Nickel in Alloys For Jewelry Makers: Looking for Safer Alternatives

No matter the latest fashion trends hitting the New York and Paris runways, every model will have one thing in common: the jewelry they wear. Jewelry manufacturing is a booming business as adults and children of all ages are looking for the right jewelry to wear for everyday activities, special occasions and to have as keepsakes. For jewelry makers, selecting the right base metal means more than picking an element or alloy for beauty and durability. A base metal must also offer the right workability and castability without being too soft for the jewelry application. In addition, the base metal must be safe for people to wear on a constant basis without negatively impacting their health.

At one time, lead was a common element used in jewelry making because of its soft characteristics and low melt point. However, the health dangers of lead have been researched and documented for decades. While adults can wear jewelry with allowable amounts of lead, many people are turning to safer alternatives such as lead-free alloys containing nickel.

Nickel is an element that comes in a silvery-white color and can possess a golden tinge. It is both malleable and ductile, as it can be worked and cast into the appropriate shape without compromising its durability and strength. Nickel is also corrosion resistant.

You can often find nickel added into precious metals such as karat gold. Nickel is a common material in 18K white gold along with zinc, copper and sometimes palladium to increase the metal’s resistance to bending and scratches because gold is very soft. As a base metal alloy, nickel silver has become a popular option for jewelry makers, as this material contains nickel, zinc and copper. Nickle silver is a cheap alloy that is more affordable than sterling silver and can be textured when worked to create an added depth and dimension to the jewelry piece to make it more attractive.

When using nickel in alloying applications for jewelry, manufacturers must keep in mind the skin health problems associated with this alloy. Nickle skin allergies are common although the exact reason why people have an allergic reaction is still unknown. When a person’s skin comes in contact with nickel, the skin can turn red, irritated and form rashes or blisters. A dry patch that also resembles a burn can also develop.

Due to these allergic reactions, manufacturers and small business jewelry makers must always indicate that the jewelry that was crafted contains any amount of nickel, even pieces marked “nickel free” that still contain measurable amounts. If selling jewelry in other countries such as the United Kingdom, the UK has developed the EU Nickle Directive that indicates the amount of nickel that can be released into the skin from the base metal. So manufacturers need to be aware of this directive to stay in compliance.

Here at Belmont Metals in Brooklyn, New York, we provide nickel and nickel-silver for precious and non-precious alloying for jewelry manufacturing. Creating the right base metal for your jewelry that has the appropriate malleability and color can be accomplished, as our metallurgists can help you decide on the specific alloys for the product you wish to make. Reach out to our company for your nickel products as well as for other lead-free and environmentally-friendly alternatives.