What Is Base Metal Jewelry?

Vintage Flair Crystal Teardrop Earrings
Tammy Powley

Creating metal jewelry can be a satisfying creative outlet. Using your hands and your materials, metal jewelry making can result in beautiful designs and creations. Metal jewelry making isn't limited to precious metals and it's important to have an understanding of the metal materials available to a jewelry maker, as the materials are obviously a key element to making jewelry. 

Metal Terminology

Metal findings, metal sheet, and metal wire are all common elements that are used to create jewelry. Therefore, it is helpful to understand metal terminology. Metals are generally organized into two different types: base metals and precious metals.

Base metals are considered the opposite of precious metals (gold, platinum, palladium, and silver). They are much more economical to use than precious metals because the elements that make up these metals are more commonly found. Some examples of base metals include copper, zinc, nickel, and aluminum. Another major difference between precious metals and base metals is that base metals will tarnish (or oxidize) a lot faster. Some costume jewelry is made with base metal that is then thinly plated with or dipped into precious metals. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Base Metal

Keep in mind that some people are more sensitive to base metals and cannot wear anything made with it. For example, nickel is a base metal that many people are allergic to. It is much less likely that someone is allergic to precious metals. Base metals provide an affordable choice and an economical way to practice jewelry design or new techniques since the cost of materials is much lower and there is less at stake if a mistake is made.

Base metals can be extremely helpful when it comes to designing jewelry. You can use them to make prototypes of your jewelry designs. Once you have created a design you like, you can then recreate the same design with precious metal. Do note that base metals are quick to tarnish from exposure to air, which will likely impact the design and overall look of the jewelry you have created. 

How to Use Base Metals to Create Jewelry

Base metals come in a variety of formats and materials. Use the right material and shape for your design needs.

  • Base Metal Sheets: These come in a variety of materials, gauges (or thicknesses), and colors. Metal sheets can be sawed, pierced or molded in shapes (such as a bracelet cuff), stamped, embossed, or even etched on with acid. 
  • Base Metal Wire: Wire can be used for beading, crocheting, wrapping, or free-form designs. Like metal sheets, wire also comes in a variety of materials, colors, and gauges. Textured or patterned wire can add additional design to homemade jewelry.
  • Base Metal Findings: These are the finishing details of the jewelry, from the clasps, settings, and connectors. There is a wide variety of base metal findings available and they can be found in a huge array of colors, materials, size, and design. 

Base metals provide an inexpensive way to create jewelry, experiment with designs and showcase creativity. The sheets, wire, findings, and other jewelry making materials can be found in most craft stores, specialty art supply stores, or online art supply vendors.