(All the pictured rings in this guide are made by Brown & Newirth, except for the titanium and zirconium rings in the industrial metals section, which are made by Geti and the Runic design rings in the white gold section which are made by Sheila Fleet. These rings can all be purchased from our wedding rings category.
Gold is a beautiful, lustrous, bright yellow metal, which is very popular for jewellery and rings. Gold is a noble metal which does not tarnish or rust, however lower qualities of gold can tarnish as the base metals other than gold contained within the precious metal alloy can tarnish. 18ct gold will not tarnish and just needs an occasional polish to improve it’s appearance, 9ct gold will need occasional cleaning to remove tarnish.
Illustration 1: Some examples of Gold & White Gold Wedding Rings.
(Ring designs by Brown & Newirth)
Higher purities of gold tend to be brighter and have a more attractive yellow colour, however gold is a soft metal so in the past lower purities were harder wearing, due to the addition of other harder metals. With modern technology however, higher qualities such as 18 carat are usually tempered to increase hardness and harder metals are added to the alloy. 18carat gold is generally now just as hard wearing as 9ct gold.
Gold jewellery and rings are generally available in the UK in 9ct, 14ct and 18ct purity standards This carat value refers to the amount of gold which is in the alloy. 24ct gold is pure gold, therefore 9ct is 9/24 and 18ct is 18/24 gold. This can also be expressed in parts per thousand – 9ct is 375 parts per thousand of gold, 18ct is 750 parts per thousand of gold. Higher qualities of gold than 18 carat are available, but are less commonly used in Britain for wedding rings as the alloy would be quite soft.
This carat system for describing the purity of gold, comes from the ancient practice of weighing gold against “carob” seeds, which were fairly uniform in size and weight. At the time of the Greek emperor Constantine, the pure gold Greek Solidus coin weighed the same as 24 carob seeds, so the expression came about that 24 carobs was pure gold. The word “carob” was later changed to “carat”. It is important not to confuse “carats” as an expression of purity in gold, with “carats” of diamonds which is an expression of weight. When using “carats” to describe diamond weight, one carat is 0.2 grams.
Gold alloys can also be made in various colours, yellow and rose gold alloys are usually made by adding copper and zinc to the gold, more copper is added for rose gold to produce a deeper reddish colour, however the percentage of gold in the alloy must still match the quality standard (e.g. 9ct, 14ct & 18ct). White gold is usually made by adding silver for 9ct or palladium for 18ct. Other colours such as green, blue, purple or black gold can also be made but are less common.
Illustration 2: The picture at the left shows the three main gold colours for wedding rings (rose gold – top, white gold- middle and yellow gold – bottom. Platinum and palladium would be very similar in appearance to the white gold.
Some of the reasons for choosing higher quality gold alloys (e.g. 18 carat instead of 9 carat) are;
Allergies – Higher purities of precious metal are kinder to the skin
Colour – Higher carat gold has a deeper yellow colour
Brightness – As gold is one of the most reflective metals, higher purities of gold are brighter
Hardness – Higher carats of gold are generally just as hard wearing as lower carats and in some cases, such as commonly with white gold they are harder.
Tarnish – Higher purities of gold will not tarnish, 9ct yellow gold does tarnish and requires regular cleaning.
Gold is a bright yellow metal, other colours of gold are produced by adding different metals to the alloy. White gold is made from yellow gold, with the addition of white metals, therefore the resultant alloy may be slightly yellowish in colour.
Generally mostly silver is added to gold to make 9ct white gold, whereas the more expensive white metal palladium is often added for 18ct white gold.
Illustration 3: This runic ring, is made from a natural 18 carat white gold alloy, no rhodium plating has been added, therefore some yellow colour remains in the alloy. Many people like the warmth of some yellow in the colour, however rhodium plated white gold or platinum or palladium would be pure white like the same ring design pictured below. (Ring design by Sheila Fleet)
To achieve a white colour, white gold is often plated on the surface with rhodium metal (rhodium plating), which is a hard naturally white and precious metal from the platinum group of metals (Platinum group of metals - platinum, rhodium, palladium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium). Unfortunately, rhodium platings are generally very thin and will wear off every year or two and require regular re-plating to maintain the pure white colour of the ring.
In the long term rhodium re-plating can be expensive and actually over the lifespan of a ring platinum which is naturally white and does not require re-plating could work out cheaper. However, natural white gold is often available (white gold without any plating), natural white gold alloys vary in colour, some have a slight yellowish tinge, but there are some which are now fairly white, however they can not be as bright a white as platinum or palladium as they do contain yellow gold. In the case of 18ct white gold, three quarters of the alloy is made from yellow gold.
Illustration 4: Sheila Fleet Runic Ring pictured in Platinum (Palladium or rhodium plated white gold would be a similar colour).
