Whether you work with your hands or love to climb mountains on the weekends, or you’re simply looking for a ring that will rise to the challenge of an active life, the choice of metal — and knowing which metals are the most durable when it comes to wear-every-day rings — is important. Browsing colorful gemstones and bright white diamonds might seem like the most dazzling part of buying fine jewelry, but metals bring glimmer and color to ring design too. Whatever you choose, when you design a ring with Bario Neal, you get recycled metal or Fairmined gold, which are foundations for our ethical, sustainable jewelry. And while metal durability is certainly something to consider, all of our rings are high-quality jewelry designed and crafted to last.
When working with clients who are shopping for rings, we start by making sure we understand their lifestyle and work, and educating them about which ring metals might be best based on those factors. “Some of our first-time clients don’t have a lot of experience wearing rings,” says Bario Neal Sales Director Ariel Yaroslawitz. “They want to understand the durability of what they're buying, especially with jewelry they could be wearing every day for the rest of their lives, such as engagement rings or wedding bands.”
Here are the metals that Bario Neal crafts rings with, listed in order of most durable metal to softest.
Palladium: Silvery-white palladium is just a tad harder than platinum. On the Mohs hardness scale, which is a measure of the hardness of metals and gemstones developed by Friedrich Mohs, palladium is a 4.75, while platinum is around 4.5. The metal is part of what’s called the “platinum group metals,” but its lower density means it’s more accessibly priced than platinum. Palladium doesn’t tarnish like many other metals and it’s hypoallergenic. White gold is often produced by alloying yellow gold with palladium. “Based on how you can work the metal, we don't use palladium for any rings with gemstones,” Ariel notes.
Platinum: One of the rarest of earth’s metals (it’s actually more plentiful on the moon!), platinum is one of the most popular metal choices for people who want a white-silver look and a super-durable ring. Its chemical makeup means it doesn’t react with oxygen and so is very resistant to tarnishing (discoloration) and corrosion. Platinum is a favorite of Bario Neal Studio Coordinator Emily Shank. “I like the durability of platinum because I work with my hands,” she says. If you’re drawn to rings with a high prong setting, platinum is marvelous. “High prongs can catch on table edges, so platinum is the most durable metal in terms of avoiding those prongs breaking off,” Emily notes. (Bario Neal doesn’t set gemstones in palladium.) Hypoallergenic like palladium, platinum very, very rarely causes any reaction for wearers.
14kt yellow, rose, and white gold*: For those who prefer yellow or rose tones in their ring over the white-silver of platinum, 14k gold is the most durable metal choice. While pure gold is soft — and not ideal for jewelry — combining gold with other metals ups the durability. The karat (kt) system signals how much of the mix is pure gold in alloys like 14kt and 18kt gold. (“Alloy” means a mix of metals. Gold is most often mixed with nickel, copper, silver, or zinc. The amount of those other metals is how we get the blushing pale pink of rose gold or the silvery tone of white gold.) The lower the karat number the less gold in the alloy. Pressed to rank the three, even if that means drilling down to the slimmest of differences, Emily says, “I'd say yellow gold is the most durable out of the three. Then rose, and white gold rounds out the list.”
*There is another 14kt gold, one that Bario Neal reaches for when crafting our enamel bands: 14kt green gold. “We can craft enamel rings with white gold and palladium, but when it comes to enameling, the glass adheres best to 14k green gold and 18k yellow gold,” Emily says. “14k green gold is really cool. It has a highlighter-like vibrant green undertone.”
18kt yellow and white gold: Both 18kt golds have more gold (75%) in the alloy than 14kt golds, so 18kt yellow gold tends to be more yellow. Though it’s a little softer than 14kt gold, Bario Neal handcrafts most engagement rings in 18kt yellow gold; there’s an irresistible beauty in the combination of buttery yellow 18kt gold and gemstones. As with all design decisions, our team can offer advice depending on your work or lifestyle. 18kt white gold is an alloy. The percentage of added metals varies but they are palladium, nickel, zinc, and silver. White gold is more resistant to corrosion than sterling silver.
Sterling silver: The most common silver alloy, sterling silver is 92.5% silver. According to the International Gem Society, “copper makes up a substantial portion” of the rest of the mix “because it increases the alloy’s hardness.” Still, on Bario Neal’s ring metals lineup, sterling silver is the softest. Plenty of clients go for silver though. “Silver gets a tarnish that gold does not and some people like to see the wear on their rings over time,” Emily says. “Also that softness means that if you wear a thin silver band on your hand every day, it can start to form to the shape of your finger and some people like that.”
At Bario Neal, we believe that different ring designs call for different metals so we don’t offer every ring in our collections with every metal listed above. “Because sterling silver is soft, we don't typically set large gemstones in it,” Ariel says. “For our eternity bands, which have a thin band with a setting of so many small gemstones, we use 14kt gold, which is strong enough to hold the gemstones in such a delicate setting style.”
To find out which metals we create a ring with, click on the “Buy Ring” or “Buy Band” button on a ring on our site and you’ll see a dropdown Metals menu.
Durable Doesn’t Mean Indestructible
Day-to-day life will, over time, make its mark on all metals in Bario Neal’s collection. (Not to mention the more “yikes!” scenarios we’ve seen, such as rings that have been run over by cars and one that was dropped down a garbage disposal.) The composition dictates how a metal moves when pressure is put on it. Platinum is a harder metal so while it will scratch and get dinged up just like 18kt and 14kt gold, it won't show that wear as fast.
If your lifestyle means you use your hands a lot — in sports like mountain climbing or a job like an electrician or woodworker — we do recommend you take off your rings and keep them in a safe place when active. Do the same when hitting the gym.
If you have an accident with your ring, says Emily, “Typically, we can repair any metal. If something cracks, or a piece of it snaps off, we can laser it or solder it back together. But if a piece is completely crushed, it will depend on the extent of the damage.”
Finally, while style choices of matte, satin, or polished don't affect a metal’s integrity, Emily notes, "Certain finishes will last longer. Satin is a muted polish. If you wear a polished ring it will get a little scuffed and start to look like the satin finish over a long time. A matte ring does the opposite. When it rubs against surfaces it gets a little more polished and tends to look like satin finish in the end. Everything eventually ends up at that midpoint.”
The good news: All metal finishes can be made to look new if you have your ring re-polished or re-matted, which involves taking off the top layer of the metal ever so carefully and thinly with special tools.
If the durability of a ring is on your mind, check out our tips in “Best Engagement Rings for an Active Lifestyle.” You don’t need to be headed down the aisle to find good ideas there — and details about the durability of different gemstones (once you’ve made your metal choice!). To keep any ring, whatever metal you purchase, in good shape, care plays an important part. Our “5 Simple Tips for Caring for Your Engagement Ring or Wedding Bands” post is easy to follow, even if you’re new to jewelry wearing. You can make an appointment with the Bario Neal team, too, to discuss all the metals, how they work with different ring designs, and what is best for your style and daily wear.