Jewelry Safety: Lead Content Classifications

Published on
February 14, 2012 5:22:00 PM PST February 14, 2012 5:22:00 PM PSTth, February 14, 2012 5:22:00 PM PST
At Rings & Things, we work hard with manufacturers and testing agencies to ensure that our products meet the requirements of California's lead-in-adult-jewelry law, the most stringent law in the U.S.A. regarding lead content in adult jewelry. Products in our online store are labeled according to the classification chart below.

Information on this page covers the basics you need to know to comply with California law. Even if you don't live in California, you might need to follow these guidelines. Do you participate in California arts-&-crafts shows? Do you sell your jewelry, gifts or accessories online and ever ship to California? If you answered yes to either of these, you sell retail to California!

The California lead classification system is NOT the same as the CPSIA's Federal children's-jewelry law, but it DOES explain lead content in our products. And, since California maintains the most stringent U.S. laws regarding lead content in adult jewelry components, their guidelines are good to follow for anyone concerned about jewelry safety—no matter where you live or sell your wares. How concerned should I be about lead content?

We also comply with California's Proposition 65, which requires the labeling of products that contain lead or other potentially hazardous substances, regardless of how those products are classified for use in jewelry. Many components deemed suitable by California for use in retail jewelry still require Prop. 65 labeling. For example, rhinestone crystals and other leaded-glass parts require a Prop. 65 lead warning label even though they are Class 1 suitable materials under California's "lead in jewelry" law. Many tools also carry the Prop. 65 lead warning because the type of brass or other metals used in machining tools is generally allowed to contain a small % of lead by weight. This doesn't mean that it HAS this much lead -- it just means that it is allowed to, because you generally don't gnaw on your tools.

Please keep in mind that none of our components are intended for the creation of children's jewelry, or intended for use by children under the age of thirteen. We've read and heard about too many lawsuits where a jewelry-maker sold children's jewelry that they assumed would be worn by a properly-supervised baby, toddler or small child, and was sued when an unsupervised child choked or strangled on their jewelry. This is tragic -- we are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings, and these incidents makes us cry. We sell thousands of tiny items that if not properly assembled, can be choking hazards, or other hazards, so please use caution with children's jewelry whether you are the one making it or putting it on your children. Can the cording or chain get tangled while adults are out of the room? Can small items be broken off and ingested? Even if they don't have lead, they can still be choking hazards. For these reasons, we cannot recommend any of our components for use in children's jewelry.

CA Jewelry-Making Materials Classification:

Class 1Class 3
Class 1 items are suitable for inclusion in retail jewelry. Glass crystal and fiber optics (cat's eye) contain lead oxide (PbO), but this does not pose the same threat as metallic lead (Pb).
  • Stainless or surgical steel
  • Karat gold
  • Sterling silver
  • Platinum, palladium, iridium, ruthenium, rhodium or osmium
  • Natural or cultured pearls
  • Glass, including fiber optics (cat's eye)
  • Cloisonné
  • Leaded-glass crystal, including rhinestones
  • Cubic zirconia or cubic zirconium (CZ)
  • Cut & polished gemstones**
  • Ceramics
  • Elastic, fabric, ribbon or rope (unless lead has been intentionally added & it is listed in Class 2)
  • Natural materials, including amber, bone, coral, feathers, fur, horn, leather, shell and wood (unless lead has been intentionally added)
Class 3 items are suitable for inclusion in retail jewelry. This class includes all materials that are not listed in Class 1 or Class 2 AND that contain less than 0.06% (600ppm) lead by weight.

Please note: When an item is listed as class 2 or 3 under California's lead in jewelry laws, it does not mean that the manufacturer stuffs it full of "up to" this amount of lead. They might not have any at all, but they still fit in this classification area.
Class 2Unsuitable for California
Class 2 items are suitable for use in retail jewelry even though they might contain small amounts of lead. See below for allowable levels.
  • Electroplated metal alloys, including white plate, yellow plate, silver plate, gold plate, copper plate, antiqued platings, etc., provided they contain:
        < 6% lead by weight.
  • Unplated metals that contain less than 1.5% lead (for example, solid copper, raw brass sheet or wire, nickel silver, titanium and niobium)
  • Gold fill, which is not electroplated, but mechanically bonded using heat and pressure

  • Plastic or rubber, including acrylic, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), provided they contain:
        < 0.02% (200 ppm) lead by weight

  • Dyes or surface coatings containing less than 0.06% (600 ppm) lead by weight

Please note: When an item is listed as class 2 or 3 under California's lead in jewelry laws, it does not mean that the manufacturer stuffs it full of "up to" this amount of lead. They might not have any at all, but they still fit in this classification area.
    Any component that does not fit under Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3 is not suitable to be used in jewelry for retail sale in the state of California. This includes:
    • Pending: components that we have not yet tested, or that have not yet been guaranteed by the manufacturer to comply with Class 2 or Class 3, have unknown suitability for retail sale in California at this time.

    • Unknown content: trade beads, African-made components and some other cottage-industry parts (especially metal trade & African beads) are old and/or handmade in small villages, and we never know their exact composition. Even a single strand of such items can contain parts made in different batches from different materials. They might not contain any lead, but to sufficiently test them, we would have to destroy them (which means no one could enjoy them anymore!). Because we cannot guarantee that such items comply with the standards of Class 2 or Class 3, they are not suitable to be used in jewelry for retail sale in California.

