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Testing Metal Content in Jewelry Components

Safety issues and recent legal requirements have drawn attention to the need for testing jewelry items and their component parts. The accuracy, costs and legal authority of available methods vary widely.

Swab Testing
Simple & Inexpensive

The simplest test for lead or cadmium is performed with a swab kit available from the sources listed below. Each test swab is relatively inexpensive - about $4 - $6 USD each. Wiping the swab across the surface of an item can detect lead and cadmium but results can be obscured by surface coatings such as plating or paint.

Consumer Reports reviewed some of these products and offers their observations online. However, the reliability of these kits is controversial. In particular, you should keep in mind that plating or other surface coatings on jewelry items can mask the composition of the underlying metal and could prevent accurate test result.

Several brands of these swabs are available:

XRF Analysis
More Accurate, More Expensive

A more accurate test for these trace metals can be performed using X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometry (XRF). In this approach, the X-Ray can penetrate surface coatings to read the core material and report on the percentage of each metal in the alloy. Each test costs around $100 USD. Yet, despite its increase in accuracy and cost, this testing methodology does not satisfy California state or federal CPSIA testing requirements.

You may find a local testing facility in your area in the Yellow Pages under Laboratories-Testing or Laboratories-Analytical. You may also want to check the online listings provided the State of California. Look for the link entitled "Certified Laboratory List Rev. 01/28/2008" - midway down the page under Information, Lists and Forms.

Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry
Complies with Regulations, Destroys Test Sample, Most Expensive

Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICPMS) should be chosen when proper certification is demanded. It is a sophisticated approach that yields accurate analysis (to 1ppm), but destroys the sample in the process. There are two methods (3050B & 3051A) of sample preparation prior to analysis by ICPMS that are acceptable under the new State of California regulations limiting lead in jewelry. ICPMS costs from $25-$90 USD per trace metal/ per test sample depending on the number of samples submitted and the particular lab's pricing structure. This approach is the one required for products tested for lead under the new CPSIA standards.

This test is also available through facilities listed under Laboratories-Testing or Laboratories-Analytical of your local Yellow Pages.

In California Bodycote Testing Group, Truesdail Labs, and AmeriSci, as well as others listed nationally can provide this service.

*TierraCast offers this information as a public service and believes that it is substantially true and correct. It is provided to aid the consumer, but it is not expert legal advice and should not be relied upon as such by individuals or businesses in their efforts to comply with current legislation in any country, nor to satisfy themselves of the safety of any given item.