Gold, Silver, Bronze, and More: Your Guide to Metallics
December 22, 2014 by Joe Ness
Metallics are beautiful for decorating, fashion, and of course money. But what’s the difference between bronze and brass? Or silver and pewter? Whether you’re interested in jewelry or coiled wire fabric, this quick guide to metallics will help you understand differences in color and value.
The History of Metallics
Gold, silver, and bronze as the metal trifecta date back thousands of years. In his Republic, Plato explained that “gold souls” were the rulers of his ideal society, with “silver souls” helping them rule over everyone else, who had “souls of bronze.” This ranking system stuck: Gold, silver, and bronze were used as Olympic medals starting at the 1904 games in St. Louis.
Here’s a secret about bronze. It’s actually just copper mixed with a little tin. (Metal mixtures are called alloys.) Copper, silver, and gold live in the same column on the periodic table, which you might vaguely remember from high school chemistry class. Elements in the same column have similar traits. In this case, gold, silver, and copper are fairly durable and can be found in their pure form in nature. The lower you go on the periodic table, the heavier and rarer these metals are. That’s why gold is worth more than silver, which is worth more than copper.
Source: Welsh Government
Here’s a metal buzzword to know: ferrous. A ferrous metal contains iron, so it’s magnetic. Some steels are ferrous. Copper, aluminium, lead, nickel, tin, and brass are all non-ferrous.
Got it? Now let’s look at some specific metallics and their distinguishing traits.
Warm Tones: Copper, Bronze, Brass, and Gold
Copper is the closest metal to orange, color-wise. It’s the warmest. Think of a copper penny. It’s a soft metal, so things like pennies are actually made from another metal and just coated with copper. Copper tarnishes fairly easily. Copper jewelry is loved and hated for its supposed health benefits but also discoloring your skin.
If you mix other metals with copper, you get bronze and brass. Bronze is a mixture of about 90% copper and 10% tin. It’s darker than copper, and the color is less warm. In fact, bronze turns green when it oxidizes. Dark bronze can look almost chocolatey.
Take 70% to 85% copper and mix it with zinc, and you get brass. It’s a yellow-gold color. So how do you tell brass and gold apart? Brass is slightly darker and duller; gold is lighter and shinier. (That’s just a generality, though, because of course you have white gold and yellow gold. There’s also yellow, gold, and red brass.)
An easy way to see if something is gold or brass is to use a magnet. Brass will attract the magnet, but gold won’t. If something says “K” or “karats,” it’s gold. Gold is also about twice as heavy as brass.
Why is gold the, well, gold standard? It’s strong yet soft at the same time, and it doesn’t easily rust or tarnish. Pure, 100% gold is 24 karat and yellow-colored. The brighter and deeper the gold color, the higher the karat count, generally speaking. Since 24-karat gold is very soft, jewelers often mix in silver or multiple metals, making the alloy stronger (and lowering the karat count to 14-18). If you have an item that’s 18-karat gold, it’s 75% gold and 25% other metals.
What about white gold, you ask? To get a silver-like color, pure yellow gold is mixed with cool-toned metals such as nickel, palladium, zinc, or rhodium. Rose gold is an alloy of gold and copper; it has a pinkish hue.
Cool Tones: Silver, Nickel, Pewter, and Chrome
Sterling silver is rarely pure silver, because that’s too soft to use for jewelry. It’s usually about 92% silver and 8% copper. Is your sterling silver tarnishing quickly? That’s probably because it came in contact with a beauty product like lotion or hair spray.
Pewter is a silver-colored alloy. It doesn’t contain silver, though. It’s made of 90% tin; the rest is copper and antimony. It used to contain lead but doesn’t anymore. Fun fact: The Oscar statuettes at the Academy Awards are made out of pewter!
Nickel is bright and doesn’t tarnish (whereas silver does). It’s also lighter and cheaper than silver. Supposedly it’s also shinier than silver. It has a golden cast.
Chrome is very shiny and reflective. Next to nickel, it has a slightly blue tinge. It’s more durable than silver, but silver reflects even more light (which is why mirrors are made of silver).
Steel is a popular metal alloy because it’s affordable, lightweight, and strong. It’s a catchall term for iron mixed with something else. Steel combined with more than 10% chromium is stainless steel. It got its name by being rust-resistant and easy to clean. Stainless steel is popular in silverware, jewelry, and architectural products because you can give it a variety of finishes, from brushed to shiny.
Of course, after you choose your metal, you still have various finishes, like antiqued or satin. Your choices for metals and finishes is practically endless.
Here at Cascade Coil, we offer a vast array of materials. We can coat our coiled wire fabric in low-VOC metallic lacquers to achieve a variety of colors and finishes. Our Brite Basic Steel, Brite Pearl Gray, and Brightened aluminum wire are all coated in a low-VOC acrylic clear lacquer. Stainless Steel coiled wire fabric is very resistant to corrosion and has a lustrous metallic finish.
We also offer coiled wire fabric panels in Brite Nickel-Plated Steel, “Silver” Tin-Plated Steel, and Ultra Black Stainless Steel. Depending on the material, we either chemically clean it or degrease it for best results, based on your desired application. Our coiled wire fabric panels come in such a wide array of color and finish options, we can easily accommodate most any design request, no matter how nuanced. Want to see for yourself? Request a sample and see firsthand the differences in color and finish.
So there’s your primer on metallics! Any questions? Ask away in the comments!