Jewelry-Making Materials

We strive to provide you with clear, honest information, in a complicated and ever-changing world of jewelry-making materials.
Our products are made of over 500 different materials (various semi-precious gemstones are over 200 of these), and our website has been growing and changing since 1996 -- so it can be a challenge to keep this all updated and easy to find! The materials defined below account for approximately 80% of the items in our website, and we're adding more all the time!  If the material you are looking for is not yet on this page, please try the:

  • Gemstones Category.   Or, with our recent website upgrade, we're bringing back the Gemstone Index! It's still in progress; we'll be adding more entries from Agate to Unakite
  • "About Metals" Page - The "About Metals" page includes details about precious metals, base metals, alloys and platings. We are in the process of moving or copying that info to this page.

304, 316L, etc: See Stainless Steel and Surgical Stainless Steel.

.999 Fine Silver: Fine silver can be simply stamped 999 or .999. It is at least 99.9% pure silver. Benefits of using 999 fine silver in your jewelry include the fact that it is softer (more malleable to work with) than sterling silver, can be fused (joined with heat, without solder), and it tends to tarnish more slowly than sterling alloys. Fine silver is nickel-free, cadmium-free, lead-free, and meets the EU Nickel Directive. Also see sterling silver.

Acetate: Acetate looks similar to Lucite (acrylic resin), but this form of plastic actually begins with acetic acid (also known as household vinegar), combined with various bases to give it the desired colors and texture. Acetate charms, connectors and other components are strong, lightweight, slightly flexible, and remarkably hypoallergenic. This combination makes it popular for eyeglass frames as well as jewelry.

Advanced Crystal: Since 2012, all Swarovski crystal beads, crystal pendants and other crystal jewelry components, as well as Swarovski Strass 8000-series prisms are produced using Advanced Crystal, an innovative lead-free formula (containing .009% lead or less). Special polishing, perfect cut, exact geometry and precise angles from over a century of experience, draw out maximum brilliance. Advanced Crystal offers discerning customers crystal of the highest quality, while ensuring that Swarovski products meet and surpass legislation, regulations and industry standards. As a result of Advanced Crystal, Swarovski continues to be the benchmark for safe, beautiful crystal beads, crystal pendants, and other crystal jewelry components.

Alkeme: Alkeme metal stamping blanks by ImpressArt are a nice alternative to sterling silver blanks. They're made in the USA from a specially formulated, non-corrosive metal alloy that is lead free, nickel free, and cadmium free. The resulting soft metal allows even intricate and delicate stamping designs to make complete impressions and look great. Customize silver colored Alkeme blanks with metal stamps, texture hammers, and more. They can also be used for riveting and engraving.

Aluminum: Aluminum is a soft metal, which makes it easy to stamp, emboss, and otherwise shape with jewelry tools. Our aluminum sheet and blanks are made of elemental aluminum, meaning our aluminum is simply aluminum: it is not alloyed with other metals. In other words, it does not contain nickel or other additives that require warnings in California or are banned in jewelry in the EU. Some advantages to aluminum: it does not tarnish. The flipside of this, is that you can't oxidize it with standard jewelry antiquing solutions. However, you can purchase anodized aluminum in brilliant colors, or you can use alcohol inks or Vintaj colorants to colorize textured aluminum. Keep in mind that aluminum's softness also makes it easy to scratch, so use care with working with aluminum. Use nylon-jaw pliers, or dip your tools in Tool Magic to help prevent scratches.

Bone: The majority of our bone beads and pendants are camel, yak or water buffalo bone, hand carved in India. Our suppliers have assured us that no animals were harmed for these jewelry-making supplies; the bone and horn used is from animals that died of natural causes, or is simply a way to utilize "the rest of" an animal rather than wasting the bone. These beads and pendants are wonderful for handmade jewelry, but please be aware that all hand-carved items vary in size, color, pattern and quantity per strand, so they're not the best choice for people who need perfectly matched pairs.
Want a different color? For a natural antique look, try soaking any of the white bone beads in tea, coffee or ink to simulate old ivory. Experiment with different liquids to find your preferred color(s)! Whatever antiquing method you use, be sure to wash your items well and test your antiquing for "colorfastness" before making finished jewelry.

Brass: Brass is an alloy of copper, zinc and sometimes other metals. Our brass is typically 70% copper and 30% zinc, but may vary between 70% and 90% copper (with zinc as the remainder).

  • Our red brass wire is 90% copper and 10% zinc, giving it a slightly warmer color than standard brass.
  • Raw (unplated) brass components are usually a good match for yellow (plated) findings, although they will vary in color and may also work with gold plate. The surfaces of raw brass items may be imperfect, and require polishing, and their finish may change with age.
  • Some alloys of brass may contain up to 1.74% iron, for increased strength and durability. These alloys are not popular for wire, but may be used as a base material for plating, and are also popular for marine applications.
  • Anti-tarnish brass (a proprietary alloy) looks very close to the color of 14kt gold. Another name for anti-tarnish brass is tarnish-resistant brass.

