Serpentine Jasper Niobium Bracelet
Gold is so revered it is used as actual currency.  Wars have been fought for it, lives have been lived in pursuit of it - its fascination to us goes beyond reason.  I suppose I'm getting in to touchy territory talking about this precious metal, but I'll try it anyway. I am not a metalsmith, and up to this point I have not chosen to use gold, partly because of cost, and partly because it can be a little unpredicatable for reasons outlined below. Here is some of what I have learned:

Gold is an Alloy
Like silver, pure gold is too soft to wear as jewelry without a hardener being added to it. Usually the hardening elements used with gold include some combination of silver, zinc, nickel, copper, and palladium. Anything that is at least 10K gold can be classified as  "solid gold" in the U.S. As you see by the list below, most gold is alloyed with other metals, and since nickel is a reliable hardener, nickel is one of the possibilities. 
The breakdown is more or less like this:
  • 24K gold     pure gold
  • 18K gold     75% gold, with one or more additional metals
  • 14K gold     58.3% gold, with one or more additional metals
  • 12K gold     50% gold, with one or more additional metals
  • 10K gold     41.7% gold, with one or more additional metals
Gold Colors
Gold can be made into an amazing array of different colors by alloying it with a combination of metals. I think it worth a mention of where these colors come from: 
  • Yellow        silver, copper, zinc
  • White         Nickel, zinc, copper, tin, manganese, platinum, palladium
  • Rose/Pink   Copper, silver 
  • Green         Silver, cadmium, copper
  • Blue/Grey   Iron, copper
  • Purple        Aluminum
Alloys in general
An alloy is by definition a combination of metals. Metals are alloyed for the purpose of achieving the color, strength, and malleability desired by the jeweler and the wearer.  Even if the alloy does not contain nickel, the presence of combined different metals in the presence of moisture (which your body has plenty of) can be enough to cause an electrochemical reaction. That reaction can show up on your skin as an itchy, blotchy rash. Even if you are not allergic to any of the individual metals, you can still be allergic to the alloy.

White Gold

White Gold is alloyed with a combination of nickel, zinc, copper, tin, and manganese. Some
white gold may also include palladium or platinum. If you are allergic to nickel, the general advice is to steer clear of white gold.

Gold Plating
Very simply, the thicker the layer of gold plate, the less likely it will wear away and expose the metal underneath. Plated metals are one of the reasons that a person may not discover a nickel allergy right away. It takes time for the base metal to be exposed, and if that metal contains nickel, that can cause or re-activate an allergy.

The process of plating itself can sometimes introduce nickel to a piece of jewelry. The two metals in question may not always readily adhere to each other, and one of the metals that can be used to make the stick together, is nickel.

Gold Fill
Gold Fill jewelry has a gold outer layer that much thicker than plating. Newer gold-filled jewelry is marked as to what type of gold it contains and how much. 1/20 14K G.F. means that it contains at least 1/20th 14K gold by weight. Gold Fill is much more likely than Gold Plated jewelry to be nickel free.

Vermeil is another name for gold plated silver. It has some of the pitfalls of silver, gold, and plated metals. The gold may be pure, or alloyed only with palladium; the silver may be alloyed with something other than nickel, and the plating may be done in a way that did not introduce nickel to the process.

My Note: 
Perhaps you begin to see why gold is not my metal of choice. I have seen gold sold as nickel free from reputable companies, and as such, I have no reason to doubt that it is safe. I even own a pair of 14K gold earrings that was the pair I used to get my ears re-pierced with as an adult, and they have never given me any problems. However, I have also spoken to jewelers regarding which metal their gold is alloyed with, and they do not even know what I am asking. For my own jewelry making, I plan to stick to firmer ground.



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