    • High lead content: any items with a known lead content higher than levels listed under Class 2 and Class 3 are not suitable to be used in jewelry for retail sale in California.
    **All gemstones sold by Rings & Things fit in Class 1 and are suitable for retail jewelry sold in California. The following stones are known to be hazardous and do not fit in Class 1: aragonite, bayldonite, boleite, cerussite, crocoite, ekanite, linarite, mimetite, phosgenite, samarskite, vanadinite and wulfenite. These stones are fascinating for various reasons, but absolutely should be not be used in jewelry.

    Naturally Lead-Free Metals

    The following elements and alloys (mixtures of elements that create a metal) are either lead free or have a very low lead content because, by definition, they are comprised of metals other than lead:

    • Titanium: 99.9% pure titanium. Titanium is an element with the symbol Ti and atomic number 22. It is an extremely strong silver-gray metal with high resistance to corrosion. It is now the most popular metal for dental and medical implants, due to its bio-inertness and high fatigue limit. Although this metal is more difficult to shape than other popular jewelry metals, it is also becoming more popular for ear wires and flat pad earring posts, due to the fact that very few people have allergic reactions to Titanium jewelry.
      Shop Titanium Earring Findings
    • Niobium: 99.9% pure niobium. This is also an element on the periodic table (Nb) Because niobium is an inert element, most people with metal allergies can safely wear niobium. It's highly resistant to corrosion and other reactions, and is used in medical implants. By definition, niobium does not contain lead, nickel, cadmium or anything else: It's just niobium.
      Shop Niobium Jewelry Components
    • Gold: Composition depends on karatage and color. 24kt gold is pure elemental gold and very soft. 10kt, 12kt, 14kt and 18kt gold are alloys containing gold mixed with other elements to make the gold harder (and less expensive). If you're familiar with Black Hills gold, then you've seen rose gold (with extra copper), green gold (with extra zinc) and white gold (with nickel). Many metalworking books provide exact amounts of each metal that goes into various colors and karatages of gold. Many modern jewelers have replaced the nickel in white gold, with other white metals such as silver or palladium, but if you're allergic to nickel, don't assume: ASK!
    • Sterling silver: An alloy of 92.5% silver, 7.5% copper (Argentium® sterling silver contains a small amount of germanium, which helps prevent tarnish). Neither traditional sterling silver nor Argentium sterling silver contain lead: it ruins the alloy and causes it to melt into nasty pitted puddles when you attempt to solder it.
      Shop Sterling Silver Jewelry-Making Supplies
      Shop Argentium Silver Jewelry Supplies
    • Brass: An alloy of copper and zinc; percentages vary according to desired color or hardness. Our red brass wire is 90% copper and 10% zinc. Yellower brass has less copper and more zinc.
      Shop Raw Brass Jewelry Supplies
    • Nickel silver: A silver-colored alloy containing nickel (surprise!). Other popular names for German silver are alpacca and nickel brass. Nickel silver has no actual silver in it (the word "silver" in the name is because of the silvery color). Elemental nickel by itself is too hard to work with for most jewelry purposes. Copper and zinc are added to make it softer. Our nickel silver wire is an alloy of 65% copper, 18% nickel and 17% zinc. Nickel silver is frequently used in both costume jewelry and fine crafts. Many people are allergic to nickel, so it should be avoided for ear wires, earring posts, rings and cuff bracelets -- anything that passes through the skin or fits tightly to the skin.
    • Copper-clad steel: A common base for plated findings. Steel is tough, but silver and gold platings don't stick to it very well. Therefore, it is commonly clad with copper, to which the other platings will stick. Steel does not contain lead, although it usually contains about 8% nickel, to which some people are allergic, particularly in and around their ears. We carry a range of nickel-free items for people with this allergy.

    How concerned should I be about lead content?

    Lead (Pb)

    Lead (PB) is an element used to make alloys (mixtures of metals) softer and to help alloys melt at lower temperatures. The problem with using lead in alloys is that it is toxic when ingested, and can cause serious health problems, especially in children. Because children's bodies are still developing, lead can affect them in ways it is not likely to affect adults. The two main ways lead poses a danger are when it is:

    •  ingested: if components containing lead are sucked on or swallowed, saliva and/or stomach acids can leach the lead out of the metal alloy and into the body
    •  inhaled: when lead is heated during manufacturing, or during soldering or repair work, it can create dangerous fumes

    Jewelry components containing lead are generally considered safe for adults to handle and wear externally. Nevertheless, as safety and environmental standards continue to rise, measures are being taken to use lead less, both in jewelry components and in general.

    Lead oxide (PbO)

    Lead oxide (PbO) is a compound sometimes used in glassmaking. Advantages to using lead oxide in glass include increased refraction (which creates the beautiful prism effect we associate with glass crystal) and a lower working temperature/viscosity (which makes the glass easier to work with). During vitrification (when powdered ingredients melt under heat to form glass), the lead oxide becomes "trapped" inside the glass and can no longer be easily absorbed. In normal use, the lead in leaded glass does not leach out the way metallic lead can. However, you should not store milk or acidic liquids (such as wine) in lead-crystal decanters for more than a few hours.

    Want to know more about lead, or lead in jewelry components?