A collage of tiny scratches that get so overwhelming someone might think you’re marking off your days with a daily deep scratch on your engagement ring.
Compulsively checking if the main diamond is loose. It felt loose yesterday. Which prong was it? Can I be imagining this? No, it’s definitely loose. Mmm… yup, it just turned…
A small diamond popping out every time the seasons change.
A precious engagement ring that just seems to be aging... in dog years.
You don’t want any of these issues, do you?
There is no accessory in the world that will be more religiously worn than a lady's engagement ring. She’ll change her wardrobe, drive different cars and fall in love with exotic destinations. She’ll acquire new tastes and grow bored of the favorites of yesteryear.
But the engagement ring decorating her ring finger will be tagging along as the seasons and years fly by.
Although the staring phase blows over in a few months, her engagement ring will be checked up on more than a few times per day. I sincerely hope it makes whoever is wearing the ring feel special, loved and appreciated.
Unfortunately, these check-ins can change easily migrate from “I love this ring too much!” to an “I hope everything is still there and neatly tucked in where it should be”.
At least 1 in 10 rings we manufacture are remakes of rings couples purchased elsewhere. Sure, the design is sometimes mediocre at best; but the main issue is usually a poor metal choice, and not just down to low-quality craftsmanship. You’re fortunate to have a few good jewelers scattered across the country.
We’ve been recommending platinum and palladium (collectively, the “platinum group metals”) over white gold since the first day we ventured into high-end jewelry manufacturing.
Let’s dig in and ensure your lifelong ring journey as exciting as those first few days after the proposal.
Not all metals are good choices.
Blanket recommendations don’t have a place in the jewelry world. Everything is subjective and preferences vary widely.
I’ve had my fair share of consultations where someone pulls out a sketch or picture of their perfect custom engagement ring design and I wait for the … “Haha! Only joking!”
It never comes… she really wants an owl inspired engagement ring.
Metal choices are a completely different story. Some are superior to others, and while it might not be the most exciting topic under the sun - it’s probably the single most important choice to ensure your engagement ring is enjoyed for decades.
Pick a colour.
If you’re looking for a silver/white colored metal; your high-end metal choices are 18k white gold and the platinum group of metals (950 palladium, 950 platinum).
In love with the coloured gold choices? 18k yellow and rose gold is the only way to go.
Most jewelers offer 9k gold and silver as lower cost options. We’ve never manufactured a single ring in either. There’s nothing wrong with them per se; we just prefer the more luxurious and infinitely more durable options mentioned above. As easy as that.
Yellow & Rose Gold
Nothing in this industry has fascinated me more than the changes in a metal’s characteristics as it’s blended with other metals. Alchemy!
18k gold has a 75% gold content. Keep in mind gold has a very rich yellow colour. The residual 25% of the alloy consists of nickel, silver, copper, and palladium. Subtle changes in the recipe can either enrich the yellow hue, colour it beautifully rosy, or bleach it surprisingly white.
The copper content in rose gold makes it very, very hard and light years removed from the durability issues you’ll find with white gold. Although yellow gold is not as hard and durable as the platinum alternatives it has one major advantage over white gold - it’s not plated with anything, and the colour doesn’t fade and change over time.
Extra Mile Tip; Consider Your Skin Tone.
Skin colour is often overlooked when choosing a metal for an engagement ring. There are no disastrous combinations but the following work so well I think it’s cheating…
- Dark skin and yellow gold looks great.
- Very light (like a sheet of printer paper) and very dark skin tones accentuate the richness of rose gold’s colour. If you’re pink ‘n pale like me give rose gold a skip.
If you have a cool skin tone (the veins on your wrist are blue not green) a white metal like platinum and palladium is recommended.
*There aren’t rose or yellow colored platinum alloys; 18k rose and yellow gold are perfectly fine metal choices. White gold is the troublesome twin.
Carat, carrot, karat? 1,00ct vs 18k vs 950.
I don’t know who, what and where but it was rather unimaginative to set measure of weight for a diamond to carat (ct.) and gold’s measure of purity in karat(k.)
As you can imagine there terms and abbreviations are now used interchangeably and everyone seems a little bit disoriented at first.
Although this isn’t logical; it’s easy to understand.
Diamond weight - carat / ct.
