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DON'T BE CONNED: JEWELLERY MYTHS & MISLEADING MARKETING

08/04/2024 | Decent Jewelry

Recently I saw an ad for a new jewelry brand which bragged about the amazing features of their jewelry which they claimed made it superior to other jewelry designs. As a jewelry professional I was very skeptical of the claims being made, so I decided to do a bit of research into misleading marketing to try to bust some jewelry myths.

I hope this will help you to make better choices when you're shopping for jewelry as nobody likes to be misled or conned. So let's get started .

WATERPROOF JEWELLERY

When I looked into one brand claiming to sell waterproof jewelry, their product care advice included avoiding contact with liquids and chemicals, along with exposure to humidity  Relight.

The fact is that water will eventually be a problem for most metal jewelry with enough exposure and depending on what chemicals that water contains. Keep in mind that almost all water you come into contact with isn't pure.

PRECIOUS METALS

Precious metals, such as solid silver jewelry and gold jewelry, are much more durable when it comes to contact with water than base metals like brass or nickel, but they're still not impervious.

Pure gold and silver are both soft metals which are generally not suited for use in jewelry making, so they are almost always alloyed with other metals to make them harder. Salt water and chlorinated water especially can cause damage to some of those alloyed metals, which over time can result in pitting and discolorations, depending on how frequently and for how long the jewelry is immersed.

Platinum jewelry is often 90-95% pure and will be very resilient when it comes to water and chemical exposure. However, it will still contain alloyed metals which may cause problems over time, especially at lower levels of purity.

That's not to say that you should never expose solid precious metal jewelry to water or it will be ruined: that's absolutely not true and you can go about your day to day life without worrying too much. Most likely you'll get away with wearing your precious metal jewelry during casual visits to the beach or swimming pool for years.

However, be aware that eventually it's likely show damage from these activities, especially if the exposure is frequent or for long periods. Even showering and repeated contact with soaps, shampoos, household cleaning chemicals, etc. will eventually have an impact.

So if you're going for a swim, taking a shower or doing some cleaning, it's a good idea to take precious pieces off at least some of the time.

If your jewelry is plated rather than solid precious metal, then it's important to take extra care to protect the thin plated surface which is likely to eventually wear through to the metal beneath.

STAINLESS STEEL & TITANIUM

Even highly corrosion resistant metals like stainless steel and titanium can be affected by chemicals found in some water and from long periods of water immersion, so it's still recommended that you remove such jewelry while showering and if you go swimming regularly.

GEMSTONE JEWELLERY

If you have gemstone jewelry, then this is also something to consider when it comes to water. Softer gems like opal and also pearls can be affected by exposure to water. Do your research before getting gemstone jewelry wet on a regular basis.

PVD COATING

On the upside, there is PVD coating (physical vapors deposition) which bonds a strong coating material to metal jewelry. This does provide good protection from water damage and makes jewelry tarnish resistant. Some brands advertising waterproof jewelry are indeed using PVD coatings, so their claims are more valid.

This is still far from a perfect solution, however. While PVD coating is durable, it will be difficult to repair or replace when it wears through, which it will almost certainly do eventually - and faster for designs that take a lot of wear and tear (rings and bracelets especially). It's also an expensive process, so there will be a limited array of generally mass produced designs which make use of it and it will noticeably increase the price of those designs. Another issue is that if the piece needs to be repaired, resized or you want it redesigned, the coating may cause problems.

It's up to you to decide whether it's worth it, especially if the underlying metal isn't precious (most PVD coated jewelry I've encountered isn't made of solid precious metal) and the piece has minimal intrinsic value.

THE BOTTOM LINE

All metals and some gemstones will be somewhat affected by prolonged exposure to water or moisture, which can lead to corrosion, pitting or other damage.

If you see metal jewelry advertised as being waterproof, then be sure to look into what backs up this claim. While there are some ways of making metals more resistant to water damage, you should check what specific method is being used (if any), along with what the pros and cons might be.

To truly care for your metal jewelry avoid exposing it to salt water, chlorine and other liquid chemicals as much as you can manage. Also avoid getting it wet frequently or for extended periods.

This also goes for highly corrosion resistant metals and even those that have been treated in some way to make them more water resistant, especially if you want to keep these pieces in great condition for years to come.

Learn more about how to care for jewelry.

SWEATPROOF JEWELLERY

This marketing term is just as problematic as waterproof jewelry and for many of the same reasons.

Sweat is slightly acidic and often contains salts, which can damage metal jewelry, including causing pitting and increased tarnish. Sweat also contains a myriad of other substances which can cause damage or simply leave a residue on your jewelry which will need cleaning. Sweat may also damage or discolors some gemstones, especially pearls.

In addition, some people's sweat contains a mixture of chemicals that simply don't play well with some metals (silver in particular). If you're one of these people, you need to be careful about the metals you choose to wear.

There are plating and coatings (including PVD, as above, and rhodium plating on silver or white gold) which may provide resistance to sweat, but many of these will eventually wear through and need repair or replacement, which may be expensive or problematic.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Given you'll want to clean your jewelry anyway if it has been caked in residue from sweat, then there doesn't seem to be a lot of point in seeking 'sweatproof' jewelry. It's another marketing term to be wary of and to look into when you see it.

My advice is to take your jewelry off if you know you're going to be sweating a lot (during exercise for instance, and especially if you exercise regularly). Also be sure to give your jewelry a clean with a gentle soap and some water if you've been sweating on it. Check out our article about how to quickly clean jewelry.

