A Guide to Metals

Jul 21, 2015

If you’re in the market for a new piece of jewelry, you might be considering the various pros and cons of different kinds of metal. Which are most expensive? Which are the most scratch resistant? This guide will walk you through some of the key properties of the most common metals used in jewelry so you can choose the best one for your needs.

Yellow Gold

Yellow gold is the most “traditional” metal for engagement rings and wedding bands. Its warm color and association with wealth and beauty make it an ever-popular choice for couples. The yellow gold used in jewelry is actually a mix, or alloy, of pure gold and another metal (usually zinc or copper).  The higher the purity, the higher the karat amount. For example, 14k yellow gold is 58.3% pure gold, while 18k gold is 75% pure.

Moissanite Engagement Ring in 18k Yellow Gold, AdziasJewelryAtelier on Etsy, $2,295

Moissanite Engagement Ring in 18k Yellow Gold, AdziasJewelryAtelier on Etsy, $2,295

Gold is a soft metal, meaning that it’s easy for a jeweler to work with. However, it also means it can be scratched or dented easily. If you choose a yellow gold ring, be sure to take proper care to keep it looking its best.

White Gold

White gold is becoming more and more popular in bridal jewelry. Like yellow gold, it is actually an alloy, a mix of yellow gold and a white metal (typically nickel, silver, palladium, or platinum). Many people who prefer silver to gold select white gold for their wedding and engagement rings, as it has the look of silver, but is far more durable. This type of gold is also a great choice for those who admire the look of platinum, but not the high cost.

The Margie Three Stone Ring in 14k White Gold, Moissanite.com, $1,499

The Margie Three Stone Ring in 14k White Gold, Moissanite.com, $1,499

White gold is not naturally shiny. Nearly all white gold rings are plated with rhodium to give the metal its sleek appearance. Over time, this plating will become scratched and need to be replaced. Luckily, this replacement is easy and inexpensive.

Rose Gold

Rose gold is currently having a major fashion moment! And for good reason – it’s versatile, stylish, and more neutral than either yellow or white gold. The metal’s characteristic pinkish hue comes from the copper that is mixed with pure gold to create rose gold. The copper is also what makes rose gold the most durable of the three gold varieties, and the least expensive.

Moissanite Solitaire Engagement Ring in 14k Rose Gold, McFarlandDesigns on Etsy, $1,868

Moissanite Solitaire Engagement Ring in 14k Rose Gold, McFarlandDesigns on Etsy, $1,868

One drawback, however, is that a significant number of people are allergic or sensitive to copper. If you’re one of them, it might be a good idea to go with a hypo-allergenic metal like platinum or titanium.

Platinum

Platinum is a white/silver metal that looks very much like white gold. However, it is naturally shiny and does not require rhodium plating. It’s also a very pure metal. In order to be sold as platinum, a ring must contain at least 95% of the pure metal.

Moissanite Engagement Ring in Polished Platinum, LichenAndLychee on Etsy, from $1,180

Moissanite Engagement Ring in Polished Platinum, LichenAndLychee on Etsy, from $1,180

Platinum is one of the most expensive metals used in jewelry. All other things being equal, a platinum ring will cost about twice as much as a white gold ring.

Palladium

Palladium looks (and sounds!) a lot like platinum, and like platinum, must be at least 95% pure to be marketed as “palladium” in jewelry. It is, however, less well-known and newer to the market than platinum. Comparatively few jewelers are experts at working with palladium.

Moissanite Buds Palladium Engagement Ring, NodeformWeddings on Etsy, from $1,240

Moissanite Buds Palladium Engagement Ring, NodeformWeddings on Etsy, from $1,240

Like platinum, palladium doesn’t need to be plated and is hypoallergenic. Palladium used to be even more expensive than platinum; currently, it costs a bit less.

Titanium

Titanium is the hardest natural metal on Earth, which makes it an extremely hardy choice for a ring! Despite its strength, it’s incredibly lightweight. Titanium is also non-reactive, so much so that it is used in surgical implants.

Titanium and Moissanite Tension Ring, StonebrookJewelry on Etsy, $448.92

Titanium and Moissanite Tension Ring, StonebrookJewelry on Etsy, $448.92

One drawback of titanium is that it can’t be cut easily. That might sound like a good thing, but it does mean that a titanium ring cannot be resized, and might be hard to cut off in the event of an injury or emergency.

Tungsten Carbide

Tungsten carbide, or simply “tungsten,” is a unique metal for several reasons. First, it’s extremely scratch resistant. That means it does not require regular polishing or any kind of re-plating, and can handle a lot of wear and tear. Also, it’s very heavy. If you fear losing your wedding or engagement ring, tungsten might be a good choice – you’ll know immediately if it comes off!

Tungsten Band with Moissanite Center Stone, Lasercraftdesign on Etsy, $199.99

Tungsten Band with Moissanite Center Stone, Lasercraftdesign on Etsy, $199.99

Like titanium, tungsten cannot be cut for re-sizing or re-soldered. Be sure you have the right size before buying!

Cobalt

On its own, cobalt is a beautiful blue color (as the name implies). However, the cobalt used in jewelry is an alloy containing white metals. Cobalt jewelry is nearly white in color, much like platinum. However, it’s less expensive than platinum and even more affordable than white gold.

The Dorian Ring, Moissanite.com, $599

The Dorian Ring, Moissanite.com, $599

Like tungsten, cobalt is very scratch resistant. However, it’s lightweight and malleable, meaning it can be cut and resized if need be.

Sterling Silver

While not often used in bridal jewelry, sterling silver is extremely popular in fashion items such as earrings, necklaces, and bracelets.  It’s a very cost-effective metal, cheaper than gold, titanium, and palladium. Unfortunately, it’s not a very tough metal, and is therefore not recommended for items that undergo heavy day-to-day wear.

Sutherland Hoop Earrings in Sterling Silver, Frances Gadbois for Luluavenue.com, $299

Sutherland Hoop Earrings in Sterling Silver, Frances Gadbois for Luluavenue.com, $299

Over time, silver can become tarnished. However, the right silver jewelry cleaner can take care of that problem.

Two or More Metals

Who says you only need to choose a single metal for your treasured piece of jewelry? Two-toned metal jewelry is extremely trendy right now.

Solar Aurora Gold and Palladium Ring, lolide on Etsy, from $495

Solar Aurora Gold and Palladium Ring, lolide on Etsy, from $495

“I saw real growth in the popularity of items containing more than one metal at the latest JCK Las Vegas tradeshow,” says Sondra Johnson, Director of Merchandising at Charles & Colvard®. “They’re visually interesting and typically very creatively constructed.”

What is your favorite metal? Let us know in the comments section.

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