6.15.2010

It's all Material : The Gold Standard

Sometimes I feel like we're working in a jewelry store instead of a pen shop. Gold-Plating, solid palladium, 925 sterling, Chinese black lacquer, gemstones, celluloid, tungsten carbide, the list goes on and on of the different materials that go into the manufacture of pens. Many customers ask me, "What is the big difference between this $50 pen and that $500 one?" Most of the time it is due to the materials used, and the usual suspect that drives up the price of most pens is.....

Gooooold!

This is the first installment of a series that will serve to educate everyone (even myself) about the precious metals and materials that go into our favorite writing instruments.

Gold has always fascinated the human race. "Au" has acted as a symbol of wealth since the dawn of civilization. It is the most malleable of all the precious metals, which means that it can be hammered, flattened and shaped into virtually any shape, like a nib or a wedding band.

Its soft characteristic lends itself to providing flexibility to the fountain pen nib. The soft gold allows the tines to be spread easily, allowing a thicker line to flow on the paper. Your coworker may be allured by the yellow gold appeal of the metal on your nib, but you may want to recoil when he asks to borrow it to jot a quick note. The softness of the metal conforms to the way you write over time, so if another hand gets on it (and, Heaven forbid, presses down HARD) you may be left with a nib that is never the same.

Yellow is the most common color of gold. White gold, which is usually alloyed with palladium, silver or nickel and plated with rhodium, is prevalent in fine pens that are offered with a silver trim and paired with a white gold nib to match. Rose gold is alloyed with copper to produce a pinkish-gold color. Copper is the most commonly used base metal, even when creating yellow gold.

Gold content can vary in jewelry and pens. 10k, 14k, 18k, 22k and 24k are the most frequently-seen Karatage and refer to the purity of the gold. Commonly, you may see a 14kt solid gold fountain pen nib with the designation '585'. This denotes the percentage of pure gold that is in the alloy, in this case 58.5% pure gold. 24k "pure" gold is deemed too soft, even for use in jewelry. 18k gold (750) is most often seen in higher end pens like the Montegrappa Miya, Parker Duofold or Conway Stewart Coronet. 10k contains 41.7% gold and is considered the US legal limit for "real gold."

Gold-Plated or Gold-Filled items are not solid gold. Many pen trims and clips will be "plated" in 22k or 24k gold, which means that the base metal underneath may be nickel, copper or brass. The gold layer is electroplated or chemically-bonded to the base metal. The thickness of gold can depend on the pen-maker's standards. The size is measured in microns. Gold-Filled, also known as "rolled gold" is a layer of solid gold that is heat bonded with a base metal, usually brass and tends to contain the bare minimum of gold content allowable by Federal Trade Commission standards.

Gold does not tarnish, rust or corrode, which makes it an ideal material for pens. The malleable quality of the metal makes for a great, flexible nib. The main concern for consumers is to be cautious of the gold content when they buy jewelery or pens. The price of gold has skyrocketed, but that doesn't mean the 10k necklace or Cross pen has to be obscenely expensive.

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