HYPOALLERGENIC JEWELLERY

Did you know that 'hypoallergenic' is just a marketing term which was coined in the 1950s? There is no regulatory basis for use of it in Australia, the United States or elsewhere. In theory it's intended to indicate a lower risk from allergic reactions to a particular product, but nobody ensures that this is how the term is used. In fact research indicates that many products which claim to be hypoallergenic actually contain known allergens.

The use of the term 'hypoallergenic' in jewelry marketing is also frequently misleading and you should be wary when you come across it. It is often based on misunderstandings or lack of research.

Metal allergies are a form of contact dermatitis. You might be able to wear a particular metal for years before suddenly developing a sensitivity to it and getting rashes on your skin when you wear it. Once you develop a sensitivity, it can't be cured.

NICKEL

When it comes to allergies, not all metals are created equal. The worst offender by far when it comes to jewelry is nickel. It's estimated that 17% of women and 3% of men are allergic to this metal.

Some people assume they are allergic to a precious metal like gold or silver, but in reality they're allergic to nickel which may be alloyed with precious metals to make them harder or (in the case of white gold) to change the color. Any responsible jewelry maker should ensure their precious metals are nickel free (at Simone Walsh Jewelry we certainly do).

Also if you see 'nickel silver' jewelry for sale, be aware that this is actually just a type of nickel and it contains no silver at all. My advice: do not purchase it.

You should also be aware that stainless steel often contains nickel. It is less likely to leach into your skin from this metal, but it can still cause problems. Always be sure to ask the seller if their stainless steel jewelry contains nickel if they don't make this clear.

Given how common nickel allergies are and that you cannot be cured once you're sensitive to it, the best advice is to avoid nickel as much as you possibly can, especially when it comes to jewelry which is worn against your skin.

OTHER METALS

Heavy metals including titanium, palladium and platinum are known to cause allergic reactions for some people, yet I often see titanium and platinum jewelry advertised as being 'hypoallergenic'. While reactions may not be overly common, they certainly do exist.

Copper allergies are rare but not non-existent and copper makes up a small amount of sterling silver. Although there isn't much research on it, it appears that a very small number of people are allergic to gold (although given how many people wear gold for long periods of time, it's clearly very rare).

(Reading this on a website that isn't simonewalsh.com? Be aware that the content has been stolen, infringing the copyright of a small business. ABN: 65108844126)

THE BOTTOM LINE

If you've developed a sensitivity to a type of metal, then the only thing you can do is to get clear on exactly which metal is causing the problem and avoid wearing it, even if it is coated, plated or alloyed with something else. A dermatologist or allergist can help you pin this down.

In particular you should always check that jewelry you're looking to buy is nickel free as everyone should be avoiding wearing nickel as much as possible. Our gold and silver jewelry is all free from nickel.

If you see jewelry being marketing as 'hypoallergenic' and allergens are a concern to you, always take the time to look into the basis on which the jewelry seller is making this claim and do some research. You should also be clear on the type of metal being used in their products (a jewelry seller not making this clear up front should be a major red flag in general).

TARNISH FREE JEWELLERY

Most metals may tarnish in the right circumstances, but the main offender when it comes to precious metals used in jewelry is silver.

SILVER TARNISH

Sterling silver contains small amounts of copper and with exposure to moisture and some chemicals it will turn black or brown. The good news is that it's easy to clean silver jewelry, particularly if you keep on top of it.

The most common manufacturing approach to make silver tarnish resistant is to plate it with rhodium, which is a bright white metal. Sometimes pure silver is used in plating instead. These plating will generally prevent tarnish, but only until they wear through, as plating always does. If this happens you'll need to get the plating replaced, which may be expensive.

Learn more about how to prevent and clean tarnish from silver jewellery.

PVD COATING

As outlined in the waterproof jewelry section above, there is PVD coating (physical vapor deposition) which will also make jewelry tarnish resistant and is likely to last longer than plating. But, while it is durable, it can wear through and will be difficult to repair or replace.

It also increases cost and only a limited number of designs will have it, with many of them not being made of precious metal.

THE BOTTOM LINE

If you want jewelry that generally won't tarnish, then it's worth investing in solid gold jewelry (14k and up) or going for platinum, stainless steel or titanium. Note that white gold is usually also rhodium plated to make it a truly white color, so it will have the same problem with wearing through and needing repair.

If you're seeing silver jewelry being marketed as tarnish free, once again you need to look into on what basis this claim is being made. Also consider the pros and cons of coatings or metals that are less prone to tarnish. And make sure you're across what tarnish is and how to avoid it and clean it.

ETHICAL & SUSTAINABLE JEWELLERY

I'm increasingly seeing jewelry brands advertising that they're sustainable, ethical and environmentally friendly. A number of them are clearly making genuine efforts in these areas, which is great.

I can - hand on heart - say that at Simone Walsh Jewelry we do our very best to be an ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly jewelry business. We devote quite a bit of time and energy to doing this and improving where we can. Learn more about our ethical & eco-friendly jewelry.

However, for a number of businesses I've seen making these claims, there really isn't much (if any) evidence to back them up. It looks a lot like these terms are being used purely for marketing value.

Some brands have no plausible back story, no explanation of how their pieces are made or sourced, no evidence of being careful with packaging choices or other materials used in their business, no information about where they are based, etc.. They simply state that they are sustainable, ethical and/or eco-friendly and hope that their customers just naively believe it's true.

THE BOTTOM LINE

If environmental issues, sustainability and ethics are important to you (and I hope they are), then do your research. Greenwashing is absolutely a thing.

Does the business give you their back story? Does it sound genuine or like it's just marketing fluff? Do they explain what they do to be more ethical and sustainable in their business? Is it plausible? Are you clear on the materials they're using? Or how they make or source their pieces?

Spending a little bit of time getting a gut feeling for a brand before spending your money with them can make a big difference.

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