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Gold and silver are considered the king and queen of metals; no other members of the mineral kingdom surpass them in nobility. These two noble metals are usually used in conjunction with each other, especially in jewelry and coins. However, their strength and malleability can be improved by adding other metallic elements. These elements are called alloys.
In general, silver is added to gold to produce a harder and more fusible alloy. The color of the alloy also changes as a result of the amount of silver present; a whitish alloy appears when less than 50 percent silver is in the mix, while greenish yellow and bright yellow appearances are seen when a higher percentage of silver is included.
Other metals that can be used to enhance gold’s properties include zinc, copper, nickel, iron, tin and cadmium. These alloys are often used in the manufacture of rings and other jewelry items. In addition, iridium and palladium can be added to create white gold and platinum alloys, respectively, which do not tarnish.
The chemistry of alloying is well understood, and numerous techniques are employed. Gold-silver-copper alloys are a standard for many production processes. They can, however, be optimized for specific production applications by varying the nature and content of the base metals. For example, introducing small amounts of indium into a 99% gold alloy creates an entirely new range of oxide colors (Fig. 4). Other colors can be obtained by varying the nature and amount of other elements; for example, a high concentration of zinc in an alloy produces reddy yellows and deeper brassy reds.