What metal is right, for my wedding or engagement ring?
When purchasing a jewellery item like an engagement ring or wedding band, its often more directed by the heart, than the head. Well that's ok, but a little time taken to consider the points in this article may well save you both money and disappointment later on.
So lets begin with the two basic areas we will cover:
# 1 The implications of your lifestyle and type of work you do, combined with realistic expectations of how a band made in precious metal will last, or look over time.
# 2 The actual hardness and wearing characteristics of different metals and alloys (mix of metals).
We will look at point # 2 first and consider the various precious metals that we use.
Gold recovered from the earth is always a yellow colour with a hardness similar to lead.
Since ancient times the combination of this metals rareness, its ability to be formed easily and retain that yellow colour, has given this metal the status as “a precious metal”.
This precious metal, when combined with gems, pearls, enamels, has been the basis of jewellery adornment, in all its multitude of forms and expressions over the centuries.
As we have developed our understanding of gold and other metals, and gained the ability to change its hardness and colour by mixing other metals with gold, this has opened up more possibilities .
Gold is now available in a range of colours and durability options.
The natural yellow gold metal is coloured by the addition of other metals, copper added to give a pink, rose or red gold colouration and also increases its hardness. Silver, palladium (a platinum type metal) is added to make white gold which also increases its durability.
These different metal mixes do have standards within the precious metal industry, expressed in the word “carat” or ct. also a “metric” equivalent eg .375.
These standards will be stamped into the article accordingly, giving a confirmation of what the item is made of.
In New Zealand we generally start at a 9ct. gold, the metric equivalent is .375, so that’s 375 parts of natural or “fine” gold per 1000 parts, the balance of the other 625 parts made up or “alloyed” with, silver, copper or palladium .
This 9ct. gold having the least amount of fine gold will be a harder or more durable metal, by adding more copper the metal will become a pink or rose gold, by adding more silver or palladium a white gold is produced.
So to rate hardness or durability we generally rate the different metals as follows, from softest to hardest.
Stg. or standard silver.
9ct white gold.
18ct yellow gold.
9ct yellow gold.
18ct pink, rose, or red gold.
9ct pink, rose or red gold.
18ct white gold.
To cover the other point in # 1, we will take say a mans wedding ring 4-5mm wide x 1.8mm thick and offer two scenarios.
It will be up to you to place yourself somewhere on, or between these two examples.
At one extreme, if you are say a construction worker and going to wear this band constantly, it doesn’t matter what metal you choose, weather made in silver (the least durable )yellow gold, white gold or platinum (the most durable) after a week or two the bands will all look about the same, having lost their initial bright polish. The silver band will most likely need replacing every 5-10 years.
Give the yellow gold band around 15-20 years it will be thin and very worn, the white gold band will have significant wear but will still be usable, where as the platinum band, though worn would quite possibly still outlast the wearer.
At the other extreme of the work/lifestyle spectrum, you work in an office, IT worker or similar, the silver, gold and platinum bands will have lost their initial bright polish over 1-2 months, the silver band will last around 15-20 years, with the gold and white gold bands worn but still usable after 30-40+ years.
The platinum band will show signs or some wear but still retain its basic dimensions after 50-60+ years in this situation.
So given this information, it’s now up to you to place your individual “wear and tear” expectations some where on or between these two scenarios, combined with the knowledge of how the different metals perform.
We have left out on purpose, the cost factor, which as I complete this article in early 2008, a year already setting record prices for gold and other precious metals, the cost will be important.
All the more reason to carefully consider the above information to help give you the answer.
What metal is right for my wedding or engagement ring?
We often get asked about rhodium plating, so will offer at this point some information.
Rhodium is a platinum type metal, very durable and resistant to discolouring (oxidising). It has a polished stainless steel, or blue colouration.
Rhodium plating is used over white golds and sometimes on silver. White gold, especially 18ct. tends to have a grey look, after the initial bright polish has worn off.
It is used over silver to prevent the oxidising tarnish which silver is often subject to.
It is excellent when applied to settings and complex shapes when the "wear" factor is minimal. In this situation rhodium can retain it's lustre, for the life of the item, it also aids in the ease of cleaning and keeping an item clean.
Rhodium plating on high wear areas such as a wedding band, is not permanent.
It will last from 6 - 18 months, again depending on the lifestyle/work factor, but items can be re polished and re plated.
Another technique used, is to give the white gold a brushed or matt finish which can use the grey colour of the white gold, turning it into a contrasting "colour", effect.
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