Britannia Pewter: Britannia is a pewter alloy with a silvery appearance and smooth surface. It is an alloy of tin, antimony, and copper. Most TierraCast Britannia pewter beads and jewelry findings have a surface finish (plating) of a different color over the pewter base. TierraCast Safety Compliance Info.

Britannia Pewter/ Crystal: As you might expect, these items are made of lead-free Britannia Pewter by TierraCast, and are set with Swarovski's sparkling Advanced Crystal components.

Carbon Steel: Carbon Steel, including AISI 1050 (also known as XC45 or S50C) is an alloy of steel with carbon content up to 2.1%. Carbon steel has the ability to become harder and stronger through heat treating, but it also becomes less ductile (i.e., less malleable). In other words, you would not want to use carbon steel for wire-wrapping, but it's great for metal stamps, springy coils of memory wire, and strong, springy French barrette backs. Because carbon steel lacks the rust-resistance of stainless steels, wire and findings made of carbon steel are generally plated to prevent oxidization (rust). If your tools are stored in a damp environment, prevent rust by protecting them with a layer of light machine oil (such as 5w20), beeswax, cosmoline, dry lithium grease, PG-2000, or LPS-3.

Ceramic: Ceramic is fired clay. The majority of our ceramic beads are hand-painted. Some of our ceramic pendants and beads have a raku-style multicolored glossy glaze, and others have a natural earthy-looking high-fired finish. What's the difference between porcelain and ceramic? Porcelain is a more-refined type of ceramic, with a finer texture, and can be glassy and semi-translucent.

Copper: Copper (Cu) is an elemental metal that is bright reddish-orange in color, and has the atomic number 29. It's a very reactive metal, meaning over time, it will darken and gain a patina, sometimes with a greenish hue. Copper can also discolor skin, most commonly when it is worn snugly like a ring or tight-fitting bracelet. Copper is a soft metal, which makes it great for wire wrapping. Because of copper's softness, solid copper components may bend easier than copper-plated beads and findings. Unplated copper is usually called raw copper or bare copper.

Crystal: See Advanced Crystal (Swarovski crystal), Lead Crystal (rhinestones), Lead-Free Crystal (Spectra) and Rock Crystal Quartz.

Crystal/ Brass: Our items with this material name are created by Swarovski, using Advanced Crystal and a Brass base with gleaming Rhodium Plate or Gold Plate.

Czech Glass: Czech Glass is simply the Material name we've given to our glass beads that are made in the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic includes the historical territories of Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia. Faceted firepolish beads have been under production for centuries (they were formerly called Bohemian glass beads), and Czech pressed-glass beads are well-known around the world.

Gemstone: Our gemstone beads, pendants and findings are cut from a wide variety of semiprecious stones (mineral crystals) including agates and jaspers, and occasionally lower-quality "bead quality" precious gemstones such as sapphires, rubies and emeralds. Nearly every gemstone category in the Gemstones & Pearls section of our website includes physical properties of the stone, historical and metaphysical information if possible, and any special care instructions that may be necessary for some types of gemstones. This information is usually at the top of the page, but sometimes flows to the bottom of the category.

Glass: Glass is a non-crystalline amorphous solid. It's usually based on the chemical compound silica (quartz), with many other "ingredients" depending on the desired properties and color. Traditionally, most brilliant true reds contained gold, making good red glass more expensive than other colors of glass.

Gold Filled: Gold Fill (also called gold overlay) is made by using heat and pressure to apply a layer of karat gold to a base of less costly metal. The base metal is almost always brass, as brass is a good color match, and has good strength and workability qualities for making jewelry. This produces a surface with karat gold. The minimum layer of karat gold must equal at least 1/20 of the total weight of the item. This layer of gold is 17 to 25,000 times thicker than the layer of gold on gold plated jewelry.
Gold-filled tubing and wire are usually seamless, so only gold touches the body. Gold-filled sheets of base metal, used to make other findings, can be either single clad (gold on visible side only) or double clad (gold on both sides and sometimes the edge). Seamless and double clad gold-filled items are less likely to discolor, since the base metal is sealed inside the gold. However, the layer of gold on a single clad 1/20 gold-filled item is as thick (and the same total weight) as the two layers of gold on a double-clad 1/20 gold-filled item.Use care when buffing gold-filled items, to avoid removing the gold layer.
The surface layer of karat gold on gold-filled items is usually 10kt, 12kt or 14kt (see illustration for more info). To know the thickness of the layer, look for a stamped fraction, such as 1/10 or 1/20. It is always 1/20 unless otherwise stamped.
• 1/10 10kt GF: 1/10 of the total weight is 10kt gold.
• 1/20 12kt GF: 1/20 of the total weight is 12kt gold.

