What makes a piece of jewelry worthy of being called "heirloom-quality" and what is meant by the term? Simply speaking, heirloom jewelry is recognized as jewelry that is passed down through generations, where as a "heirloom-quality" piece may or may not be passed down but exhibits several principle qualities that one should expect from jewelry meant to withstand many many years of wear. An heirloom-quality piece is best described as high-end jewelry exhibiting quality materials, precise craftsmanship and solid construction. The most precious heirloom jewelry also exhibits unique design, special treatment and sentimental value. This two-part article will help readers distinguish between precious pieces meant to be treasured for a lifetime and pieces that are less valuable.
The most obvious characteristic of heirloom-quality jewelry is that it is constructed with quality materials. Such materials may include but are not limited to high-karat gold, fine and sterling silver, platinum, precious and semi-precious stones, and organic gems.
The precious metals gold, silver and platinum, are valued for their rarity and beauty. Although they are malleable, these metals are remarkably resistant to corrosion, which makes them highly desirable for jewelry making.
Pure gold is measured as 24-karat and is generally considered too soft to be worn as jewelry, therefore it is commonly alloyed with other metals such as copper, silver and titanium to strengthen it. The result is gold of varying karats and shades, and generally the higher the gold content the more precious the piece is considered to be. In the US, 14-karat gold is predominant. In Europe, 18 karat is most common, and in parts of Asia and the Middle East, 22- or 24-karat gold is the standard. On high-end jewelry, the karat content is usually stamped on the piece.
Silver is the most plentiful of all precious metals, and when given a high polish, its reflective properties are unrivaled. It has been perhaps the most sought-after precious metal throughout the ages, likely due to its durability in combination with its beauty. One of the secrets of silver is that it easily flatters all skin tones. Though it is more durable than pure gold, like gold, pure silver on its own is too soft to be worn as jewelry. Sterling silver is an alloy of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper. This combination strengthens silver while retaining its precious metal properties.
Platinum's popular as high-end jewelry began more than 2,000 years ago in South American Indian cultures and like silver, it is prized for its highly reflective color. Another defining feature of platinum is its durability, which is unsurpassed by any of the other precious metals. Even the most delicate of styles fashioned with platinum permanently retain their shape; This allows jewelry artists extensive creative freedom when forming intricate pieces. Most platinum jewelry is manufactured with at least 85 percent pure platinum. Palladium, ruthenium and iridium, which are also members of the platinum family, are often alloyed with platinum to enhance its brilliance and durability.
Beside metal, heirloom-quality …