Education

The Metals of
Fine Jewelry

In today's jewelry industry, there are many different types of metals commonly used in manufacturing jewelry. It is important to understand the differences between each metal when choosing an engagement ring or wedding band. In a diverse market, the metal types are commonly split up into two families- the precious metal family and the alternative metal family.

The precious metal family includes platinum, gold, and palladium and is most noted for its inherent value and durability. The most intrinsically valued of these metals is platinum.

Platinum is a naturally white metal that maintains its white color and finish for a lifetime. Platinum is also a hypoallergenic metal because little alloys are used to make the metal jewelry quality. Platinum reigns supreme in the jewelry industry because it is a solid, heavy metal that will maintain its density for generations.

Though platinum is dense, it is still very malleable- which works in the ring's favor. When a platinum ring is polished, bumped, dropped, or nicked, the platinum simply moves to the side, and can be polished back into place to look good as new. Many jewelers refer to platinum as ‘heirloom quality' for this reason.

Gold is a precious metal that is naturally yellow. It comes from the earth very soft and is mixed with alloys to make it hard enough to use in jewelry design. The ratio of gold to alloys is denoted by the karat. For example, 24 karat gold is pure gold, 18 karat gold is 75% pure gold and 14 karat gold is about 58.33% pure gold.

Gold can also be mixed with different alloys to make it appear different colors such as black, green, red, and most commonly white. White gold is mixed with alloys like palladium, nickel, and zinc to give it a white tint. A white gold piece of jewelry is dipped in rhodium once it is polished and complete and this is what makes a white gold piece of jewelry rival a platinum piece. Through time, it is common for the rhodium plating to wear off the surface of the ring and to reveal a more yellow patina. A white gold ring can be re-dipped in rhodium easily and often to help maintain its white finish.

Palladium is an element found in the platinum group metals family. For that reason palladium has similar characteristics to platinum. Similarities include color; palladium is a naturally white metal and will maintain this color for a lifetime. Palladium is also hypoallergenic. Palladium's primary difference from platinum is an important one- it is far less dense. For that reason, it is not recommended to use palladium when setting diamonds with prongs alone. Palladium's most common use within our industry is to create Men's wedding bands.

Alternative metals are unique because these metal types are commonly used in other applications outside the jewelry industry like machinery, surgical tools, and artificial joint replacements. Within the jewelry industry- the alternative metals are most commonly used in men's wedding bands.

One of the most noted distinctions from the precious metal family is cost, alternative metals cost far less than the precious metals. This is because the alternative metals are not made from materials that are considered valuable commodities. In jewelry design the most commonly used alternative metals are tungsten carbide, titanium, and cobalt. 

Tungsten carbide, titanium, and cobalt have similar characteristics. They are very hard, scratch resistant, shiny, light grey metals. Most are also a hypoallergenic. Because of these characteristics, the alternative metals do not require much maintenance. Alternatively, due to hardness, these rings cannot be sized or engraved. They can also be very brittle and have been known to chip, crack, or shatter when dropped or slammed against a hard surface.

Regardless of certain risks in choosing a ring made of an alternative metal, Diamonds Direct works only with the most reputable wedding band designers who stand behind their product. These designers will provide you with a lifetime guarantee that will cover you if a ring needs to be exchanged due to sizing or exterior damage.