What Is Base Metal Jewelry?

Vintage Flair Crystal Teardrop Earrings
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 and metal sheet and metal wire are all 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 are made with base metals thinly plated with 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. Base metals provide an affordable choice and a economical way to practice jewelry design or new techniques.

Base metals can be extremely helpful when it comes to designing jewelry. You can use them to make prototypes of your jewelry designs that you will later recreate with precious metal. Base metals also work well as practice material when you are learning a new technique. 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 can be used a number of different ways, depending on the jewelry design. 

  • 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, or free-form designs and like metal sheets, 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. Again, there is a wide variety of base metal findings and they can be found in a huge array of colors, materials and design. 

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