Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Engagement ring series - what metal to use?

What kind of metal should I use? And what is the difference?

Because of its high significance, it would make sense to get it done in a precious metal - and 99.9% of people do. This means it would either be a) sterling silver, b)a high karat gold value, c) platinum or d) palladium.

Sterling silver is easily the cheapest amongst the four but I generally dissuade clients from using it for a number of reasons. It tarnishes easily but that inconvenience can be addressed by constant polishing. (I’ve recommended it for clients on a very tight budget before but generally, most cited budgets allow for more valued precious metals).

Gold is always the most popular choice and I believe that that’s primarily because of our culture. It’s regarded as a symbol of wealth and luck and a natural choice for most clients. My American peers tell me that 14KT seems the most popular choice, but in Asia, nothing below 18KT is considered “worth it”. Gold is also an extremely versatile metal in that it comes in a variety of colours – white, yellow, rose and admittedly, is my favourite metal to work with. For one, that’s a lot richer and denser than sterling silver and there is a luxe heaviness to it. It’s also a relatively inert metal and hence we don’t deal with the inconveniences of tarnishing like we do with sterling silver.

The only drawback I can think of is also a double-edged sword - the metal’s on the soft side and generally tends to dent a little bit with frequent use but I take the denting as an accepted part of everyday wear and tear. It’s also easily resolved with a once-a-year polishing. This characteristic of 18KT gold is also one of the key reasons why jewellers like to work with it – the malleability of the metal allows you to do creative things with the metal that you may not be able to.

Platinum’s getting significant amount of attention in recent years because of its luxury association – 990-995 platinum typically costs more than double 18KT gold. In its own right though, platinum is harder, denser and most importantly, more tarnish-resistant than both sterling silver and gold.

However, these characteristics are also why I generally steer clients away from platinum. 1) The cost – unless the client tells me the sky’s the limit with the budget, I generally will ask the client to place a larger portion of the budget on the stone or/and the complexity of the design rather than having the bulk of the cost in platinum. This is because, to the eye, 18KT white gold and platinum looks exactly the same (especially after a layer of gilding is done to finish the piece). Platinum may feel a little denser than 18KT white gold but the difference, in my opinion, is not enough to choose it over 18KT white gold after factoring in the other considerations. 2) The hardness – This makes the metal harder for the artisans to work with. As such, it’s likely that some of the more intricate designs may not be possible with platinum. In addition, resizing the ring may cause some problems – both in terms of cost as well as the quality of the resizing.

Palladium – This metal is relatively new in fine jewellery circles. Although it’s been on the market since 1939, it had never reached the same popularity as the rest of its precious metal siblings. I don’t know why but my jewellery colleagues are telling me that this is set to change as the palladium producing companies are beginning to market themselves aggressively. Objectively, it appears a wonderful metal; a) it’s very, very white, which avoids the need for plating like you do with the other “white” metals – silver, 18KT white gold and platinum. b) It’s currently a lot more affordable that platinum or gold which makes it very attractive price-point wise. c) It’s tarnish-resistant and very hard which avoids the dents that we might see in both 18KT white gold and platinum.

The possible downsides to this would include a) it has a tendency to become brittle with repeated heating and cooling so resizing the ring might be a problem; b) its hardness would again prevent it from being as malleable as the artisans would like – especially in the more intricate, complex designs. Apart from these two factors, I think we’re likely to see more palladium fine jewellery in future.

In conclusion, it’s really up to you. I have a personal bias towards 18KT gold and I am honest about it with my clients. I have good reasons to support that though – it’s not a irrational like - as I have briefly articulated them here. I strongly encourage clients to do their own research too – they’d feel a lot more confident when backed by knowledge.

Next topic: For the solitaire, must I get a diamond round brilliant? What are my other diamond options?

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