usually happens through a method called electroplating. To do this, jewelers place a ring, necklace, bracelet, or set of earrings into a solution that contains their desired plating metal. Then they apply an electrical current. This makes the metal adhere to the object and then helps prevent rust or damage. It also creates a refined appearance.

Can metal-finished jewelry save you money?

The simple answer is yes. Due to these pieces using less precious metal, it tends to cost less. For example, a solid gold 18kt bracelet is generally more expensive than one made with different metals and then plated in gold. Plating may also protect a core of more precious material to give you more life for your money. Plated jewelry can also be lighter and easier to wear, making it better for you to use frequently.