It is important to ask whether the white gold you are purchasing is rhodium plated as this type of white gold will cost a great deal to maintain over time. Re-plating charges are generally £20 - £30 each time and this may be required every year or two. So for instance over 40 years, re-plating once a year at £20 per plating could amount to £800. Generally, buying the same ring in platinum would have been cheaper in the long term and the price of palladium is less than 18ct white gold. Therefore if you would like a white metal and cannot find a natural white gold or if you are not happy with the colour of the natural white gold then palladium or platinum, which are naturally white metals may be a more suitable choice.
Platinum is the most precious of all metals and is naturally white in colour, it is said to be pure, rare and eternal. The purity refers to the purity of the alloy, generally 950 parts per thousand pure as opposed to 750 parts per thousand for 18ct gold. Because of this high purity, platinum is very kind to the skin, as the alloy contains very little other metals which can irritate the skin. Platinum does not tarnish and requires only occasional polishing with a non-abrasive cloth to preserve it’s shine.
Illustration 5: This picture shows a ladies platinum engagement ring and wedding ring with a matching mens platinum weddding ring.
Platinum is also very rare, it is estimated to be around thirty two times as rare as gold, though it is only a little over twice the price of 18ct gold. It has been estimated, (by an anorak who clearly had nothing better to do with his time) that all the gold in the world would fill two Olympic size swimming pools, whereas all the platinum in the world would barely reach your ankles in one pool.
Platinum is also described as an eternal metal, as it is hard wearing and does not lose metal when scratched, unlike silver and gold. When a platinum ring is scratched the metal is just displaced and remains in the ring, whereas with gold or silver little shavings of the metal come off each time it is scratched. This allows platinum rings to be re-polished after years of wear to restore their appearance, whereas silver or gold rings can degrade to some extent over time.
Various purities of platinum are currently legal for sale in Britain, these are 850, 900, 950 and 999 parts per thousand of platinum. By far the most popular and readily available quality is 950 purity.
Palladium is a precious metal which has more recently become available for jewellery and rings and is now hallmarked in Britain. It is one of the newer noble metals, discovered in 1802 by William Hyde Wallaston. Palladium is one of the platinum group of metals and is naturally white in colour. Palladium is also light and fairly hard wearing and has become a very popular choice for wedding rings as it is currently less expensive than 18ct white gold and will not require re-plating, due to it’s natural white colour. In fact, palladium is the precious metal which is usually added to gold to make 18ct white gold.
Illustration 6: A palladium wedding ring with a brickwork design, one brick has been plated with rose gold to provide an attractive colour contrast. The colour of palladium is similar to platinum or rhodium plated white gold. (Ring design by Brown & Newirth)
Palladium has many similar properties to platinum and is therefore also in high demand from various industries such as for use in catalytic converters for cars and also dentistry, medicine, electronics, chemicals etc. Like many other precious metals the price of palladium has significantly increased in recent years due to growing demand.
Different purities of palladium are currently legal for sale in Britain, these are 500, 950 and 999 parts per thousand of palladium. By far the most popular and readily available quality is 950 purity.
Many men are less fond of the shiny appearance of precious metals, or they may require a harder wearing metal if they work with their hands. This has made industrial metals such as titanium, zirconium and tungsten carbide popular choices, particularly for men. However, the appearance of these metals also appeals to some ladies. Often rings of this kind are actually made by engineering companies as the metals are too hard to work with normal jewellers tools.
Illustration 7: A titanium ring with a rose gold inlay. (Ring design by Geti)
Rings made from industrial metals are generally very inexpensive compared to precious metal rings. Usually for example titanium rings will cost between £50 and £200, though they can be more expensive if precious metals or diamonds are also contained in the rings. The cost is often more attributed to the cost of making the ring, especially those with unusual finishes or other features, rather than the actual cost of the metal.
These metals are often used in pure form rather than alloys made with the addition of other metals. Titanium, zirconium and stainless steel are hypo-allergenic metals so they are also a popular choice with people who suffer skin allergies to other metals.
Titanium and zirconium are light, non-allergenic and extremely hard-wearing. Zirconium is black in colour and titanium is generally a greyish colour, but can also be polished to a colour similar to silver or platinum. Titanium may also be coated black or various colours can be achieved without coatings. Tungsten Carbide is the hardest metal known to man, and is therefore often used to make drills, it is scratch proof and very heavy.
Illustration 8: A black zirconium ring with two polished zirconium bands around the centre.(Ring design by Geti)
Many people believe that titanium rings cannot be re-sized, however this is not true and many titanium manufacturers can re-size titanium rings, however this may not be possible if the ring has a pattern or contains gemstones or diamonds. Tungsten carbide and zirconium are generally not re-sizeable, it is therefore important to ensure the correct size is ordered in these metals.
The best way to find the right ring metal for you, is to try rings on in various metals and see which metals you like the look of and that suit your skin tone and your budget.