White metals’ cool allure has captured imaginations for centuries. You may prefer one kind of white metal, or you may be surprised to discover a new favorite among the wide range of white metals used in jewelry today. Each has its distinct advantages and some have unique looks and applications for jewelry. Understanding the qualities of each different white jewelry metal can help ensure that the piece you select today will offer a lifetime of joy and satisfaction. Here are the different white metals:
From the ancient worlds of Byzantium and Egypt 4,000 years ago, to the New World mines of Mexico and Peru during the 17th and 18th centuries, the lure of silver has fascinated kings and conquerors. Today, silver has drawn some of our top jewelry designers to craft affordable, must-have items for the most stylish consumers.
Sterling silver is a versatile metal and can have a high polish, matte, brushed, satin, sandblasted, oxidized (chemically blackened), or antiqued finish.
Silver is a naturally soft metal and must be mixed with other metals to create an alloy; it is commonly mixed with copper. For jewelry to be labeled sterling silver, it must contain at least 92.5% pure silver. Genuine sterling silver jewelry will be marked with a 925, .925, 92.5 or “Ster.”
Pros & Cons
Sterling silver’s versatility and affordability create limitless options for fashionable jewelry. While sterling silver can tarnish or darken, you can return silver to its natural finish with proper care and cleaning. More tarnish-resistant sterling silver is offered at many jewelry stores these days.
Pure, rare, eternal – these qualities set platinum apart. A favorite of famous jewelry designer Peter Carl Faberge and the metal of choice for “platinum blondes” in Hollywood’s heyday, this precious metal has enjoyed yet another surge in popularity in recent years, particularly among discriminating bridal buyers.
Platinum’s luster complements the sparkle of diamonds and gems. Its finish can range from a bright polish to a soft matte texture.
Jewelry made with platinum will have markings of Platinum, Pt, or Plat, meaning that it contains at least 95% pure platinum. If marked “iridplat,” it contains 90% platinum and 10% iridium, another platinum group metal. Platinum content is shown as 999 for 99.9% pure platinum, 950 for 95%, 900 for 90%, 850 for 85%, and so on.
Pros & Cons
Platinum’s strength assures you that your most precious diamonds and gems will be protected and secured. Platinum’s purity makes it hypoallergenic and thus the perfect choice for those with sensitive skin. Platinum mp;rsquo;s durability makes it ideal for wearing every day, as it sustains very little metal loss over a lifetime of wear. Some wearers of brightly polished platinum don’t like the “patina” platinum that naturally develops with time, but the shine can be restored with regular repolishing. Others may find platinum’s heaviness doesn’t suit certain styles, such as large earrings.
A World War II favorite, white gold meant patriotism for that era’s marrying couples, when platinum was taken off the market for use in the war effort. Today, white gold offers precious affordability and fashionable fun, along with sturdy durability.
White gold gets its color by mixing yellow gold with alloys like nickel, zinc, and palladium. Due to the variety of the alloys used, white gold colors will vary. Sometimes, white gold is covered with rhodium plating to create a bright, pure white finish.
White gold is available in karatages up to 21 karat; it is not possible to have 22k or 24k white gold. Eighteen-karat gold is 75% pure, 14k is 58.5% pure, and 10k (the lowest karatage legally sold as gold jewelry in the U.S.) is 41.7% pure.
Pros & Cons
White gold is a more affordable yet still durable and precious alternative to platinum. It doesn’t tarnish like silver. But some rhodium-plated white gold can “yellow” over time and may need to be occasionally replated with rhodium. When gold is alloyed with nickel, it can be allergenic to a small percentage of wearers who have skin allergies. In response, many refiners and manufacturers are now offering white gold that doesn’t contain nickel, and others are creating white gold alloys that are white enough to not need rhodium plating. Be sure to ask your jeweler about these newer alloys.
Palladium is the “newest” white metal to make a splash among jewelry makers. A platinum group metal that’s not actually new, palladium shares many of platinum’s rich benefits at more affordable prices. Its strength makes it a favorite metal for elaborate, solid jewelry.
Palladium has garnered much attention from jewelers since it offers the benefits of platinum – bright white color, purity, and strength – at a more affordable price. Jewelry designers are taking advantage of palladium’s strong, light characteristics and creating new white-metal jewelry that is solid and big but affordable.
Palladium, like platinum, is a very pure metal. Look for 950 Palladium, which means that the metal used is 95% pure, and usually mixed with 5% ruthenium. Sometimes jewelers use a 90% palladium/10% iridium combination. Both ruthenium and iridium, like palladium, are among the group of metals related to platinum.
Pros & Cons
Palladium does not require plating to maintain its lustrous white color, and it is hypoallergenic. It will not tarnish. However, palladium is neither as rare nor as heavy as platinum.
Titanium, Tungsten Carbide, Stainless Steel:
These three industrial metals fascinate men and women alike – but the guys dominate. That’s probably due to the metals’ popularity in watches and their “technical” qualities. They are tough and can take a lot of wear and tear.
Although not commonly used in fine jewelry, Titanium, Stainless Steel, and Tungsten Carbide are gaining popularity in jewelry, especially with men, as complements to watches of the same metal. Used for their durability in active accessories, like golf clubs, the metals are well suited to active consumers who will wear the jewelry on a daily basis and do not want to worry about its care and condition.
The metals’ steely, gray appearance especially appeals to men. Titanium also has a unique property that allows it to be transformed, using heat or chemicals, into bright colors like blue, purple, and black. The metals are often used in inlay designs, with contrasting metals and patterns in rings and bracelets. Jewelry made from these metals usually features contemporary designs in rings, bracelets, cufflinks, earrings, money clips, and necklaces.
Unlike the precious metals – platinum, gold, silver and palladium – these metals are not rare. Titanium is the ninth most common element found on earth; stainless steel was created in a laboratory. However, the metals are very pure. For example, commercially pure titanium is composed of >99.2% titanium plus elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, carbon. They have the dual benefits of being very strong, but also light weight. And they are durable. In fact, tungsten is considered the world’s hardest metal substance; it ranks 8-9 on the Mohs hardness scale (diamonds are a 10). It is roughly ten times harder than gold and four times harder than titanium.
Pros & Cons
Titanium, stainless steel, and tungsten carbide offer affordable alternatives to precious white metal jewelry. They are non-corrosive and hypoallergenic. Jewelry made using these industrial metals is scratch resistant and will retain its polish longer than other metals. When used in chain or link bracelets, the metals are less likely to snap or break – making the need for repair infrequent. However, titanium and tungsten carbide’s strength also limits their jewelry options. They cannot be used to make delicate designs. They are so tough that resizing rings is difficult for most bench jewelers – though many manufacturers do offer a resizing service to retailers who cannot resize the rings themselves.
Quality White Metal Purchases
When purchasing white metal jewelry, always look for quality construction. Pay special attention to fasteners or clasps, making sure catches work easily but are secure. Pin backs and earring posts should be strong and firmly attached to the piece with no visible marks. Lay chains flat to make sure the links don’t kink or bend. If you’re purchasing rhodium-plated items, inspect the piece to ensure that the plating completely covers it.
For more information visit the official Jewelry Information Center.