Stainless steel is unlikely to be the first metal that comes to mind when you think about jewellery. Gold, sterling silver and platinum are metals that you are more likely to think of first. So why should you consider stainless steel jewellery? Is it better or worse than other jewellery metals and is it safe to wear if you have a metal allergy?
What is stainless steel?
Stainless steel is an alloy, meaning that it is not a pure metal but mixed with other materials which can provide additional benefits. Gold and silver are also similarly mixed with other materials when used in jewellery items as they can be too soft to be useable in their pure state.
Items made from stainless steel can be polished to a high shine or left in a matte finish to create a different textured look.
So what are the pros of stainless steel jewellery and does it have advantages over other jewellery metals?
1. Good value
- Stainless steel is very durable, meaning that jewellery items will last and wear well.
- It is also very affordable. Jewellery made from stainless steel tends to be less expensive than gold and silver. So if cost is an issue (which many people will be mindful of given the current economic climate) it makes a budget friendly alternative option.
- It's strong. For instance, a similar size dainty chain in stainless steel is far less likely to break compared to sterling silver or gold chains.
(Photo credit: Sarah Agnew)
2. Low maintenance
- No discolouration. Sterling silver and copper jewellery for instance can easily discolour as they are far more prone to react: to air, humidity, perfumes, cleaning chemicals etc. This means that more care has to be taken of them compared to stainless steel jewellery.
- Corrosion (i.e. rust) and tarnish resistant. That does not mean that stainless steel can't be affected, but it will take far longer to tarnish compared to some other metals.
- Easy to clean as no special cleaning products are needed with stainless steel. (A damp cloth with gentle wiping should normally suffice. Otherwise, some water with some gentle dishwashing soap can be used to dip the cloth in before gently wiping. Always wipe in the direction of any polish lines and make sure that any soap residue is removed and the jewellery item is thoroughly dried.)
What do you think of when you think of stainless steel jewellery?
I'm going to hazard a guess that you're thinking of thick chain necklaces and bracelets suitable for men. Whilst there is stainless steel jewellery like that, these days there is a much wider variety of parts available. So the thick chunky style is far from the only style of stainless steel jewellery on offer.
- Stainless steel is available in many different designs, e.g:
- Thin or thick chains
- It can be lightweight. Some stainless steel jewellery can be quite chunky and big. But it is also possible to get some very dainty and delicate stainless steel jewellery too.
- Stainless steel has hypoallergenic properties. So it can be more suitable than some other jewellery metals for someone who has sensitive skin (but it is very dependent upon the individual and the exact type of stainless steel).
- Suitable for everyday wear. Wear it with a casual outfit or a dressed-up outfit, whatever your style, you can find something that can suit your own personal taste.
So what are the cons of stainless steel jewellery and does it have disadvantages over other jewellery metals?
- The reselling price of stainless steel metal doesn't hold much value when sold compared to gold for example, which can potentially go up in price.
- Stainless steel might be low maintenance, but that doesn't mean that there is no maintenance. It can dent (less so for example than gold which is a softer metal) and it can also be scratched over time.
- It's best to store stainless steel jewellery items separately from other items when not in use.
- Stainless steel can react to chlorine, but that is dependent upon the stainless steel composition (i.e. the exact type of alloy it is). Therefore, care needs to be taken when wearing when in a chlorinated swimming pool (best to leave off if you're unsure!).
- There are far more options for jewellery created from stainless steel metal today. But there is still less choice compared to silver plated and zinc metal alloy charms for instance. Stainless steel is a much harder metal and therefore is more difficult to work with.
- For stainless steel, strength can be both a pro and a con. It's a disadvantage due to the fact it can be more rigid and thus more difficult if you want to resize a ring for example.
4. Metal allergy
- Stainless steel can be a more appropriate metal if you have sensitive skin. But if you have a nickel allergy you might need to be careful with the type of stainless steel you wear. Most stainless steel jewellery that you will find is 304 stainless steel (304 denotes the type of alloy mix it is). The hypoallergenic version is surgical stainless steel (316 and 316L). So for a nickel allergy, it might be more appropriate to consider looking for jewellery in high carat yellow gold and platinum metals instead.