A Guide to Precious Metals

Diamond Fun Fact

Diamonds are formed under extreme heat and pressure deep within the earth’s crust, and come to the earth’s surface through volcanic eruptions that formed kimberlites and lamproites that host diamonds

When planning on buying a diamond ring, a lot of your energy is spent on educating yourself about diamonds (if you're not educating yourself about diamonds before making the buy - you should). Many times not much thought goes into the ring itself, such as what precious metal to choose, what type of diamond setting, how many prongs to go for (if you choose a prong diamond setting) and more.

Diamond Rings are not made from pure gold or silver, or any other metal for that matter. Instead, diamond rings are made from a metal alloy - a mix of two or more different metals. In gold rings the primary alloy is of course gold, however a good part of the ring is not gold and is composed of other metals - mostly silver, copper, nickel, and palladium. Different alloys have different colors and characteristics - depending on the metals used. Some alloys are virtually corrosion free and barely tarnish, even when exposed to chlorine. Other alloys are more susceptible to wear and tear and require special care in order to keep them in mint condition.

What Are Precious Metals?

Precious metals are metals that are rare to be found on earth. The fact that these rare metals have high luster and visual appearance, in addition to the fact that they are very rare, makes precious metals ideal for jewelry.

The most widely-known precious metals are Gold and Silver. Most diamond rings today are made of a gold or silver alloy, although it is not uncommon to see diamond rings made of platinum, titanium and tungsten.

Metal Alloys & Karats

A metal alloy is a mixture of two or more different metals. Metal alloys are used in jewelry simply because pure gold as well as pure silver are very soft on their own. A ring made of pure gold or silver would damage very easily and require very special care. Metal alloys are used primarily to strengthen the gold or silver, however they change the color of the original precious metal.

Karat is what let's us know how much of the ring is made of gold, out of 24 parts. For example, 18K Gold is 18 parts pure gold out of 24 parts. This means that an 18K Gold ring is 75% pure gold and 25% other metals such as copper and nickel. 24K Gold of course means pure gold. In a similar way, 10K Gold is 41.7% pure gold and 14K has 58.5% pure gold.

Karat is traditionally a measure of gold purity. Other precious metals are also alloyed but don't receive a Karat number.

Yellow Gold

Yellow gold needs no introduction. If you want a golden piece of jewelry, yellow gold is the only way to go since it's the only metal that exists with a golden color. Yellow gold is actually gold, with some other metals added to the alloy. As you know by now, 18K gold contains 75% pure gold, 14K contains 58.5% pure gold and 10K contains 41.7% pure gold. The higher the Karat of the ring, the closer the ring color will be to real pure gold. 10K are significantly brighter than 18K which have a dark golden color.

Yellow gold alloys usually contain copper to strengthen the gold, since in its pure state the gold is too soft. In addition to the copper, silver is frequently added to negate the red coloration from the copper.

Choosing between 10K, 14K and 18K is a matter of taste because the colors are different and easily distinguishable. What you should remember though is the fact that 10K has little pure gold in it compared to 18K and is alloyed with metals that oxidize more easily - therefor it will tarnish faster and may cause skin irritations. When choosing a ring of high Karat you should remember that the ring will be more delicate since it is made of a higher percentage of pure gold - so it may scratch and dent faster than the 10K ring will, and it will require gentler care.

14K is a good place in between - which is one of the reasons that it is the most popular Karat in the US.

White Gold

There is no such thing as white gold in nature. White gold is actually gold, alloyed with some other white metal - usually nickel or palladium. Copper is also usually added to strengthen the gold. Nickel is cheaper than palladium but also oxidizes more easily, which means that it will tarnish over time. Nickel can also cause allergic skin reactions in some people. Palladium on the other hand is hypoallergenic, stronger than nickel and barely oxidizes. It does not get tarnished by chlorine as easily as opposed to nickel which can very well be destroyed in chlorine. Palladium however is much more expensive than nickel, since it is very rare.

Some rings receive a rhodium plating to make them whiter and more scratch resistant. Rhodium is an extremely rare metal, with characteristics similar to platinum and palladium in terms of corrosion and scratch resistance.

Rings that receive rhodium plating need re-plating once in a while since the rhodium wears off in time, causing changes in color across the ring. Re-plating the ring is not a problem and can be done at most jewelers, but if you don't want to take the time to re-plate once in a while, you should not take a ring with rhodium plating.

Sterling Silver

Silver is the most wide-known precious metal alongside gold. The white color that this metal has in addition to its luster and the fact that it is malleable makes it extremely popular amongst jewelery items.

Silver like gold is too soft for jewelery in its pure form which is why it needs to be alloyed for strengthening. Sterling Silver is an alloy with 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals - usually copper. Silver alloyed with other metals is also called Sterling Silver, provided it contains at least 92.5% pure silver in the mix.

Titanium

Titanium rings have become popular during recent times, mostly due to its' futuristic 'space age' look. If you happen to like this look, you will be happy to know that titanium has very good properties such as very high corrosion resistance. It is also the strongest metal in terms of strength-to-weight ratio (which is why it is extensively used on today's space-age aircraft and spacecraft). It is also highly resistant to chlorine damage. Titanium is NOT a precious metal. It is still expensive although - mostly due to the high cost of extracting the metal. It is always bonded to other elements when found in nature, and recent advances in extraction technology made it an actual option for jewelry.

Due to the nature of titanium, titanium rings can't be resized so keep that in mind if you've decided to go for titanium jewelry.

Platinum

Platinum's strength, resistance to corrosion and hydrochloric acids (such as chlorine water in pools) and it's lustrous look and shine make it a good option for fine jewelry. Platinum will definitely survive more wear and scratches than silver or gold pieces, but it's also a harder metal to work with for jewelers. You may pay more for treatments and repairs to your ring in the future when compared to gold and silver, but these repairs will be needed less often.

Platinum may be a good alternative to silver and white gold, but since it has a unique look it ultimately comes down to your specific taste. Since it's an extremely rare metal, platinum does not come cheap and costs more than gold.

Palladium

Palladium is a rare metal from the Platinum family. It shares the same characteristics as platinum in terms of corrosion and tarnish resistance, chlorine and scratch resistance and a white lustrous color. Palladium however is about 3 times cheaper than platinum which makes it an appealing option.

Palladium also shares with platinum the fact that it is a hard metal to work with due in large part to its high melting temperature, so again, you might pay more for repairs and treatments at jewelers, but they will be needed less frequently. Some repairs such as ring resizing require much more work when compared to gold and silver, and they also might come out imperfect, depending on the craftsmanship of the jeweler.

Tungsten

Tungsten is a steel-gray metal. It is the same metal that is used as a filament in light bulbs - but you will be surprised to know that it is extremely hard. It is much harder than palladium and palladium. This fact makes it very scratch and corrosion resistant.

Tungsten smoky black and silver natural color along-side its strength and ability to handle everyday 'abuse', makes it a popular metal mainly in men's rings and other accessories. Tungsten is hard to work with due to its intensely high melting temperature and strength - so be sure to get the ring size right when you buy.