A 1-carat diamond weighs 0,200 grams. Using a mid-tier specification of I-colour and VS1 clarity a round 5,00ct diamond would run you around R1 500 000. Yup, 1.5 million Rand… per gram. And we’re far from the top-shelf specifications. The price of a top of the line D-colour flawless 5,00ct diamond is around R3 500 000.
Simply a measure of weight. Nothing more, nothing less.
There’s an awesome origin story of the “carat” unit. Do yourself a favour and check it out here.
Gold purity - karat / k.
The karat of gold refers to the number of units out of 24 that are pure gold (“Au” on the periodical table of elements).
The higher the carat, the higher the purity.
Pure gold is too soft to withstand the daily wear and tear an engagement ring goes through, so it’s always blended with other metals like silver, palladium, and copper to make a way more durable alloy for use in jewelry. As mentioned above this mixture of alloys also severely changes the color and properties of gold.
- 9k - 9/24 units - 37,5% pure gold.
- 18k - 18/24 units - 75% pure gold. (Best Choice)
- 24k - 24/24 units - 100% pure gold.
Platinum group purity - 950
Slightly more straightforward, this measure refers to the number of units out of 1 000 that are pure platinum or palladium.
- 950 palladium - 950/1000 units - 95% pure palladium.
- 950 platinum - 950/1000 units - 95% pure platinum.
The other 5% is ruthenium which is also a platinum group metal. This makes a good “100% pure” argument since it’s undiluted with any lesser metals as you’ll find in 18k gold.
Jewellers are allowed to drop the purity to 800. We stick to the benchmark 950.
This is a stunning 14 carrot engagement ring;
Platinum vs Palladium. (Platinum group metals)
Platinum and palladium are both excellent white metal choices for an engagement ring. Their technical properties vary slightly here and there, but you can’t go wrong with either.
The minor differences in the platinum group metal choices.
Durability, wear and tear.
Platinum and palladium are both very durable metals and a great choice for an everyday jewelry item such as an engagement ring.
We recommend that our customers visit us at least once a year to clean their engagement ring thoroughly, and to ensure all diamond are still secure. We always inspect the wear and tear before we polish it out, and they’re equally durable.
Palladium is 6% optically whiter/lighter than platinum. That’s not a lot.
Most people can’t distinguish between the colors, but the few with super eyes usually opt for the slightly whiter palladium option.
Fun Fact; Most of the research available indicates that palladium is at least 30 times rarer than gold. Palladium is also much rarer than platinum. I see palladium becoming the most exclusive metal choice for engagement rings in the next decade.
In the earlier versions of this post, I predicted that palladium will eventually pass platinum on price per ounce. It happened;
- Palladium - R441 per gram
- Platinum - R421 per gram
- 18k Gold - R435 per gram
The market values a gram of palladium over a gram of platinum. It’s not a cheap metal in any sense of the word.
I recently read correspondence that one of our customers had with another jeweler. The jeweler raised concerns about the value of palladium and literally wrote “Palladium is not a pure metal. It also has no value like tin.
The tin price today is 0,68 US cents per ounce. Palladium is 1 417 times more expensive than tin.
Palladium is 40% lighter in weight than platinum. Using an identical ring design the platinum version would weight 10g and the palladium version 6g. So although the palladium price per gram has surpassed that of platinum, you’ll use significantly less in terms of weight, and that still gives the edge to palladium in terms of affordability.
*See how a ring's weight changes between metal choices on the exact same design?
Perceived value and quality
Palladium might seem like no brainer to you at this stage, but platinum is still widely considered the most luxurious metal choice for a diamond engagement ring.
Platinum is a stunning, durable metal... but so is palladium. What gives?
Out of the metals discussed, platinum definitely has the highest perceived value and quality. We’re just wired that way.
Firstly, try on a few palladium and white gold rings, and then a few platinum pieces. You’ll immediate feel the very significant increase in weight.
Countless studies have shown that heavier items have a higher perceived value with prospective customers. The toy industry has done a stellar job at increasing the weight and size of their packaging, to ensure their original products feel heavier and sturdier than cheap chinese knockoffs laying on the same shelf.
The heavier weight of platinum also hints to superior quality and long term durability. Keep in mind palladium is just as durable, and that weight doesn’t have a correlation with durability.
