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The Science of Jewellery: How Our Bodies Interact with Metal

Last night, over dinner with some women who are passionate about jewellery, a fascinating topic came up. One of the women remarked, “Did you know that platinum is now cheaper than gold?” This puzzled many of us at the table. Historically, platinum has always been considered more valuable! Intrigued by this shift, I delved into the current metal markets using reliable sources like the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) and financial news websites such as Bloomberg and Reuters. Indeed, the latest prices reveal that platinum is currently priced at around $950 per ounce, while white gold, due to its high gold content, has climbed to approximately $1,900 per ounce.


This surprising revelation got me thinking about various metals and how they interact with our bodies.


Smithsonite Jewellery in Silver Metal | gemstone detective

Why does some jewellery turn skin green?


One of the most common reactions between jewellery and skin is the appearance of a greenish tint. This usually occurs with copper-containing metals. When copper reacts with sweat and oils from your skin, it forms copper salts, which are green in colour. Thus, the lovely hue left behind on your skin is simply a chemical reaction.


Other metals and their reactions:


  • Nickel: Nickel is a metal commonly used in costume jewellery and can cause allergic reactions in some people. This can manifest as itching, redness, or even blistering. Nickel allergies are fairly common, and it’s often recommended to wear jewellery made from hypoallergenic metals, such as titanium or surgical steel, if you are sensitive.


  • Silver: Silver jewellery can also tarnish, leaving a black residue on your skin. Silver reacts with sulphur compounds in the air and on your skin, forming black silver sulphide.


  • Gold: While pure gold (24k) is generally less reactive, it’s quite soft and usually alloyed with other metals to make it more durable. Common gold alloys may contain nickel or copper, leading to potential reactions similar to those described above.


Preventing metal reactions:


  1. Clear nail polish: Applying a thin layer of clear nail polish to the parts of the jewellery that touch your skin can create a barrier, preventing direct contact.

  2. Proper cleaning: Regularly clean your jewellery to remove any built-up sweat, oils, and other contaminants that could accelerate reactions.

  3. Choosing the right metals: Opt for jewellery made from hypoallergenic materials like titanium, surgical steel, or higher-karat gold to minimize the risk of skin reactions.


Unique facts to spark your interest:


  • Vintage jewellery: Much vintage jewellery contains substances not frequently used today, such as Bakelite, a type of plastic. These materials were innovative for their time and offered unique aesthetics without the risk of allergies.

  • Body chemistry: Every individual’s body chemistry is unique! This means that the same piece of jewellery might react differently on different people. Factors like acidity levels in your sweat can intensify or minimize reactions.

  • Myths debunked: It’s a common myth that only cheap jewellery will turn your skin green. Even more expensive pieces, if they contain copper or nickel, can cause this reaction. Price does not always correlate with reactivity.

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Reflecting on the current prices of platinum and gold, it becomes clear that opting for platinum jewellery is a smart choice. Not only is platinum presently more affordable, but it's also a durable and hypoallergenic metal, making it an excellent option for those with sensitive skin. Furthermore, considering the historical trends, it's likely that the value of platinum will increase again in the future, making it a win-win investment.


By understanding how different metals interact with our bodies, you can make informed choices about the jewellery you wear. Whether it's by selecting specific metals, applying preventative measures to avoid skin reactions, or simply enjoying the rich history and science behind these beautiful adornments, you now have the knowledge to enhance both your comfort and enjoyment of your favourite pieces.


I hope that helps.


Kim Rix GG GIA

Gemstone Detective

Be sure. Be smart. Buy with confidence

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