Remember Chemistry class and the periodic table of the elements? Science wasn’t my favorite subject, but, as an adult, I’ve grown to love gemstones, and they’re usually set in metals found on the periodic table. Gold (Au), silver (Ag), and platinum (Pt) are the primary metals used in fine jewelry. You’ll see titanium (Ti) and tungsten (W) used for men’s wedding bands, and rhodium (Rh) often plates white gold and silver jewelry.
Much has been written about the pros and cons of each metal. If you are in the market for engagement and/or wedding rings. I would encourage you to ask questions and even do your own research on which metal(s) is right for you. The knowledgeable staff here at Dearborn Jewelers is happy to answer your questions, and we often share our favorite metals chart with customers.
But jewelry uses alloys (a mixture of two or more metals) rather than pure gold, silver, or platinum. Gold, which needs other metals to provide hardness, reduce malleability, and add color, often has a complicated recipe that includes combinations of nickel (Ni), palladium (Pd), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), silver (Ag) and, possibly tin (Sn) or manganese (Mn). Sounds like cooking, doesn’t it? Much more fun than chemistry.
What’s interesting is that there isn’t a set recipe for making, for example, 18 karat white gold. The only major requirement is that 18 of the 24 parts, or 75% of the alloy, be gold. What about the other 25%? Any good cook would say that’s way too high of a percentage to be ambiguous about. For one thing, not all the potential ingredients are equal. Approximately 1 in 10 women are allergic to nickel. Some women are allergic to copper. Palladium, being another metal in the platinum family, is a rare, white, hypoallergenic metal, making it a good substitute for the white nickel. But it’s much more expensive than either nickel or copper. Nickel and copper sell for a few dollars per pound, while palladium sells for hundreds of dollars per ounce!
Another interesting fact about white gold is that much of it is rhodium-plated. While the plating makes the jewelry whiter and shinier, and it provides some protection from an adverse nickel reaction, this plating will wear off of rings worn regularly. It needs to be re-applied every year or two. If you want to know exactly what’s in your white gold ring, what’s underneath the rhodium “frosting”, you’ll have to ask. I saw recipes that range from 75% gold, 20% palladium, and 5% silver to 75% gold, 10% copper, 8% nickel, 4.5% zinc, and 2.5% silver.
While I’ve used 18 karat white gold to make my point, this variation does exist in the making of other alloys as well. At the same time, platinum alloy is 90 to 95% platinum and sterling silver is 92.5% silver. So there’s not as much variation. In the end, choosing the metal that’s right for your engagement or wedding ring depends, in part, on the recipe.