What Are the Types of Jewelry Finishes and Techniques?

jewelry-finishes

You’re admiring a piece of jewelry while online shopping, and the description says: “18k yellow gold matte finish ring.” The 18k yellow gold part sounds familiar to you, but what is a matte finish? How is it any different than the other ring that says “high polish”?

Let’s take a look at what jewelry finishing means.

What Is Jewelry Finishing?

Jewelry finishing is a term that is used to loosely define the processes that add the final touches to a piece of jewelry. These processes range from polishing techniques to chemical applications such as oxidation. What they all have in common is their ability to drastically change the appearance of the item.

High Polish/High Shine Finishing

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A sterling silver ring brought to a high polish.

A pair of earrings being polished

The most common of jewelry finishes. A polisher simply uses his polishing wheel to buff the item to a bright shine. The material on the wheel, combined with a machine that whirs the wheel at a high speed, removes any rough or blurry spots on the metal.

Matte Finishing

Matte finishing is a type of finish that gives the metal a sleek, organic look. This type of finish requires some specialized equipment, such as specific polishing wheels and polishing papers that contain aluminum oxide. The jeweler may also use a rotary tool, which is a mini-motor that can whir a bur at high speed, creating a smaller version of the polishing wheel for fine detailing.

Sandblasting is also another way to create a matte finish. The jeweler places the item into a sandblasting machine, which directs a stream of high-pressure air containing aluminum oxide towards the piece of jewelry. The aluminum oxide is a fine abrasive that wears down the surface of the item, creating the matte finish.

Some jewelers and artisans separate the finish into two categories; satin and brushed.

jewelry-finishing-polishing

A jeweler using his rotary tool on a piece of jewelry.

jewelry-finishing

Matte tungsten ring

  • Satin Finish: Visually speaking, a satin finish is comparatively more subtle and has less marks than a brushed finish. In terms of texture, it should actually feel smooth like a regular polish.
  • Brushed Finish: A brushed finish is more rustic, with heavier definition on the visible strokes. When a brushed finish is touched, you should be able to feel the stroke marks.

Hammered Finishing

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A hammered 22k gold ring made by Nancy Troske

It’s exactly how it sounds- a hammered finish is a type of finish created by hammering all around the metal. The jeweler first brings the metal to a high polish to ensure evenness all around the item, and then taps away with a polished hammer of the appropriate size. It’s important that the hammer is properly polished- a dull tool will create undesirable marks on the jewelry.

Once the hammering is finished, the jeweler polishes the piece. He can either polish down the item more to make the hammered effect more subtle, or give it a quick buff to preserve the sharper details of a freshly hammered finish.

Stipple Finish

Similar to a hammered finish, the stipple finish involves tapping heavily away at the metal with a special hammer tool until there are “pockmarks” in the item. It’s not a very common finish, but it can create an interesting visual effect that can offset stones or other detailing nicely.

Non-Polishing Techniques

These jewelry finishes change the color of the jewelry, instead of the texture.

jewelry-finishing-oxidation

An oxidized silver chain with a gold clasp and jump ring.

Oxidation

Oxidation is the natural process of silver jewelry darkening over time. It’s usually not desirable in jewelry, but nowadays jewelers are professionally oxidizing metals in order to give the jewelry an even, blackened look. This creates an appealing “gunmetal” color, which gives colored stones and gold detailing a strong “pop.”

In order to chemically induce oxidation, the jeweler applies potassium sulfide to the metal. This causes silver sulfide to develop on the top of the metal, giving the piece a dark appearance. It should be noted that the process only affects the surface of the jewelry; the interior metal will still be its original color if the item is cut open.

jewelry-finishing-enameling

A silver tiger’s eye ring with enameled details on the shoulders.

Enameling

Enameling is the process of applying color to a piece of jewelry by fusing powdered glass to the metal. A technique used since antiquity, enamel gives a beautiful “painted” appearance to jewelry, and can last for a long time if done properly. While there are many styles of enameling, all of the work is done by adding the powdering glass and firing the piece in a kiln. The enamel will come out differently depending on the base metal- for instance, enameling on copper will be comparatively muted in terms of color, in contrast to gold.

Plating

gold-electroplating

A silver ring before and after gold plating

Plating is the process of adhering a thin coating of metal on top of a base metal. While gold is the most common material used in plating, white gold and platinum jewelry are often plated with rhodium, a strong silvery metal that enhances color and durability. In order to plate jewelry, the item is placed into a tank containing a liquid solution of water and metal salt. Electrical currents run through the solution, which fuse the gold from the metal salt to the surface of the item.

Now that you’re up to date on the types of jewelry finishes, which ones do you like the most? Comment below and let us know!

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