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Metal Options for Engagement and Wedding Rings

variety of ring metals

If you’re shopping for an engagement ring, you’ve probably spent a considerable amount of time searching for the perfect stone, whether it be the traditional diamond or another gem. But have you given any thought to the ring metal?

The type of metal you choose for your ring affects everything from price to durability. It can even affect the color and sparkle of your stone, particularly if you choose a diamond.

Below is a roundup of the most common engagement ring metals and their properties. Then, we’ll answer questions often asked about choosing the right metal.

Gold

18K Yellow Gold Pear Shape Bezel Set Diamond Tiara Engagement
Find this Ringat James AllenThe gold metal stands out beautifully in this 18K Yellow Gold Pear Shape Bezel Set Diamond Tiara Engagement Ring by James Allen. © James Allen. Used with permission.

Yellow gold is the most common metal used for engagement rings. It’s warm, yellowish hue complements diamonds, as well as a number of other stones.

But here’s something I bet you didn’t know. Most gold rings are not made of pure gold. Gold by itself is orange in color and very soft. Jewelers mix it with many different metals, including copper, nickel, and zinc, to create alloys with different colors and strengths.

Gold Alloys

While gold alloys can display any color in the rainbow, the most common in engagement rings are yellow, white, and rose gold. But recently, black and other colors have started to gain popularity, as well.

Rose Gold ring
Find this Ringat James AllenThis 14K rose gold ring from James Allen is made from pure gold, copper, and silver. © James Allen. Used with permission.

Yellow gold is often mixed with copper. For rose gold, jewelers mix gold with copper and sometimes a little bit of silver.

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 Ring
Find this Ringat James AllenThis 18K-white gold ring from James Allen is 75 percent pure gold mixed with other metals. © James Allen. Used with permission.

Measuring Gold

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 would stand to reason that the more gold in a ring, the better it is. And that’s certainly true if your intended has metal allergies that could be set off 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. A 24K-gold ring is the most expensive, as well. Even though the ring will be more malleable, the more pure gold in the ring, the more expensive it will be.

That’s why 18K- and 14K-gold are popular choices. They’re harder than 24K but still contains enough gold to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.

14K Gold
14K Yellow Gold “Danhov” Spring Blossom Six Prong Solitaire Engagement Ring at James Allen. © James Allen. Used with permission.
18K Gold
18K Yellow Gold “Danhov” Spring Blossom Six Prong Solitaire Engagement Ring at James Allen. © James Allen. Used with permission.

The two images are of the same ring in 14K- and 18K- gold, respectively. Can you tell the difference?

Platinum

Platinum Ring
Find this Ringat James AllenPlatinum Honey Engagement Ring by Jeff Cooper at James Allen. © James Allen. Used with permission.

Platinum is part of a group of metals, called the platinum metals, that include palladium and rhodium. It is grayish-white in color and looks very similar to white gold. But platinum is much rarer than gold, so it’s more expensive. It’s also denser than gold, so a platinum ring will feel heavier on the finger.

A platinum ring will also cost you more because it will contain almost 100 percent platinum, rather than a mix of metals like a gold ring.

Platinum is hypoallergenic and resistant to wear and tarnish.

Palladium

Palladium Ring
Find this Ringat James AllenThis wedding band from James Allen is made of palladium. © James Allen. Used with permission.

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.

Silver

Silver engagement rings
Sterling silver rings. Photo by Kazzle John Delbo on Unsplash

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 also tarnishes easily, so it needs to be cleaned frequently.

Silver is much less expensive than other metals, but it’s not often used in jewelry that’s worn every day, like engagement rings.

Tungsten Carbide

Tungsten Carbide Ring
Find this Ringat James AllenThis men’s wedding band is made of black tungsten carbide and features black sapphires.

This black or silver metal is often used in men’s wedding bands. It’s very durable with a permanent polish.

While the metal won’t 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

Titanium wedding band
Find this RingJames AllenTitanium is often used in more contemporary ring designs such as this hammered design by James Allen. © James Allen. Used with permission.

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.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an extremely durable metal. It’s 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 Plating

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.

FAQ about Ring Metals

What’s the most expensive ring metal?

Platinum and gold are the two most popular and most expensive metals for engagement rings.

Platinum is the rarest precious metal in the world. It’s 30 times rarer than gold. It’s also very durable, strong, and easy to work with. It has a lovely silvery color that can make diamonds look whiter.

All of these factors make it the most expensive metal for an engagement ring.

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.

White gold is slightly more expensive than yellow or rose gold. Of all the golds, rose gold is the least expensive.

What’s the most affordable ring metal?

Anything that is not gold or platinum is going to be more affordable. The trick is making sure you choose something enduring. For instance, titanium and tungsten carbide can’t be resized, so you have to make sure you get the sizing right the first time. And 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, however, the more affordable choice may also be the more practical one. Both stainless steel 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.

If your heart is set on gold, but your budget is tight, there are a few options that can make it more affordable.

First, 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. Be warned, however, that in time, the gold will wear.

You can choose 14K- or even 10K-gold over 18K or 24K to bring the price down.

What’s the difference between 14K and 18K gold?

As we mentioned before, karat describes the amount of gold in a ring out of 24 parts. So a 24K-gold ring will be almost pure gold.

In the U.S., 14K- and 18-gold are pretty much the standard for jewelry. A 14K gold ring will be almost 60 percent gold mixed with other metals. Meanwhile, an 18K gold ring is about 75 percent gold.

Aside from a slightly lower price point, there isn’t much difference between the two. 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.

Is Platinum or White Gold Better for Engagement Rings?

The answer to that question depends on your fiancé’s personal tastes and preferences.

Platinum is more durable than white gold, and it’s 100 percent hypoallergenic.

White gold, on the other hand, is less expensive. 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.

Platinum, which has more of a gray color, will lose its shine over time, but it can be buffed every few years to keep it looking new. This is also an inexpensive process.

Which color metal looks best with diamonds?

The metal you choose for your engagement ring will have a lot to do with the diamond you choose. That’s because the color of the metal will affect the appearance of your diamond.

If you’re opting for a high-clarity diamond, something in the D-to-F range, a platinum, white gold, or other silvery setting 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.

Is sterling silver okay for engagement rings?

Sterling silver, which is an allow 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.

If you’re going with silver, consider a rhodium dip to protect it from scratches and keep it from tarnishing. 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.

Does your wedding ring have to be the same metal as your engagement ring?

We recommend getting the same metal for your wedding band. Even between 14K and 18K gold, there is a slight color variation, making your rings look mismatched.

This is true of white gold and platinum, as well, which can look nearly identical. But 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! Do your research on ring metal to create a one-of-a-kind piece that brings out the best in your stone.