Your Guide to Precious and Alternative Metals
February 1st, 2018
Choosing a wedding band comes with lots of decisions. You know all about the 4 C's of choosing a diamond for the engagement ring, but have you spent much time thinking about metal options for your wedding band? Understanding the types of metals available and the benefits of each helps you choose the best ring for your lifestyle. Check out our guide to precious metals and alternative metals before you go ring shopping.
What Is a Precious Metal?
Precious metals are the more traditional types of metals used in making wedding rings. As the name suggests, precious metals are made from valuable metals. In terms of jewelry, precious metal wedding bands include gold, platinum and palladium. Men's and women's wedding bands are available in precious metals.
The benefits of precious metal rings include:
- Value: Precious metals generally have a higher value than alternative metals due to the rarity of the material. These metals often retain their value over time.
- Less reactive: Precious metals tend to be less reactive than other types of metals. Because they are resistant to corrosion and rust, rings made of precious metals are less likely to tarnish.
- Luster: Rings made from precious metals tend to have more luster than rings made of alternative metals. Many people prefer the luster, especially for dressy occasions.
- Sizing: Precious metal rings can be sized as needed if your finger changes over time. This means you can easily wear the same ring for your entire marriage. Alternative metals typically cannot be sized and generally can't be repaired if anything happens to them.
- Restoration: While precious metals may scratch and show some wear, you can have them polished to restore the natural look. Although the scratches may seem like a big deal, they are fairly easy to fix. In fact, all customers who purchase their rings at The Wedding Ring Shop can enjoy complimentary inspections and ring cleanings, which include polishing.
Common Types of Precious Metals
Gold, platinum and palladium all fall under the precious metal category, and each has specific strengths and differences in appearance to consider. Let's explore the differences between these three precious metals:
When you think of fine jewelry, gold often comes to mind. It is a traditional metal with wide appeal, and it is generally more affordable than other precious metals. The malleability of gold makes it an easy metal to work with to create exquisite designs. It has a luster that many people look for in wedding bands as well.
When you look at gold, the karat measurement represents the purity of the gold. The indicator is based on the idea of 24 parts of gold. Pure gold is represented as 24 karats, or 24K gold. Pure gold is much too soft to use in jewelry, which is why most jewelry you see features a lower karat measurement. If you see 18K gold, this means the metal is 18 parts gold and six parts of another type of metal. The lowest you'll find in the U.S. is 10K gold.
The key to choosing gold is balancing strength with purity. The higher the karat measurement, the purer the gold, but the metal is also softer. Finding the middle ground gives you quality wedding ring that won't get damaged easily.
Within the gold category, you have three main options, including:
- Yellow gold: Yellow gold offers the classic look that often comes to mind at the mention of gold jewelry. It is one of the most affordable precious metals and offers a warmth and luster that makes it appealing. Yellow gold is pure gold with some silver and copper mixed in to create the classic warmth and to add strength to the metal.
- White gold: A more modern option is white gold, which combines gold with a white metal, such as silver and palladium. White gold takes on a look similar to platinum with any of the same characteristics, but white gold still tends to have a bit of a golden glimmer to it. Some white gold rings feature rhodium plating for increased durability and a whiter look. Over time, white gold can turn a yellowish color.
- Rose gold: Yet another modern choice, rose gold takes on a pinkish to reddish color. Copper alloy gets mixed in with the gold to create the rose color. The amount of copper alloy added to the gold affects the final color, with higher amounts of copper alloy creating a redder color. Rose gold is often classified as red, rose or pink, depending on the specific color. Rose gold gives your ring a unique look and adds a little more color to the design while still maintaining the classic gold design.
Platinum is very rare and typically costs more than gold. Platinum is also much heavier than gold. This precious metal is a very popular option for wedding and engagement rings and is more durable than other precious metals, making it an enduring choice. It features a naturally silvery white color that gives the band a more modern look. This hypoallergenic metal option resists scratches and doesn't tarnish, so it maintains its appearance over time. Scratches can also be polished out of the platinum without losing much of the metal.
Because it is so hard, platinum is often combined with other metals to make it a little softer for comfort and ease of design. Platinum is typically 90% to 95% pure.
This silvery white metal is actually a member of the platinum family. While it is a rare metal, it is often less expensive than platinum, and it acts a bit like gold in some ways. It is much lighter than platinum, which can make palladium feel more comfortable to some people.
Palladium has a lustrous appearance and has a naturally white color that won't yellow or tarnish over time. It is hypoallergenic, making it comfortable for anyone to wear. Its affordable price range combined with its quality makes palladium a strong contender for those who want a precious metal wedding band on a budget.
What Is an Alternative Metal?
An alternative metal is anything that doesn't fall under the precious metal category. You'll find a variety of alternative metals in today's market, including cobalt, stainless steel, titanium and tungsten. Alternative metals are particularly popular in men's wedding bands.
The benefits of alternative metals include:
- Durability: Many alternative metals are naturally stronger with more resistance to scratching. This makes them a good choice in situations where your ring may get banged against things. In particular, people in specific trades, such as mechanics, construction workers and other positions that put you out in the field may prefer the durability of alternative metals during work hours.
