How to Choose a Metal for Your Engagement Ring
Platinum and gold are the two most popular and most expensive metals for engagement rings. But are they the best choices? While gold is the most common ring metal and platinum is the most expensive ring metal, there are many other different metal options for engagement and wedding rings. The type of metal you choose for your engagement or wedding ring affects everything from price to durability. It can even affect the color and sparkle of your stones, particularly if you choose a diamond. Personal preference and budget will strongly affect your decision.
We break down the ring metal options for you and provide tips and tricks so you can choose the best ring metal to complete your ring.
|Metal Type||Cost||Parts Gold/Purity||Best For…||Best Alternative||Re-sizeable?|
|24k Yellow Gold||
|Not popular for wearable jewelry. It’s soft, very bright and very expensive.||18K Yellow Gold||Yes|
|18k Yellow Gold||
|The purest form of gold used in rings and other jewelry.||14K Yellow Gold||Yes|
|14k Yellow Gold||
|Rich in gold color. Durable, yet affordable jewelry.||10K Yellow Gold||Yes|
|10k Yellow Gold||
|Very durable and affordable. However not often desired for wedding and engagement rings because of its pale gold color.||Rose Gold||Yes|
|White Gold||Same karatages and purity as yellow gold. Alloys such as nickel added in so the gold appears whiter.||Stylish and modern look with great value and durability.||Platinum||Yes|
|Rose Gold||Same karatages and purity as yellow gold. Alloys such as copper are added to achieve a rosy hue.||A romantic look that is durable and unique. Also does not require rhodium plating like white gold.||18k Yellow Gold||Yes|
|Platinum||95%||Stronger and more durable than gold, yet expensive.||White Gold||Yes|
|Sterling Silver||92.5%||Fashion jewelry; not engagement or wedding rings.||White Gold||Yes|
|Palladium||95%||Less expensive than platinum and doesn’t require rhodium plating like white gold.||Platinum||Yes|
|Tungsten Carbide||85%||Strength and scratch-resistant jewelry that doesn’t break your budget.||Titanium||No|
|Titanium||99%||Low maintenance, modern, and very durable metal.||Tungsten||No|
|Stainless Steel||99%||Scratch- resistant, affordable alternative to precious metals.||Palladium||No|
|Cobalt||95%||A radiant, durable yet comfortable metal that will hold up for a lifetime with little maintenance.||White Gold||No|
Most Common Ring Metal: Gold
Yellow gold is the most common metal used for engagement rings. Its warm, yellowish hue complements diamonds, as well as a number of other colored gemstones.
Here’s something I bet you didn’t know: most gold rings are not made of pure gold. Pure, 24-karat gold is rarely used in jewelry. Gold by itself is orange in color and very soft. Jewelers mix it with many different metals, including copper, nickel, and zinc, to create gold alloys with different colors and strengths.
While gold alloys can display any color in the rainbow, the most common engagement ring metals are yellow, white, and rose gold. Recently, black and other colors have started to gain popularity, as well.
The amount of pure gold in a ring is measured in karats. If you’ve done any research on diamonds, you probably came across a similar term to describe the weight of the stone. That’s carat with a “C.” Karat with a “K” indicates how many parts out of 24 are actual gold.
So, a 24-karat gold ring will be 24 out of 24 parts gold or almost completely pure gold. An 18-karat gold ring will be about 75 percent gold and 25 percent other metals.
It seems that the more gold is in a ring, the “better” it is. And that’s certainly true if your significant other has metal allergies that could be triggered by a ring that contains nickel or some other metal. But remember that gold is a soft metal. The more gold in your ring, the more likely it is to scratch or dent. That’s why 18K and 14K gold are popular choices – they are durable. They’re harder than 24K gold and still contain enough gold to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.
Trick: If your heart is set on gold, but your budget is tight, you can choose a vermeil ring. This is a ring made of sterling silver with a layer of 14K or 18K gold bonded to it. It gives you that classic gold look with a much lower price tag. You can choose 14K or even 10K gold over 18K or 24K to bring the price down. Be warned, however, that in time, the gold will wear.
Let’s explore the different gold alloys to determine whether it’s the right metal for you.
18K Yellow Gold
In the United States, 14K and 18K gold are pretty much the standard for jewelry. Yellow gold is often mixed with copper. A 14K gold ring will be almost 60 percent gold mixed with other metals. Meanwhile, an 18K gold ring is about 75 percent gold.
14k Yellow Gold
Aside from a slightly lower price point for 14K yellow gold (because of the lower gold content), there isn’t much difference between 14K and 18K yellow gold. A 14K-gold ring will be slightly more resistant to scratching and just a little less likely to cause skin allergies. The color, of course, is a little different, but it’s very hard to tell with the naked eye if they are not right next to each other.
White gold is mixed with white metals like nickel. It’s often coated with rhodium to make it stronger and even whiter-looking. White gold is often compared with platinum, though white gold is the less expensive option. It has a silvery look to it, which comes from the metals the yellow gold is mixed with, as well as the rhodium plating. Eventually, the rhodium will wear away, and the ring may revert back to its original yellow gold color. Re-dipping the ring in rhodium, which is an inexpensive process that some jewelers even offer for free with your purchase, will keep that silvery look.
Tip: White gold is slightly more expensive than yellow or rose gold, but less expensive than platinum.
For rose gold, jewelers mix gold with copper and sometimes a little bit of silver. Rose gold has increased in popularity over the last few years due to that vintage look that has come back in vogue.
Tip: Of all the gold alloys, rose gold is the least expensive.
