December 29, 2008

Platinum, Gold, and Silver - Oh My!

Have you been ring shopping lately? If so, then your head is probably spinning! Personally, once I get past the traditional gold settings, I'm lost. Platinum, white gold, silver, titanium, and tungsten - they all look the same to me. So what's the difference? And why should I fork out extra moolah just because the guy behind the counter says it's better?

Well, I did lots of research and here's the low-down on all these different metals.

First, have you ever heard a jeweler refer to a ring as having "noble metal"? As if that makes it more desirable? The term noble metals comes from back in the old days (and I'm talking really old days - as in ancient times) when only nobles could afford fine jewelry. Today, these fine metals are more affordable to the general public. So don't get fooled into forking over extra money just for a title. Noble metals include gold, silver, and platinum.


Traditional gold is the most popular choice for engagement and wedding rings. It comes in several different carats (ct or kt). Gold is a soft metal and needs to be mixed with other metals to make it stronger and more durable. Carat refers to the amount of gold which was mixed with these other metals. The higher the carat is, the more gold was used. Typically, engagement and wedding rings come in 9, 14, or 18 ct gold. Beware of 22 or 24 ct gold, as it's too soft to be worn every day without lots of dents and scratches.

When gold comes out of the ground, it's always yellow in color. By mixing other metals with the gold, jewelers have created many different shades to choose from such as white, rose, bronze, red, and lime gold.

White Gold

Next to the traditional yellow gold, white gold is the next most popular shade of gold.

White gold is created by adding alloys such as nickel, silver, or palladium to the yellow gold. This combination of metals also makes it harder and more rigid, allowing the gold to hold it's shape and finish better than platinum.

White gold also comes in carats, just like yellow gold. 18 and 14 ct are best.

The only downside to white gold is that because it's predominantly yellow gold, a slight yellow tint can be detected at times (see men's wedding band above). Some jewelers apply a thin layer of rhodium to create a whiter appearance (more about rhodium below).


Platinum and White Gold are very similar in appearance. In fact, most people can't tell the two apart. So what is the difference?

Platinum is a pure metal, which means it doesn't have as many metals mixed into it. Generally, it's 95% platinum, mixed with 5% other metals. While white gold may have a slight yellow tint, platinum has a grayish tint. To give it a more silver color, a thin layer of Rhodium is sometimes applied. Platinum is also much denser than white gold. It can weigh as much as 1 1/2 times more than 18k gold. That's one heavy ring! It not only weighs more, but it also costs more as well. If you compare two exact same rings, one in platinum and the other in 18ct gold, the platinum ring's price will be double the price.


So, what's the deal with this rhodium stuff? Basically, rhodium is a derivative of platinum and is white in color. It's used to plate white gold and platinum (ironically enough) to make them look whiter. If you purchase a ring that's been rhodium plated, be sure to ask about the jeweler's maintenance plan. It's suggested that rhodium be reapplied every 12-18 months.

Sterling Silver

Sterling Silver is a white-gray colored metal that is less expensive than gold, platinum or titanium. It's also softer than them, too. Silver is best for jewelry that isn't worn every day, which is why it generally isn't used for engagement or wedding rings anymore. If you truly want a silver ring, you can have one custom made. The down-side to silver is it's prone to oxidization, which turns the metal black. This can easily be remedied by using a silver jewelry cleaner available in more department stores.


I don't know why, but every time I see the word Titanium, I think Titanic instead. Silly, but true.

Titanium is a natural element with a silver-grayish-white color. It's also the hardest natural metal in the world. It's three times stronger than steel and much stronger then either gold, silver, or platinum. It's also very lightweight whereas platinum is very heavy. If either the bride or groom work in a very hands-on, rough environment, then titanium is perfect for you! It doesn't bend, dent or scratch like other metals and it's 100% hypp-allergenic, too. It's kind of like the super-hero of metals.

But like most super-heroes, it does have a weakness or two . . . If there's ever an emergency and your ring needs to be cut off, it may be either extremely difficult or impossible depending on the grade of titanium your ring is made of. If it's aircraft grade titanium, then it can't be cut off. The other down-side of titanium is that it can't be soldered - so no resizing. And ladies, if you're planning on having kids, you definitely want to be able to resize your rings. Between my four kids, my rings have been resized three times.

Tungsten Carbide

For me, this is the new new metal on the block. I have just recently started seeing tungsten show up as a choice in men's jewelry. Tungsten is a very hard, strong, durable metal. It's also very heavy, so not ideal for an engagement and wedding ring set. It's highly scratch resistant, which is very appealing to men. It has what my hubby likes to call "macho factor". Another very cool attribute of tungsten is that it always looks new - all bright and shiny. It never needs polishing maintenance like gold, platinum, and titanium do. This is an extra bonus for guys who don't like to take their ring off or who hate going to a jeweler to have their ring cleaned.

As you can see, each metal has it's pros and cons. I would suggest by starting with what qualities you most need in a ring. If you work in construction and you want your ring to continue looking new, then you may want to consider either tungsten or titanium. Ladies traditionally prefer either yellow gold or white gold, although platinum is becoming popular as well. Ultimately, the best way to decide is by trying on rings made with different metals until you find the one that works with your skin tone and feels the best on your hand. Once you narrow it down, then you can look for the perfect setting! Happy ring shopping!



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