What Are My Precious Metal Choices for Wedding Rings?

 

(Part 3 of a series of 5.)

Why Do Some Gold Rings Cost More Than Others?

Besides diamond quality, the type and quality of metal is one of the biggest deciding factors in the value of a piece of jewellery, and also one of the most commonly misunderstood. Because there is so much confusion on metal quality (and what to look for), this has led to some unrealistic expectations among some on the prices of rings.

In order to better prepare you for shopping, I feel it’s worth talking about what to look out for. And while we’re here, we’ll also talk about non-precious metal choices for wedding rings, as well as metal allergies.

Wedding Ring Metal Choices

The choice of precious metal not only changes the look of the piece, but it can also make a difference on the price.

Carats and Quality of the Metal

When talking about gold, we use the word carat to refer to the purity, with 24 carat being equal to 100% pure gold. Even though the word is used when describing stones as well, the word carat’s meaning is different when applied to gemstones (see below). Most gold jewellery in Britain is made either as 18 carat (75% gold, 25% other metals like silver), and 9 carat (25% gold, 75% other metals). The choice of the other metals has a big effect on the colour of the metal. Yellow gold consists of gold and silver, while white gold consists of gold, silver, and palladium, and rose gold consists of gold, silver, and copper.

While many different qualities of gold are available around the world, gold rings in the UK are normally offered in only 9ct or 18ct gold, and come in three main different colours of gold—white, yellow, and rose (or pink gold). As mentioned above, the higher the carat value, the more expensive the gold.

Silver and Platinum are separate categories of metal entirely, and do not have carat values. Most jewellers don’t work with palladium as it is can be a difficult metal to work with, but it is an option for wedding rings.

While metal prices can vary, under normal circumstances the price of various precious metals rank as follows (in order from cheapest to most expensive):

  1. Silver
  2. 9ct yellow gold
  3. 9ct rose gold
  4. 9ct white gold
  5. Palladium
  6. 18ct yellow gold
  7. 18ct rose gold
  8. 18ct white gold (which can be plated, see below)
  9. Platinum

Coloured Plating

Sometimes rings can be plated as well. Plating means we’ve applied a thin layer of a different metal onto the surface of the ring for both protection as well as colour.

It’s normal to plate white gold jewellery with rhodium for protection, and most white gold rings have been plated. Different alloys of rhodium can also be used to give your ring different colours. One example is black rhodium, which can create a dramatic dark grey or even almost black appearance to the ring.

Note that plating can wear off on some jewellery if it’s frequently worn and abused, but it can be re-plated.

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How Can You Tell the Difference Between These Metals?

To help compound the confusion, not everyone is immediately trained to spot the difference between the various types of metal. There are a few tricks, however, which if you look out for will help you to tell the difference between the various metals:

Telling the Difference between Silver, 9 and 18 Carat White Gold, and Platinum

Silver

  1. Yellowish or black tarnish – silver will tarnish over time when exposed to moisture. This causes the ring to start turning shades of yellow, brown, or even black.
  2. Oxide – Some designers like to intentionally tarnish the recesses of the design, leaving them matte and black to contrast against the shininess of the surface. A common trick on gothic silver jewellery.
  3. Choice of gemstones and decoration – real gemstones are seldom set into silver. Enamel will always be cold enamel (ie resin).
  4. Silver is less able to hold a high level of polish than white gold or platinum

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9 Carat White Gold

  1. Check the weight – 9 carat gold is heavier than silver, but not as heavy as 18ct gold or platinum
  2. (White) Rhodium Plating – The greyish white shine of rhodium plating is only ever normally applied to white gold.
  3. Choice of gemstones – 9 carat gold may have low cost gemstones such as cubic zirconium or small diamonds set into it.

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18 Carat White Gold

  1. Check the weight – White gold is heavier than silver, but less heavy than platinum
  2. (White) Rhodium Plating – The greyish white shine of rhodium plating is only ever normally applied to white gold.
  3. Black or Blue Rhodium – Shiny dark grey surfaces are achieved with black rhodium. Normally only gold would be given this treatment.
  4. Choice of gemstones – This is where you’d start seeing good sized and good quality gemstones. You will never normally see a cubic zirconium in an 18ct gold ring.