Horn: The majority of our horn beads and pendants are made from water buffalo horn, hand carved in India. Black and "natural" are usually the horn's original color without any treatments or dyes. Gold and red horn may be bleached and/or dyed. Dyed horn beads and pendants might not be colorfast. Our vendors have assured us that no animals were harmed for these; the horn used is from animals that died of natural causes. Our hand-carved horn beads and pendants are wonderful for handmade jewelry, but please be aware that all hand-carved items vary in size, color, pattern and quantity per strand, so they're not the best choice for people who need perfectly matched pairs.

Lead-Free Crystal: Swarovski Spectra lead-free rainbow crystal offers above-average results regarding light reflection and brilliance while delivering excellent value for money. While It makes beautiful jewelry centerpieces as well as sun-catchers to display in your business, home or car. It is the perfect choice for the price-conscious consumer.

Lead Crystal: Glass with lead oxide (PbO) has a higher density, giving it a high refractive index, which makes it extra brilliant. It's a bit more fragile than other types of glass, and easier to cut than many other types of glass. Lead Glass with between 24% and 32% lead oxide, and the proper faceting, produces brilliant rainbows, sparkling rhinestones and beautiful cutware. However, it's not safe to store wine or other acidic beverages in lead-crystal decanters, and due to the hazards of working with lead, and concerns about infants and children swallowing lead-based beads, it is no longer as popular in jewelry and cutware, stemware and decanters as it was in previous centuries.

Niobium: Because niobium is an inert element, most people with metal allergies can safely wear niobium. It's highly resistant to corrosion and other reactions, and is used in medical implants. By definition, niobium does not contain lead, nickel, cadmium or anything else: It's just niobium. Niobium jewelry findings come in several anodized colors. Anodized metal is colored by dipping it into an electrically charged "bath" that creates bright colors without plating or painting the surface. The colors don't flake or chip like plated or painted surfaces can. Shop Niobium jewelry-making supplies.

Pewter: Pewter includes any of the numerous silver-gray alloys of tin with various amounts of antimony and copper. Old/vintage pewter components frequently contain lead, because it lowers the alloy's melting temperature. Now, you rarely find pewter that contains lead unless you buy it from a clueless or unscrupulous supplier. (Beware of prices that seem too good to be true! Avoid cheap pewter when making jewelry that might be worn by children or otherwise teethed on or ingested.)
Some of our base-metal items that were made of pewter in previous decades are now made of a brass or zinc alloy base (the "Material" on the Details page of an item), with an antiqued pewter plating (the "Color" on the Details page of an item).

Plastic: A synthetic material made from any of numerous organic synthetic or processed materials such as polyethylene, PVC, etc., that can be molded into shape while soft and turned into a rigid or somewhat flexible end form.

Silver Filled: Silver Fill (also called silver overlay) is made by using heat and pressure to apply a layer of sterling silver to a base of less costly metal. This produces a surface with sterling silver, and when silver prices rise steeply, silver-filled items can offer great cost savings, yet still provide good durability. The minimum layer of silver must equal at least 1/10 of the total weight of the item, which is MUCH thicker than silver platings.
Silver-filled tubing and wire are usually seamless, so only silver touches the body. Silver-filled sheets of base metal, used to make other findings, can be either single clad (silver on visible side only) or double clad (silver on both sides and sometimes the edge). Use care when buffing silver-filled items, to avoid removing the silver layer.

Stainless Steel and Surgical Stainless Steel: Stainless Steel (also known as corrosion-resistant steel) is a generic name for any steel alloy with a minimum of 11.5 wt% chromium. There are over 100 alloys of stainless steel, and each is denoted by a unique SAE steel grade number, which may include one or more letters. Stainless steel alloys are made of steel (iron with carbon), chromium, nickel, and other trace elements. For stainless steel alloys used in jewelry, these trace elements are approximately 0.75% silicon, 0.045% phosphorous, 0.03% sulfur, 2% manganese, and 0.1% nitrogen. The chromium creates a very thin chromium-oxide layer on the surface of the metal, which prevents it from rusting. The advantage of stainless steels over plated steels is that, if scratched or damaged, the stainless steel 'self-repairs' as a new chromium-oxide layer is formed. In plated steels, scratches in the plating can lead to corrosion of the steel underneath. In general, the higher percentage of chromium, the stronger the corrosion resistance of the steel. Other metals are added to the alloy to give the steel other properties, such as strength and malleability. Nickel is added to reduce brittleness, strengthen the protective oxide layer, and improve strength at both high and low temperatures.
Stainless steel findings are slightly more gray than white findings, but the difference is barely noticeable, especially on finished jewelry. Stainless steels do not match sterling or silver plate well.