Most Expensive Ring Metal: Platinum
Platinum is the rarest precious metal in the world. Platinum is part of a group of metals, called the platinum metals, that include palladium and rhodium. It’s 30 times rarer than gold. It’s also very durable, strong, and easy to work with. A platinum ring is a purer metal as it will contain almost 100 percent platinum, rather than a mix of metals and alloys like a gold ring.
Platinum is hypoallergenic and resistant to wear and tarnish. It is grayish-white in color and this silvery color can make diamonds look whiter. It looks very similar to – and is often mistaken for – white gold. But, platinum is much rarer than gold, so it’s a more expensive metal for rings. It’s also denser than gold, so a platinum ring will feel heavier on the finger.
Tip: If you like the color of platinum, but you’re working within a budget, you can always opt for white gold instead, which can be less expensive.
Trick: Platinum can be (inexpensively!) buffed every few years to keep it looking new.
Palladium, which is part of the platinum family, is very durable and resistant to discoloration. Like platinum, it has a white color. Unlike platinum it’s lightweight.
Palladium is also a rare metal, and rings made of this metal are 95 percent pure. So, a palladium ring is more expensive than a gold or silver ring.
Sterling silver, which is an alloy made up of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent of another metal (usually copper), is stronger than pure silver. But it’s still pretty soft compared to other ring metals. Silver tarnishes, as well, so it needs to be cleaned frequently.
Silver is the whitest metal used in rings. But it’s much softer than platinum or gold, making it susceptible to dents and scratches.
Silver is much less expensive than other metals, but it’s not often used in jewelry that’s worn every day, like engagement rings.
Tip: Silver rings should be removed before handling household cleaners, which can damage the metal, and they should be stored in a cloth pouch to keep from scratching and tarnishing
Trick: If you’re going with silver, consider a rhodium dip to protect it from scratches and keep it from tarnishing.
This black or silver metal is often used in men’s wedding bands. It’s very durable with a permanent polish.
While the metal will not scratch or dull, it can shatter if it’s hit with enough force. It can’t be cut or soldered, so you can’t resize a tungsten carbide ring.
On the Mohs hardness scale, which rates hardness from one to 10, tungsten is a nine. If you wear a tungsten carbide ring every day, it could scratch other metals you come in contact with.
Titanium is the strongest metal on earth, but also very light. It usually has a silvery color, but you can find black titanium rings, as well. While it’s traditionally been used in men’s wedding rings, more and more titanium engagement rings are popping up on the market, usually with a diamond in a tension setting.
Like tungsten carbide, titanium is a very hard metal (9 on the Mohs hardness scale) that is hard to work with. It can’t be cut or resized, so it’s a risky investment.
Titanium is also a hypoallergenic metal.
Cobalt, often called cobalt chrome, wedding rings are a newer choice known for their durability and color. Unlike tungsten and titanium which are gray in tone, cobalt has a bright white color that rivals the look of white gold at about a third of the price that’s also ideal for everyday wear. It’s a hypoallergenic ring metal and holds up with little to no maintenance even with rough wear. Cobalt is very scratch resistant, won’t corrode or bend, and still lightweight and comfortable. While silver-toned cobalt is very popular, black cobalt is also in demand as seen below for a distinctive choice.
Stainless steel is an extremely durable metal. Its silver-gray color offers a unique look. And its strength is great for those who work with their hands. This is a very practical choice for people with physical jobs, active lifestyles, or skin sensitivities.
Rhodium is in the platinum family. It’s used to plate white gold and silver rings to make them stronger and reduce tarnishing, in the case of silver. Rhodium also makes a ring hypoallergenic. It will wear off over time, so you’ll have to have your ring re-coated every few years.
There is also black rhodium, which gives jewelry a vintage look.
How to choose the best metal for your diamond
If you’re opting for a high-clarity diamond, something in the D-to-F range, platinum, white gold, or other silvery settings will accentuate your colorless stone. If you choose yellow or rose gold, your diamond might look duller, with a hint of color reflected from the metal.
If your heart is set on a yellow or rose gold setting, try white metal prongs to keep the diamond looking stunning.
If your diamond is a lower clarity grade, though, a yellow or rose gold setting will actually complement your diamond. It can even highlight the slight color in your diamond, giving your ring a lovely vintage look.
The same goes for certain cuts. A diamond with larger facets, such as an emerald cut, will show more color not only in the diamond but from the band. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective.
If you’re going for a fancy color diamond, the goal will be to make the color stand out. Pink, blue, black, and other fancy colors are most often paired with white gold or platinum to put the diamond center stage.
Browns and yellow, however, can be paired with yellow or rose gold to create a more harmonious look.
A word about black metal: Recently, pairing black metal with a diamond has gained popularity. But be very careful if you choose to do this. Make sure the diamond’s setting accentuates its color rather than diminishes it.
The trick to choosing the best ring metal is making sure you choose something enduring. For instance, titanium, tungsten carbide, and cobalt can’t be resized, so you have to make sure you get the sizing right the first time. If your fiancé’s fingers change over time (which they most likely will), that engagement ring isn’t going to fit anymore.
In some cases, the more affordable choice may also be the more practical one. Stainless steel, cobalt, and titanium, for example, are resistant to corrosion. So, if your fiancé works with water (particularly salt water), or has an active lifestyle where they sweat a lot, either of these metals may be a good choice.
Finally, we recommend getting the same metal for your wedding band. There is a slight color variation between 14K and 18K gold which makes your rings look mismatched. This is also true of white gold and platinum, as well, which can look nearly identical. However, when viewed next to each other, the difference is more apparent.
You’ve picked the perfect diamond for your fiancé, but don’t stop there! Doing this research on ring metal types helps bring everything together to create a one-of-a-kind piece to last a lifetime.