There are a number of metals available to make engagement rings out of, some of which are not suitable, and some of which require a bit more effort. Which one you choose will largely be driven by the colour of metal that you feel suits you best and then usually, by your budget.
Here is some information regarding the most popular types of metal in use today. For engagement rings Charlton Jewellers strongly recommends the use of Platinum, Palladium or 18ct gold.
Often referred to as “the king of metals” platinum is a rare white metal that has been in common jewellery use for a relatively short time (due to jewellers torches not being able to achieve a high enough temperature for melting). It is a particularly dense, heavy metal making it very strong & giving it great durability for engagement ring use, and is tarnish resistant meaning that unlike white golds it does not require “rhodium plating”.
Also it is generally almost pure when used for jewellery (at 950 parts per 1000) which means it is unlikely to irritate even the most sensitive skin. Platinum does not require any special care other than to be kept clean with a mild detergent solution or commercial jewellery cleaner, however to bring back the beautiful shine that dulls over time a visit to your jeweller will be necessary. The only downside is of course due to a combination of its extra weight and rarity, platinum is one of the most expensive metals to use.
Palladium is from the same group of metals as platinum (they are found together) having similar characteristics in terms of colour and chemical makeup. The largest use of palladium in recent times has been by autocatalysts in eliminating the harmful emissions produced by internal combustion engines. Its use in jewellery has escalated since around 2006 when an International Palladium Alliance was formed to bring palladium into main stream jewellery production as a metal in its own right. Palladium has many of the qualities of platinum – its whiteness, tarnish resistance and durability, however another benefit is that it is very light in weight which helps make it a more affordable metal. Like platinum, palladium does not require “rhodium plating”, just normal care, and so is an extremely good alternative to white gold. It is also 95% pure in jewellery use.
18ct White Gold
White gold is an alloy of yellow gold and at least one other metal (typically palladium, platinum, silver…) to change the colour of the metal to white. Its history goes back a few hundred years however it’s popular use in jewellery didn’t really occur until the 1920-1930’s when platinum became extremely expensive and later during WWII when platinum was declared a “strategic metal” (and most non-military use was prohibited). Today it is by far the most popular white metal for precious jewellery use as it carries the weight and durability of gold but the contemporary appearance of a white metal. Over the years the quality of white gold has improved – until more recently white gold suffered commonly from an inability to stay “white” and occasionally the other metals it was alloyed with caused skin reactions, however these problems have largely been overcome. White gold is nearly always coated with rhodium plating to give it a bright, white finish and this process will need to be repeated periodically to maintain the rings original look (typically every 1-2 years)
18ct Yellow Gold
The popularity of yellow gold as a metal for jewellery use is well documented going back many thousands of years. Originally famed for its lustre and and its “malleability” gold’s appeal grew quickly over time with use as decoration and articles of adornment. Gold is also an attractive colour on many skin types, durable and generally non-allergenic in its higher alloys. in some countries 22ct and even fine gold is used for jewellery, however it is widely accepted that it is too soft at those high purities, particularly where diamonds or other stone are being set into it. Fine gold is alloyed with various other metals to increase it hardness and durability amongst other things. There is a common myth that 9ct gold is harder than 18ct and will wear better, it is not true. Generally 18ct and 9ct’s hardness are about the same although 9ct may exhibit slightly better resistance to bending but the higher purity of 18ct makes it a much preferred metal for long term use.
18ct Rose Gold
Rose gold shares the same attributes as yellow gold in respect of its durability and non-allergenic nature and comes as a beautiful soft shade of “pink” metal through the addition of copper to gold. It is stunning metal on its own, and also looks particularly attractive when used as a contrast or highlight metal with one of the white metals.
9ct gold is a very commonly used alloy of gold for general jewellery – bracelets, bangles, earrings, pendants, dress rings etc. Due to it lower purity (375 parts per thousand) and density it is understandably a lot less expensive than 18ct and so in New Zealand is the most worn gold. It is lighter in colour and weight than 18ct and quite hard wearing but it is a little more prone to tarnishing when in contact with acidic compounds that may be present in the skin, air or in a spa pool for example (however this can always be polished off by a jeweller). 9ct gold is alloyed to the same colours as 18ct gold (white and rose being the most common options) and so the same beautiful combinations of gold colour are achievable in multi-colour jewellery pieces. As a general rule 9ct is not recommended for engagements as 18ct will wear better but it is fine for mens wedding rings as these tend to be heavier and so will stand up to more wear and tear.
Sterling silver has exploded in popularity over the past decade as the appeal of “white” metals grew all over the world but the price of many of them moved out of a lot of peoples reach. Today sterling silver has much elevated status in most areas of the world and is now used in many more types of jewellery than before. However whilst it is a stunning white metal for fashion jewellery use and in chains and bracelets its softness and the fact that it can be prone to tarnishing quite readily makes it unsuitable for use in engagement rings.
Typical metal alloys
Metal % of purity Typical stamps
9ct Gold 37.5% 9ct, 375
14ct Gold 58.5% 14ct, 585
18ct Gold 75% 18ct, 750
22ct Gold 91.6% 22ct, 916
Palladium 95% Pall, 950
Platinum 95% Plat, 950
Stg Silver 92.5% Stg, 925