There is a surprising array of precious metals available. We only tend to think about gold (yellow and red) and white metals (silver, platinum, palladium and white gold) but in truth it is much more subtle than that, and the various metals and alloys have quite different colours and properties.
We think of different coloured metals representing different seasons. Spring is the pale yellow of 9ct white gold, summer the brightness of yellow gold, autumn the rich brown of 14ct and 18ct white gold and winter the grey of palladium. Platinum suits everyone and red gold is a bit of an oddball. Think about this and how you dress yourself when choosing a metal.
Gold is mixed into a number of different alloys to produce different colours and properties.
24ct Pure Gold
Pure gold (24 carat (ct)) is rich, orange yellow and quite soft. It is rarely used for jewellery as it’s not quite durable enough for regular wearing and the colour can be a bit too rich for most people. We have a theory that it used to be more popular before the age of cheap flights and fake tan as it clashes slightly with tanned light skin, but looks excellent on very pale or much darker skin. 22ct is very similar, but slightly harder and generally used in its place in jewellery.
18ct Yellow Gold
18ct yellow gold is a slightly paler colour than 22ct, with a good hardness, and is three quarters gold. This is the classic wedding ring material. It’s often overlooked these days as being too bright, but its traditional nature makes it surprisingly subtle.
14ct Yellow Gold
14ct yellow gold is more common in the US than the UK, but it makes a nice middle ground between the pale almost slightly pinkish 9ct and the strong yellow of 18ct.
9ct Yellow Gold
9ct yellow gold is a pale yellow, but with a good colour, comprised of three eighths gold with the rest mainly silver and copper, so it appears a little bit pink. It is slightly brittle when being worked, but a ring is a very strong shape, so once made that is less of a concern.
18ct White Gold
18ct white gold is a mixture of gold, silver and palladium. The colour is a rich dark brown which suits a handful of people really well, particularly if they wear autumnal colours or have olive skin and brown hair and eyes. It is subtle but still has that feeling of 18ct gold, which is a nice combination. It is usually sold rhodium plated, but as the plating rubs off, the colour change can be quite significant. We usually sell it unplated.
14ct White Gold
14ct white gold is a very similar alloy to 18ct white gold, but slightly more neutral. It’s very popular in the US, but fairly hard to come by here. It has become one of our most popular metals.
9ct White Gold
9ct white gold is a spring-like, very bright, very pale yellow that suits many people, especially those who like to wear some bright colours. It is the palest of the precious metals after silver, but unlike silver it is very hard, although a little brittle for dainty engagement rings.
18ct Red Gold
Red gold refers to gold-copper alloys, where the redness of the copper tints it pinky-orange. 18ct red gold is fairly close in colour to 18ct yellow gold as the difference in copper content isn’t very significant. It seems to mainly suit people with ginger hair
9ct Red Gold
9ct red gold being quite a bit redder and is the usual choice for redness. It is also fairly affordable, so has become a very popular option for people who are looking for something a little bit different.
Silver is the whitest of the metals and, if anything, is very slightly yellow. It is also the cheapest, being about a 30th of the price of palladium, 50th of platinum and a 70th of pure gold. This means, as a designer, you have the scope to play around with it and make much bigger, chunkier items without worrying about the cost. However, as it can’t be made into low carat alloys like gold can, it is quite soft, which can make it unsuitable for normal wedding rings. It will slowly darken with oxidisation, but if worn it should keep its shine. It’s usually sold at 92.5% purity (sterling silver) as pure silver is really too soft.
Palladium is a popular choice as a more affordable alternative to platinum, especially for men who would like a chunkier ring. The colour is a fairly dark, gun-metal grey, which has quite a modern feel. It tends to suit people who with an understated look and those with dark hair and blue eyes or who wear wintery colours. It can be quite difficult to work with, but casts well. The standard jewellery purity of palladium is 95%, which is what we work with.
Platinum is very hard and deliciously heavy, with a light grey colour that polishes up beautifully and keeps its shine well. It is the whitest of the more precious metals that aren’t rhodium plated. There is a lot of prestige to platinum and it brings a certain gravitas, and diamonds look fantastic in it as it’s not too pale so they stand out. It is the most glamorous and felt to be the most valuable, although pure gold has at times been more expensive.
Rhodium is used for plating white gold. It is a very hard metal that isn’t worked by metal-smithing methods but by electro-plating onto other metals, mainly white gold. The colour is nearly as light as silver and slightly colder. The finish is beautiful, and looks great in shop windows, however the downside is that it wears off over time, often just a few months, which can be a nasty surprise and can make a wedding ring feel more impermanent. It also helps the jewellery industry to simplify metals into yellows and whites, which we suspect they find easier to market on a larger scale. We don’t use it that often.