Your Wedding Ring
Metals and Alloys
Wedding rings have changed over the last 30 years. With many more materials available, and many expert craftsmen available – it’s possible to have a completely unique wedding band. Whether diamonds are your best friend, Birmingham based wedding and portrait photographer John Charlton takes a look at the metals and alloys that today’s craftsmen can turn into a beautiful piece of jewellery.
It used to be that wedding rings were usually made from gold but it’s now possible though to have a ring made from a number of different metals and alloys – offering a range of different properties. Generally, when considering what metal to have a ring made from, you will need to consider it’s value, hardness, colour, weight/density and resilience.
- Value: Precious metals such as platinum will be of a higher value than a more common metal such as gold or silver.
- Hardness: Metals such as gold are generally softer than metal like titanium, making them more prone to scratching and damage if not cared for properly.
- Colour: Some metals have a darker overall colour, for instance if you compare titanium and silver you will notice a vast difference.
- Weight/ Density: A more dense metal will feel heavier on your hand than those with less density.
- Resilience: Scratch resistant alloys like zirconium will be more suitable if you work in an environment that may cause damage to your rings.
Below is a list of various metals and alloys that can be used in rings with a brief description of their properties.
Why choose a palladium wedding band?
If you want a wedding ring made from a precious metal with beautiful colour and hard-wearing properties, but don’t want to spend as much as you would on platinum, palladium would be a good choice.
It is a relatively rare metal, now cherished for its lustrous silvery-white finish and because it has similar looks and properties as platinum. Palladium is resistant to corrosion and, unlike the less-expensive silver, will not tarnish in air.
Why choose silver?
Silver is a popular choice for wedding rings because it polishes to a beautiful mirror finish. (It was even named for its shine: Its chemical symbol ‘Ag’ is from the Latin ‘argentum’, which is in turn is from the Ancient Greek word ‘argentos’ meaning ‘white, shining’.)
Another reason that silver is a favourite choice for jewellery is that it costs less than other metals – it is more abundant in nature and is easy to shape.
However, silver is a soft metal that is easily scratched or tarnished, and wedding rings need to be able to withstand a lot. Silver can be affected by the acid present in the natural oils your skin produces. The acidity of skin varies from person to person. For this reason the way the ring ages depends a lot on the wearer.
Why choose a gold wedding band?
Everybody knows how precious gold is and its qualities make it ideal for the jewellery trade. Golds many uses stem from its incredible malleability & ductility, meaning it can be shaped and stretched easily; and because it is resistant to chemical changes so it doesn’t tarnish as easily as some other metals. The colour as well as the physical properties means gold has been used for decoration throughout history and amongst many cultures. If you want a traditional wedding ring that is resistant to tarnishing, then gold is the perfect choice.
The carat system
The carat system is used by the jewellery trade to indicate the proportion of gold in an alloy, and therefore makes implications as to the quality of a ring. 22ct yellow gold is often thought of as ‘pure gold’ – it is extremely rare to get jewellery any purer than this as it would be too soft. As 22ct gold has only a small proportion of other metals, you might find the ring is slightly softer than other carats. If you want a higher-value ring with a high proportion of gold in the alloy, then 22ct would be the way to go.
9ct yellow gold is the lowest that can be termed gold in the UK. 9ct gold is 37.5% pure gold, with other metals making up the other 62.5%. People often prefer to have a higher percentage of gold than this, as it makes the metal more precious, but 9ct is favoured by some as the high proportion of other metals makes it more hard-wearing. If you want a more long-lasting ring, and don’t mind it being less ‘pure’, then 9ct is the a good option.
18ct yellow gold is often used as a happy medium between the pleasant colour and status of 22ct, and the durability of 9ct. 18ct gold will wear down, but over a longer period of time.
White Gold wedding rings use gold alloyed with a higher proportion of other metals, to produce a beautiful polish and shine. White metals provide an excellent backdrop for diamonds, so choose white gold for your diamond ring if you would like platinum but perhaps want something more traditional
Why choose a white gold wedding ring?
