This article describes in detail the precious metals we use at the Bario-Neal studio, and we hope it will be helpful in choosing the right material for your commitment band or engagement ring.
What does the karat refer to? Karat is a unit of measurement for gold. 24 karats is pure gold, or 100% gold. The higher the karat, the more pure gold a metal contains. Because pure gold is quite soft, 24kt gold is not used in jewelry but simply used as a reference for measurement. The most popular gold, 14kt yellow gold, is 14 parts pure gold and 10 parts other metal (also called alloy). So 14kt gold is 14/24 karats, or 58.3% pure gold. 18 karats can be figured out the same way: 18/24 = 75% pure gold.
What type of metal should I get if I am hard on my hands? What is the hardest metal? What metals resist scratching best? If you are hard on your hands, we recommend platinum or palladium. Because of their ductility, platinum and palladium will not break or wear thin the way gold will. Platinum and palladium will sooner bend or deform than crack, which is usually an easier repair. All metal will scratch overtime but you may notice it most on softer metals such as sterling silver.
What type of metal should I get for my engagement ring if it is a delicate setting style? Because of its strength and density, platinum is the best metal for rings with delicate settings. As mentioned above, platinum will not wear away so the prongs will never become thin, as they would if they were in gold. Palladium is not recommended for delicate setting styles. If you are interested in a yellow metal, then 18k yellow gold is a good choice as well. If platinum doesn’t work with your budget and you’re interested in a white metal, 18k white gold or 14k white gold are also good options.
Will a brass or bronze ring turn my finger green? Yes. Brass and bronze react with acids in your skin when you sweat. The oxidation of the metal then rubs off on your finger turning it green. This is the same type of oxidation that happens to bronze sculptures or copper roofing, but instead the bronze is reacting with acids and chemicals in the air. In the past we have made rings with an inner band of gold and the outer band made of brass. This is a great solution if you really love the color of brass but want to avoid the skin discoloration.
How do I know if I am allergic to nickel? If you’re allergic to nickel, your skin will turn red and become irritated where you come in contact with the metal. About 1 in 8 women have a nickel allergy. White gold is the only metal we work with that is alloyed with nickel so all other metals are considered nickel free. Therefore, platinum, palladium, 14kt yellow, 18kt yellow 14kt rose, 18kt rose and sterling silver are safe to wear if you have a nickel allergy. Sometimes wearing a necklace that has a 14kt white gold chain is not always the best judge to decide if you have a nickel allergy because it is not worn every day. Because of this, customers in the past who thought they did not have an allergy discovered that they did indeed after wearing the ring for a couple months. If you are unsure about having an allergy or not, consider wearing jewelry containing nickel for a longer period of time, rather than just a day or two. If your skin becomes irritated from a ring that does not contain nickel, consider having it cleaned or cleaning the ring yourself.
Platinum: Platinum is a very strong and naturally white precious metal. It is also very dense and therefore the heaviest. It does not tarnish and is hypoallergenic. All of these qualities contribute to platinum being the best metal to work with- especially for prolonged wear. It is the purest precious metal we work with, containing 95% pure platinum and 5% ruthenium. Ruthenium is of the platinum family and is alloyed with platinum to make it harder.
Palladium: Palladium is a metal in the platinum family but is comparable in price to white gold. The color is similar to platinum but a bit more gray. One of the main differences between palladium and platinum other than color is that palladium is more porous than platinum. Because of its porosity, we do not recommend it for rings with set stones such as engagement rings; it is a metal that works best for wedding bands or other fine jewelry pieces. It is a great choice for wedding bands because it will not wear away nor will it have a tendency to break or crack. Many of our customers also like the muted gray color.
18KY: 18kt yellow gold is 75% pure gold and 25% silver and copper. Some people prefer 18kt yellow over 14kt yellow because it is richer and more lustrous in color and is more valuable. The color is also more yellow and less red than 14kt yellow. 18kt yellow gold is also both relatively hard and relatively dense, so it is a good choice for an engagement ring if your prefer yellow metals over white metals.
18KW: 18kt white gold contains 75% pure gold. It is still alloyed with nickel and rhodium plated but is more valuable than 14kt white. 18kt white gold is the hardest metal we work with. The harder the metal, the more brittle it is. Because it is more brittle, if put under pressure the ring would sooner have a tendency to break and crack rather than become deformed or bend.
18KR: 18kt rose gold is yellow gold alloyed with copper. In comparison to 14kt rose gold, it does not actually contain more copper but rather more gold. It is more pale in color compared to 14kt rose gold. It is a great choice if you want a higher karat gold but not necessarily a ring that is more yellow.
14KY: 14kt yellow gold is 58% pure gold and 42% silver and copper (or 14 parts gold and 10 parts silver and copper). 14KY is the most popular yellow gold that we work with.
14KW: White gold is yellow gold alloyed with nickel and then plated with rhodium. An important thing to remember about white gold is that it still contains yellow gold so without being plated white gold has a very faint yellow/brown color. By adding nickel to gold, you aren’t necessarily making the gold “whiter” but rather “less yellow.” Rhodium plating is what makes white gold white. Over time, the rhodium plating will wear off. We are happy to replate it for you but you can take it to any local jeweler as well. We generally do not rhodium plate our matte finished white gold rings- the rhodium either covers up the matte finish, or the matte finish takes off the rhodium if you plate it first so it will keep its faint brown color.
14KR: 14kt rose gold is yellow gold alloyed with copper to give it its pink color. Rose gold is a very complimentary color with most skin tones. It is a good option if you prefer a warmer color gold but would like to avoid the traditional color of yellow gold.
14KG and 18KG: 14kt green gold is yellow gold alloyed with fine silver to make it less red and paler in color. The green color is very subtle and most noticeable next to white or yellow gold. 18kt green gold is alloyed with 20% silver, which gives it its maximum green color. Because of its fine silver content, we primarily use 14kt green gold for enameled pieces.
10KY: 10kt yellow gold is 10 parts pure gold and 14 parts silver and copper. 10kt yellow is the lowest karat weight that can be legally sold as gold in the US. 10KY is paler in color that 14kt yellow.
SS: Sterling silver is 92.5% fine silver and 7.5% copper. Sterling silver is a soft metal and we rarely use it for rings with stones, especially diamonds set in prong settings. An important characteristic to note about silver is that it tarnishes. Tarnish is a result of contact with sulfur compounds in the air. Tarnish does not destroy silver; it is a dark layer built up on the surface and can be polished off. Because of its softness and tarnishing characteristics silver is not the best for everyday jewelry, such as wedding bands and engagement rings. One benefit however is that it is the only precious metal that can be oxidized. Oxidation is similar to tarnishing except that it is intentional and controlled. When silver is oxidized it loses its luster and has a more matte finish, like the oxidized ring shown above.