And there’s a third perfect storm element…
As a working example, let’s calculate the metal section of the Bea’s price. Ignore diamonds, design and labour costs for now;
|The price of metal used in Bea.|
|Metal||Weight in grams.||Price per gram (Rand)||Price|
*Although platinum is the cheapest per gram, in engagement ring form it's the most expensive option.
And as Robert Cialdini, Influence, put it “In markets in which people are not completely sure of how to assess quality, they use price as a stand-in for quality.”
Although platinum isn’t an easy metal to work with, palladium is so tricky that most jewelers give up after a few failed attempts.
To properly manufacture in palladium a jeweler requires very specialized (expensive) equipment and processes. The metal cannot be properly worked by hand and has to be cast in an oxygen-free vacuum.
Very few jewelers have invested the capital and time into the science of palladium manufacturing. Unfortunately, 99% of jewelers that can’t work in palladium don’t stick to a simple “we don’t manufacture in palladium”, but rather spend a few minutes rehearsing a little speech about preserving the “traditional metals”, its zero-value and the durability issues of palladium.
Although this is an exaggerated rendition, it clearly shows how porous a metal can solidify after it’s been cast. Instead of a super strong homogeneous metal you have a compromised mesh and spongy structure. Severe porosity raises the risk of breakage tremendously. A small crack might not be the end of the world, but if that crack is on a claw holding your main diamond… I hope you have comprehensive insurance.
Palladium is only porous and brittle if the metal has been burnt (overheated in casting process) or exposed to oxygen when it was in a molten state.
3 More reasons to pick a platinum group metals over white gold.
Just as I feel there’s never a valid reason to buy a poorly cut diamond, I think the platinum group metals trump white gold in every possible way.
1. Your diamond and setting is more secure.
You might start out with the intention of having your engagement ring properly polished up every 4 months, but people are crazy busy and don’t find time to run into jewelry stores as planned.
Although palladium is far from scratch resistant it is much more durable than white gold. Your palladium engagement ring will not be in desperate need of a touch-up polish every couple of months.
Furthermore, palladium much better secures your diamonds. Engagement rings get knocked every day, but a hard blow is bound to happen some time. To give your diamond the best possible chances of staying put in a violent bash I recommend you opt for a platinum or palladium.
As a bonus; since palladium and platinum are hard, sturdy metals the claws holding your diamond in place can be slightly smaller than you’d find on a white gold ring. Delicate prongs and claws make your diamond look bigger, and creates a finer look (if that’s what you’re after.)
2. Allergy concerns.
Quite a few people experience allergic reactions to their wedding and engagement rings. This allergy is called "wedding-ring dermatitis" and should not be confused with the very real 7-year itch. Wedding ring dermatitis can cause extremely itchy, red and scaly welts. Its main cause is an allergic reaction to the nickel content often found in white gold rings. Nickel allergies affect 24 - 36% of women... and it’s on the rise. The North American Contact Dermatitis Group proudly named nickel the 2008 "Allergen of the Year.” Not cute.
Nickel used in jewelry is declining worldwide, but tons of white gold jewelry with nickel content is being reused by many jewelers every day. Even if your jeweler is not deliberately adding the nickel to his white gold mix, the recycled jewelry he is reusing will most probably have some nickel in it.
Platinum and palladium are completely hypoallergenic and contains no nickel or other known allergens.
3. Palladium and Platinum don’t change color.
Since white gold in its pure (unplated) state is a rather dullish gray metal with a slight yellow undertone, it’s plated with a few microns of rhodium to improve the “whiteness” and sheen of a ring.
Rhodium is stunningly white, and considerably more appealing than unplated white gold. But there’s a catch; any form of plating on a ring starts wearing of in a month or three. And with the price of rhodium currently sitting at 70% higher than platinum, don’t bargain on free rhodium replating.
Rhodium doesn’t erode in a homogeneous way. High wear areas start wearing off first, creating a patchy looking ring.
Don't you think you should be enjoying your ring and not rating the condition of the plating daily?
Platinum group metals don’t need any form of plating and even after 50 years, the metal will appear as white as the first day you laid eyes on the ring.
Johan Poggenpoel, Co-Founder.
T; 012 111 0525 (Pretoria) | 010 020 6811 (Johannesburg)
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