  • Surgical Stainless Steel is a term that is falling out of favor in the metals industry, as specific alloy numbers for steel (like 304, 430, and 316L) provide more information about the exact qualities of each type of steel. It's important to know that, while wearable by the majority of the population, Surgical Stainless Steel DOES contain nickel, usually 8% in jewelry. Low-nickel forms of stainless steel (such as 430 stainless steel) do not meet the needs of the medical industry, as they lack the corrosion resistance that nickel gives to steel.
  • 304 stainless steel is the most popular grade of stainless steel. It is 18-20% chromium, 8-10.5% nickel, 0.08% carbon, plus iron and the trace elements listed above. It is commonly used in the food industry (sinks, coffee urns, dairy storage and hauling, beer/brewing, citrus and fruit juice handling, etc). The same corrosion and stain resistance that make it great for food handling, also make it popular for jewelry.
  • 304L stainless steel is almost the same as 304, but has a lower carbon content (0.03%), and may contain a slightly higher amount of nickel (8-12%). This alloy has increased weldability and resistance to corrosion (great for men's jewelry).
  • 316 and 316L "surgical" stainless steel contain 2-3% molybdenum for even greater resistance to harsh corrosives (both industrial, and in the body). 316 and 316L stainless steels were some of the alloys formerly called Surgical Stainless Steel, but now they are known by their ASTM alloy numbers. 316L is a low carbon version of 316, with extra corrosion resistance, and is frequently used for stainless steel watches and marine applications. Like most other stainless steel, it contains 8-10.5% nickel, making it unsuitable for people with nickel allergies.
  • 430 stainless steel contains less than 0.75% nickel, and some forms of 430 stainless steel meet the EU nickel directive (less than .05% nickel ion migration). 430 stainless steel has good corrosion resistance compared to non-stainless steel, but not as good as the 304 and 316 alloys. This makes it less popular for jewelry than you would expect from its low nickel content.
  • Shop Stainless Steel Jewelry-Making Supplies.
  • Looking for allergy-friendly metals? See our Surgical Steel and Hypoallergenic Metals blog article for a full discussion of this topic, plus links to great earring material options for people with metal allergies.

For carbon steels, such as S50C or AISI 1050 Steel, see Carbon Steel.

Steel: Steel is a blanket term for a wide variety of iron-based alloys that are very tough and hard. When our item material simply says "Steel", it is generally a tool made of a basic, strong tool steel, or it's the strong base material under a plating. Many plated chains and findings are made with steel, because it is strong: it doesn't bend out of shape easily, and links don't open on accident (but you may be able to open them with 2 pairs of pliers). Most alloys of steel contain nickel -- especially if the specific alloy of steel isn't listed -- so raw, unplated steel does NOT match the EU Nickel Directive, unless the item specifically states that it is an acceptable nickel-free alloy. It is possible that some of our plated steel chains are suitable for sale in Europe, but we do not guarantee them. If you would like to give it a try, we suggest you try the platings other than -9 Gunmetal and -1 White. (Gunmetal and White platings occasionally contain nickel.) For more details about specific alloys of steel, also see: About Metals

Sterling Silver: Sterling silver, sometimes stamped .925 or simply 925, is an alloy of at least 92.5% silver. The remaining 7.5% is usually copper. All of our sterling silver is nickel-free, cadmium-free, lead-free, and meets the EU Nickel Directive. Sterling silver is a soft, easy to work with metal, which can be antiqued to a dark black or polished to a bright shine. More information about sterling silver

Titanium: Titanium is an element with the symbol Ti and atomic number 22. It is an extremely strong silver-gray metal with high resistance to corrosion. It is now the most popular metal for dental and medical implants, due to its bio-inertness and high fatigue limit. Although this metal is more difficult to shape than other popular jewelry metals, it is also becoming more popular for ear wires and flat pad earring posts, due to the fact that very few people have allergic reactions to Titanium jewelry.

Tyvek®: is a synthetic material made from high-density spunbound polyethylene fibers. Lightweight, durable and breathable, yet resistant to water, abrasion, bacterial penetration and aging, Tyvek is used in a variety of applications across multiple industries. The nonwoven fibers of Tyvek are randomly laid and compressed to provide superior tear and puncture resistance for long-lasting, durable protection. Like paper, most traditional and digital printing techniques, including UV inkjet, latex and letterpress printing processes can be used on Tyvek.

Vermeil: Vermeil (a French word, pronounced "verh-MAY") is a plating of karat gold over sterling silver.

Zinc: Zinc (Zn) is an elemental metal with atomic number 30. It is silvery in color, and relatively abundant in the earth's crust. It's been used in brass alloys as early as 2,000 BCE (or even earlier).

Sep 22nd 2021 Polly Nobbs-LaRue

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