- Trendiness: Alternative metals tend to be considered more trendy. For some people, this is an advantage.
- Style versatility: As alternative metals become more popular, ring designers get more creative with the styles. In many cases, you can get an alternative metal wedding band that looks similar to a precious metal wedding band. This gives you two similar options to wear, based on you plans for the day. Wear your alternative metal ring when you'll be active and save your precious metal ring for special occasions.
- Lightweight: Many alternative metal options are lighter in weight than precious metal rings. For day-to-day wear, this means greater comfort. This can be particularly important for people who aren't used to the feeling of a ring. Lightweight designs are also good for people who are active and don't want the feel of a heavy ring.
- Hypoallergenic: Most alternative metal bands are also hypoallergenic, which means anyone can wear them without irritation. This is a major plus if you've had allergic reactions to metals in the past.
Common Types of Alternative Metal
Alternative metals for wedding bands come in many different options. While most are generally strong and durable, it's important to note the scratch resistance, flexibility and strength does vary from one to another. Let's take a look at some of the alternative metal options for rings:
- Stainless Steel
You've heard of stainless steel sinks, pans and tools, but this metal is also an option in the wedding band world. It lends a more industrial look to your wedding band with a naturally white color and durable, lightweight design. This metal option ranks lower in scratch resistance, but it offers a hypoallergenic, tarnish-resistant design that's appealing to many.
Titanium takes on a rich gray color. Black titanium is also an option from many manufacturers. It is lightweight, yet it is the hardest naturally occurring metal. While titanium has a lower scratch resistance than some other metals, it does resist tarnish to retain its natural look longer.
Another advantage of titanium is its 100% hypoallergenic quality, making it a safe option for anyone, even those with allergies to other metals.
- Tungsten Carbide
This metal features a steel gray color, but it is often available in white and black as well. It is hypoallergenic, strong and highly resistant to scratching, making it a solid option if you work in a trade requiring manual labor.
Tungsten carbide is very inflexible. The metal can break with a strong blow to the ring. Tungsten carbide is also heavier than other alternative metals.
Cobalt features a white, shiny appearance, similar to white gold or platinum, but it is much harder. This makes it highly resistant to scratches. Some cobalt rings include nickel alloy, which could cause allergy issues, although many newer cobalt rings offer hypoallergenic construction.
Cobalt is denser than titanium, but it still feels fairly lightweight on the finger, making it a comfortable option.
A Category of Its Own: Elysium
A relatively newer option from Lashbrook Designs, the Elysium BLACK line offers rings made of diamond. Elysium rings are harder than tungsten, and because they're made of diamond, they are scratch-resistant and last forever.
With a natural luster similar to that of precious metals but much longer lasting, Elysium BLACK is an alternative ring option when you want a lasting piece that won't scratch. Plus, it has a unique look that makes your ring stand out from the crowd.
Choosing a Type of Metal
Many people look at the band selection as a precious metal versus alternative metal decision, when in fact, having one of each type of band may be a more practical approach. This allows you to take advantage of the benefits of both precious and alternative metals, depending on your activities for the day.
Why do you need a precious metal band? Your wedding ring is a symbol of your love. That ring should represent your love with the finest materials possible. Using a precious metal band for the ceremony is a symbolic gesture that represents the day you took your vows. This is a ring you care for properly and value for its special meaning and its rarity.
Another reason to have a precious metal band is to have a matching look with your spouse. Choosing a wedding band in a precious metal enables you to have a coordinating look, especially for wedding photos that zoom in on the bands.
Do I Need an Alternative Metal Wedding Band?
If you need a precious metal band, do you need an alternative metal wedding band, too? The answer to that question is often, "Yes."An alternative metal band is a great stand-in for your precious metal wedding band for times when your hands and your ring may get banged around.
Having a second wedding band made of alternative metal is ideal for the following situations:
- Your job involves manual labor with a high potential for damage to your ring.
- You spend a lot of time outdoors.
- Your hobbies involve using your hands for activities with the potential to damage a ring.
- You want the freedom to go about your day-to-day activities without worrying about damage to your ring.
- You want a more modern option to wear at times instead of a more traditional look.
- You like the idea of a lightweight alternative for daily wear.
Alternative metals are also typically less expensive, so you don't stand to lose as much should something happen to the ring while you're working with your hands. Many alternative metals are also much stronger than precious metals. That means they can usually handle a lot more wear and tear when you're at work, being active outdoors or doing other activities where your ring might get banged or dinged.
Essentially, your precious metal band is used for your wedding ceremony, on special occasions and during times when you won't use your hands for potentially damaging activities. The alternative band steps in for all other times, including everyday wear when there is a high risk for scratches, dings or other damage to the band.
With so many modern wedding band options, you don't have to choose between precious and alternative metals. You can have your ring and wear it too by choosing bands made of both types of metals.
At the Wedding Ring Shop, we are happy to help you narrow down the metal options for both bands to represent your love and your personal style. We offer a wide range of wedding band styles, from traditional to modern, with many different designer options. Our selection includes both precious and alternative metals to fit your lifestyle and preferences perfectly.