When it comes to choosing wedding rings one of the key questions is which material to choose.
If there is an engagement ring to match that often makes the choice for the bride, although it doesn’t have to.
The advice is often to stick with the same material so that the rings don’t wear differently, or damage each other. There is a lot of contradictory information around about this, but I haven’t managed to find anyone who has had a problem with rings wearing each other down. If the rings fit well together and aren’t unusual shapes digging into each other it’s unlikely you will have a problem.
Gold is probably the most popular choice, and is available in 9ct, 14ct and 18ct versions as well as yellow, rose and white.
The carat determines the actual gold content, so 9ct has about half the gold of 18ct, and 14ct is somewhere in the middle. 14ct is more common in the US, so be aware if you buy a ring abroad you might not be able to match it exactly with something made in the UK, particularly if it is rose or white gold. Having said that I have made 9ct rings to match 14ct rings and it hasn’t caused too much of a problem. It does depend how determined you are to have a perfect colour match.
Depending on who you ask you can get many different answers to whether 9ct or 18ct gold is more hard wearing, my advice would be that 18ct is definitely not twice as durable so you should pick this if you prefer the look, not because you think it will last better because both are perfectly suitable for everyday wear.
18ct yellow gold is a stronger colour than 9ct, although older rings can sometimes be less of an obvious match for one or the other.
Rose gold, which is a gold alloy with a higher copper content is probably the colour which is most similar between the two carat versions. The 18ct is a bit richer, with a yellow tone in certain lights, which is the higher gold content showing through. Rose gold can be more variable between different brands however, so if your ring is from outside the UK in particular it’s worth checking that the gold will be a good colour match.
White gold is a bit more complicated. Generally in the UK both 9ct and 18ct are sold plated in rhodium which is a bright white, more similar to sterling silver. Underneath the plating 9ct white is mostly made up from silver and gold, so is a soft warm white. 18ct is generally mixed with palladium so is darker and more steely, like platinum but with a brownish tinge in some lights.
My advice with white gold is that if you are matching a plated ring do make sure that you go for the same carat if possible, so that the rings will continue to match if you decide not to keep plating them. If you aren’t matching a plated ring, go for the colour you prefer without the plate as if you don’t have your rings plated you won’t have the ongoing maintenance.
Rhodium plating lasts somewhere between 6 months and 2 years depending on how the piece is treated. If you have a job which involves a lot of hand washing or is quite tough on your hands the rhodium isn’t going to last so long if you don’t take your ring off.
I make a wedding ring a couple of years ago for a chef who wore her white gold diamond engagement ring whilst working and after 6 months it has a lot of deep scratches. One of the difficulties with rhodium is that if you get a deep scratch on your ring (by this I mean around 5 thousands of 1mm) then it will go through the plating, showing the colour below and being much more visible than it would in something that was one colour all the way through.
I do get quite a lot of emails from people who have white gold rings and aren’t aware of the plating and don’t understand what is happening when the plate starts to wear off, so I do feel like I spend an awful lot of time explaining about rhodium.
Sterling silver is sometimes described as too soft for wedding jewellery. It is the softest of the precious metals, so I probably wouldn’t recommend having a very delicate piece in silver unless you are willing to replace your wedding jewellery at some point in the future. Chunkier pieces generally aren’t a problem.
Silver does pick up a patina of scratches and dents over time, but a lot of people quite like this soft look so it’s only a negative if you don’t.
Silver naturally tarnishes if left in the air, if untouched it will eventually turn quite black. This generally isn’t a problem if you are going to wear a piece every day as the contact with your skin will keep the ring clean. Sometimes people seem to expect silver to go black eventually regardless of how much it is worn, I think this confusion possibly comes from plated pieces which are going to lose their silver at some point and this can look like tarnish.
The only time I have seen this natural process cause a problem with wedding jewellery is if you have a job that brings you into contact with a lot of strong chemicals, as these can cause the rings to change colour even with daily wear.
If you work in a hospital, or somewhere else where you get a lot of chemicals on your hands then metal with a higher silver or copper content, so sterling silver, 9ct white gold and rose gold may discolour. Generally a clean with a polishing cloth is all that is needed to bring the colour back, but you might find it easier to take your ring off when you are working with chemicals, or to pick something less reactive.
Platinum and Palladium
Platinum and Palladium are two very similar metals, they are the hardest of the precious metals generally worn for wedding jewellery and don’t naturally tarnish.
Platinum is better known than palladium as it has been used for much longer, it is the most expensive option for wedding jewellery partly due to the fact it is very dense which makes the pieces very heavy.
Platinum is often sold as the best option for wedding jewellery as it is so tough, but it can scratch and dulls more easily than gold.
Palladium is quite a recent addition to the jewellery market. It is really similar in appearance to platinum but less heavy so tends to be more affordable. Similarly to platinum it is a very resilient metal so good for more delicate pieces, but it doesn’t have the natural brilliance of gold.
All precious metals are reasonably delicate, so if you have an active job or something that is quite manual it can be difficult to decide what the best option is. Platinum is the toughest metal but it is also hugely expensive, and it can still be damaged by steel tools and scratch quite easily. Palladium similarly is tough but can be brittle. Sometimes a better option is to go for a less expensive silver ring which you don’t need to worry about so much, or in some cases I have supplied an extra silver ring for work wear. Of course most things that will damage your ring will do more damage to your fingers, so most people won’t have a problem with this, as long as you don’t pick a design which sits very high or is likely to catch easily.
THIS IS A GUEST FEATURE WRITTEN BY // Nikki Stark Jewellery // Jewellery Designer
Nikki Stark makes elegant, understated fine jewellery in a small workshop just outside London. She offers a range of simple delicate pieces of her own design, supplies traditional bands and can also offer a bespoke service.
Images by Fiona Kelly Photography