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Three White Metals - What are the Differences and What is the Best Choice

Chris Underwood
Chris Underwood

When we talk to people about the jewellery they would like, the response is often that they prefer Silver. But we commonly find that they mean Silver as a colour rather than Silver as a metal. There are several choices if you love white metal. They differ greatly in value, hardness and durability. When it comes to jewellery, here are some comparisons of the three white metals.

Sterling Silver is popular in general dress jewellery delivering an attractive appearance and price point. It has the qualities and appearance of other precious metals (including malleability, reflectivity and lustre). Silver is alloyed with copper to produce a harder and more durable metal with a slower rate of oxidation that does not tarnish as easily as it otherwise would. In Australia the standard for Silver is 925. That is 925 parts Silver and 75 parts alloy for 92.5% Silver. When comparing Silver to other metals, pure Silver has the whitest colour, the highest optical reflectivity, and the highest electrical and thermal conductivity as well as being malleable, ductile and cost effective.

Silver is a comparatively inexpensive metal. It provides a quality alternative to precious metals for some jewellery. Silver tends to tarnish but that is easily remedied with Silver cleaning products or a visit to your local jeweller. As a softer metal, Sterling Silver is more susceptible to scratches and damage than Platinum and White Gold which are preferred for cherished, long-term daily wear pieces such as wedding and engagement rings.

White Gold
White Gold is an alloyed metal of 24 carat Yellow Gold. White metals such as Palladium and Sterling Silver are mixed with Yellow Gold to get the silvery white colour of White Gold. Despite being alloyed and having started as Yellow Gold - White Gold is not perfectly white. To give this alloyed metal a brighter, whiter finish it is coated with Rhodium. Rhodium is a very rare, white metal extracted from Platinum. For rings, the Rhodium plating wears off over time and needs a good polish and repeat Rhodium treatment. This becomes part of regular checks and maintenance that is important for any jewellery that is worn daily. White Gold is a less expensive option to Platinum in the making of ladies engagement rings. The choices are commonly 9 carat, 14 carat or 18 carat Gold. The larger the carat, the higher the percentage of pure Gold with corresponding price increases. Gold is a malleable metal making it easy to work with and repair.

Platinum 950
Platinum is considered to be 30 times more rare than Gold and holds its value well. It is a dense, heavy material that is 5% alloyed so that it is malleable enough to craft jewellery out of. The same ring will weigh significantly more in Platinum than in Gold. We are occasionally asked to make dangling Platinum earrings but this is usually not practical as the weight of Platinum in a larger earring is too great to hang on the ear.
Platinum has a natural greyish-white colour that never fades. Its' shiny finish will become dull to a natural patina with wear. Platinum does not require a plated finish and is maintained beautifully with a professional check and polish from time to time to bring it back to its original lustre.

There are cultural and social influences that emphasize the exclusivity, prestige and luxury of Platinum. From credit cards to memberships, Platinum describes the best of the best. On the other hand, Gold has long been the traditionally accepted metal that symbolizes love and can be a measure of social status.

As you think about your future jewellery purchases it may be helpful to keep in mind the key differences between Silver, White Gold and Platinum.

· Density
Platinum is more dense than Gold and will make a heavier piece of jewellery

· Rarity
Platinum is quite rare and a more expensive metal

· Colour
White Gold has a hint of colour and is not perfectly white so it requires occasional Rhodium plating maintenance

· Hardness (how easily a metal scratches and dents)
Silver has the lowest hardness of the three metals and so can dent and scratch easily. White Gold is harder than Platinum and so it is more resistant to scratches and dents than Platinum. Platinum may require more frequent polishing.

· Malleability (how easy a metal is to bend and turn into different shapes without breaking)
Platinum is less prone to bending due to brittleness. White Gold is more malleable and Silver is more so again. This feature of Platinum makes it a strong, resilient and secure metal choice for the setting of a centre diamond.

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