White gold with it’s beautiful white colour is often considered to provide a better backdrop for diamonds than yellow gold. White gold was first used in jewellery in the 1920s, closely following the popularity – and rarity – of the similarly coloured platinum.
As gold is normally yellow, the white sheen is achieved by alloying the gold with another metal such as nickel, palladium, platinum or silver; and then plating the ring with rhodium. The more gold that is contained in the alloy, the more yellow the ‘white’ gold will appear in colour, meaning that 18ct white gold is naturally more yellow than 9ct. This is why white gold rings are traditionally plated with rhodium – to get the whitest possible finish. Rhodium also helps protects the ring from wear and tear – if silver is used in an alloy, it could become tarnished by the air, and rhodium is more resistant.
Rose Gold is the romantic choice – if you want a ring that is traditional and distinguished then rose gold is good choice. Rose gold is often used in bi-coloured rings to offset the more traditional white or yellow gold. Rose gold rings are made of a beautiful alloy of gold and copper – there is no such thing as ‘pure rose gold’. It became popular at the start of the 19th century, especially in Russia; which has lead to it being occasionally referred to as ‘Russian gold’, as well as sometimes being termed ‘pink gold’ or ‘red gold’. Technically, though, red gold, pink gold and rose gold are different things, as they contain different proportions of copper.
The ‘purest’ form that rose gold can come in is 18ct – this contains 75% gold with the rest being mostly copper and perhaps a small percentage of silver.
Titanium wedding bands are growing in popularity because they don’t tarnish at room temperature and are very strong. Titanium is abundant in nature (which helps keep price down), but it is difficult to shape – the techniques needed to refine it enough to shape for jewellery have only recently been developed. Titanium is non-toxic, which means it’s excellent for those with allergies or sensitive skin – in fact, titanium is often used for surgical implants due to the fact the human body does not reject its presence. It is resilient against sea water and chlorine so is ideal for those who will want to wear their ring when swimming.
Zirconium in jewellery is often thought of in the same category as titanium and tungsten carbide. All three are extremely strong, tough and relatively cheap compared to other metals. Compared with titanium, zirconium is more ductile and malleable, which means it is easier to work with and therefore there is more scope for a range of designs.
Zirconium is not a ‘native metal’, i.e. is not found in the earth in the form we see it in. Instead, it is obtained from other minerals, usually by purifying zircon with chlorine. This is an inexpensive process – another reason that zirconium can be so widely used. It’s first practical use in history was as the first camera flash that didn’t also create smoke – when burned it produces a bright white light. Zirconium is also used in fireworks – it burns as bright as magnesium.
Zirconium is great for weddings rings because it is durable and has a strong resistance to corrosion – it is used in a lot of chemical industries where something is needed to contain or transport chemicals. It is so tough and chemically stable that it is used to build nuclear reactors! Zirconium is non-toxic – so much so that it is often used in fillings and other dental work – so is a great metal for those with allergies or sensitive skin.
Zirconium in its original form is naturally grey-white, but black zirconium is popular in the jewellery industry at the moment. The finish is achieved by putting zirconium through an oxidisation process: The zirconium is heated for several hours and it reacts with the air to create a hard, black, coating of zirconium oxide. This black finish is then polished to a high shine, or can be made into a matt finish. The polish finish will be the most black in colour – a satin/matt finish on black zirconium results in a dark gray/graphite colour. No matter what the finish, black zirconium is very resistant to corrosion and scratching.
Zirconium is a fine choice for a wedding ring if you want something a little bit more modern and different.
Tungsten carbide in wedding rings is fast becoming popular due to its lustrous colour that polishes to an attractive mirror finish, and because the metal is incredibly hard – the hardest to be used in jewellery. Of course, no metal is completely impervious to harm, but tungsten will resist scratches far more than other materials. If you want a ring that you can trust will last for a lifetime, tungsten carbide is the way to go.
Tungsten Carbide (often just known as carbide) is a chemical compound of tungsten and carbon.
Contrary to some people’s beliefs, tungsten carbide can be removed from the finger in the case of a medical emergency. Whilst tungsten carbide can’t be sawn off in the same way as gold or silver, it can be removed by cracking the metal in a vice or pliers.
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