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Platinum

  1. Check the weight– Platinum is the heaviest jewellery metal there is, and will feel heavier than white gold or silver
  2. Delicate details – Platinum is better at holding small details than any other jewellery metal
  3. Choice of gemstones – Only good diamonds or other high quality gemstones are ever used for platinum.

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Telling the Difference Between Gold Plating, and 9 and 18 Carat Yellow Gold

Yellow Gold Plating on Silver (also known as “Vermeil”)

  1. Check the weight – Silver weighs less than gold
  2. Doesn’t age well – The reason why yellow gold looks false is because of a lack of variance of surface colour. When it does finally achieve age and character, the plating wears off revealing patches of the metal underneath at worn spots.
  3. Choice of gemstones – muddy or rough quality coloured gemstones stones are added for colour accents. If there are any sparkling stones, they’re probably Cubic Zirconium.

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9 Carat Gold

  1. Check the weight – 9ct gold weighs less than 18ct gold
  2. Colour – 9 carat gold is paler and even somewhat greenish-yellow in hue
  3. Choice of gemstones – 9 carat gold may have low cost gemstones such as cubic zirconium or small diamonds set into it.

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18 Carat Yellow Gold

  1. Colour – The higher the carat of yellow gold, the stronger the yellow hue
  2. Aging – Over time, yellow gold will pick up some natural differences in colour across the surface. This is what gives older yellow gold rings their personality.
  3. Softness – 18ct yellow gold is not the toughest metal, and will get scratched and dented, especially in wedding rings.
  4. Choice of gemstones – This is where you’d start seeing good sized and good quality gemstones. You will never normally see a cubic zirconium in an 18ct gold ring.

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Why Aren’t Stainless Steel, Titanium, or Other Metals on this List? (or, Why Being Able to Resize Your Ring is Important)

Probably the most common question I get asked by male shoppers is whether they can get a ring made of steel, tungsten, titanium, etc. Over the past few decades, these have become more fashionable as more brands have been appealing to men by choosing alternative “macho” materials.

While these rings can look great, and achieve some great textural and colour effects (particularly titanium), the problem with them is always the same– they cannot be resized.

While this doesn’t seem like a big problem right now, consider the fact that nobody’s hands or bodies stay the same through their lifetime. Not only are you gaining and losing weight, but your joints continue to grow as well. What might be a nicely snug ring now will be impossible to remove in 10 years, and may have to be cut and pried off your hand at a hospital in 15 years.

From having dealt with clients who have had to do this, all I will say is this: if you buy a ring that cannot be resized, expect to replace it in 10 years. Similarly, if your ring is getting too tight, don’t be embarrassed to resize it.

There is also another problem with non-precious metal wedding bands– allergies.

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Metals and Allergies

Generally, most precious metal choices used in jewellery have become popular because of the fact they are so hypoallergenic (that is to say, they don’t cause allergic reactions). Indeed, the three main choices of metal for jewellery have a long history of being friendly to the human body:

  1. Pure gold never tarnishes, and is famously unreactive when dealing with chemistry or radiation. This is why it is used for radiation shielding for satellites, and was used for fillings for teeth for millenia.
  2. While only partially explored, silver has positive effects on the human body and bloodstream. This is why it was once considered a witches’ cure for some poisons, and it is still sometimes used in medicines today.
  3. Not only does platinum not react with the skin, some would argue it is actually good for the skin. Platinum is used in catalytic converters in cars to absorb pollutants in the atmosphere. It has also been used in topical lotions by some particularly decadent companies.

Whenever people have had allergic reactions to jewellery, it is nearly always a sign of the use of cheaper minerals in the alloys of the metal. (See the next article).

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Look for the Goldsmiths Assay Stamp

There is still one more problem– Not every supplier in the world is entirely honest about the content and quality of their metal. It is not uncommon for some cut-rate jewellery dealers (especially via the internet) to falsely stamp their precious metal, pretending it is a higher carat than it really is, or made with alloys composed of cheaper and less safe minerals (such as copper or nickel). If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to a yellow gold or silver ring, then this is because of the copper or nickel content in the ring, not the precious metal.

Different countries have different legislation for how they check and confirm the quality of their metal in order to protect the consumer. I prefer the British Hallmarking System, as it is centrally controlled by the Goldsmiths company. Indeed, no jewellery can even be labelled as precious metal until they’ve tested it for purity and quality. And for this reason, I’m happy to say every piece of jewellery I make bears the London assay office stamp.

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