Consumers enjoy making decisions that personalize their fine jewelry – and most often do so by choosing gold or platinum for their settings. It was during the 1920s that platinum, the gleaming white metal, became popular for use in pricey jewelry. European royalty were early adopters of this metal for their personal high jewelry.
First Things First
But they certainly didn’t invent its use. Pre-Colombian indigenous societies in South America were already using the white metal prior to it being rediscovered by the Spaniards in the early 18th century. By 1822, significant deposits of platinum were located in Russia’s Ural Mountains.
In fact, the coveted metal has been around so long that not one culture or person can take credit for its discovery. Historians tell us small amounts of platinum were found in ancient Egypt circa 700 BC, including platinum ornamentation on a casket in the tomb of Queen Shapenapit of Thebes.
Designer’s Top Choice
Today, platinum shimmers its way into luxe jewelry collections from leading designers. It’s been casually labeled the ‘other white metal’ owing to white gold’s more widespread use. But millennium consumers are taking a shine to platinum over white gold so there are more collections offered in this sumptuous metal all the time.
Designers working with platinum provide us with insight into their preferences while revealing what it’s like to create with this metal.
The Good, the Bad, and the Glistening
Goldsmith Matthew Valentine at John Thomas Jewelers, Albuquerque, NM, shares his perspective on the platinum -v- white gold debate after years of working with both metals. Valentine says the reason consumers lean toward platinum is its ability to stay white without rhodium plating. Plus, it’s hypo-allergenic which is a big selling point for those with sensitivity issues.
Some misinformation unfortunately lingers about this metal he points out. “I find it fascinating the number of clients who have been told by multiple jewelers that platinum is superior to gold alloys because it is harder.” That’s definitely a misstatement, according to Valentine. “Pure platinum is harder than pure gold. But both 18K and 14K gold, the most commonly used alloys in jewelry, are much harder than platinum,” he explains.
One of the characteristics of platinum that devotees cherish is the metal’s ability to take on a soft sheen after being worn for a while. Some owners wait for that iconic platinum patina to develop. “A platinum shank will typically last 3 times longer than white or yellow gold,” Valentine points out. The flip side is “it shows scratches very quickly and it’s a much lengthier process to get repolished.”
But there is more to consider about platinum’s special properties, according to Valentine. Hardness is the ability of a material to resist scratching, but doesn’t address which metal lasts longer, he clarifies. And here is something only a metalsmith will know by working with the material. “Platinum lasts longer because it just displaces when scratched, while gold alloys literally lose a sliver of metal when scratched. Think of running your fingertip across a lump of Play-Doh®. That is what platinum does, it just pushes the metal to the side.”
What to Love – What Not so Much
Platinum’s capacity for displacement can also make it less desirable than gold for some types of setting work, if the metal is made too thin, Valentine cautions. However, platinum is superior for channel and bezel settings, and micro-prongs, especially if they are thick enough, he says.
What other upsides are there to working with this particular metal? “It’s easier to set stones in because it ‘dead sets’, so when you push platinum it doesn’t have memory to spring back the way white gold does,” Valentine explains. Good to know. Jewelers should keep in mind that since platinum bends easier than white gold, he says, “you typically have to make items a bit thicker, so it doesn’t bend out of shape. That same ease of setting can also make stones come loose easier if not properly made.”
Fire alert! Valentine warns not to torch weld platinum due to its high melting point, even around diamonds. That said, “it’s very easy to laser weld – probably my favorite metal to laser,” claims Valentine.
Derek Katzenbach, of Katzenbach Designs, Farmington, ME is a strong proponent of platinum for his original creations. “I describe platinum as the ‘ideal metal’ for jewelry. It’s tough, yet soft with a beautiful color, and is incredibly dense,” he explains. Being an ideal metal doesn’t mean its easy to work with, though. “It’s more challenging to polish than gold, but it’s worth the effort,” Katzenbach confirms.
Price Check, Please
While most consumers do not normally research spot metal prices to compare platinum and gold prices, tutoring is a valuable tool, he finds.
“I definitely educate my clients about the differences between platinum and white gold alloys,” he offers. “With the prices the way they are, a lot of clients have opted to go platinum.
“The final price of a finished platinum piece is higher than its gold counterpart for a few reasons,” Katzenbach says. “The density of platinum makes a platinum ring about 40% heavier than a gold ring of equal volume. Also, platinum requires special tools, more attention to detail, and more steps to polish,” he explains.
A Hefty Decision
Gemologist-jeweler Donna Russell, of Acredo in Denver, CO is eager to chat about platinum. “Platinum is one of my favorite subjects to talk about,” Russell tells us. She’s been working with this metal for over 3 decades. “My clients and I love the durability and low maintenance of platinum rings.”
She designs bridal jewelry for Acredo USA where she says, “My clients have questions on white gold versus platinum for rings to fit their active outdoor lifestyles here.” It helps for consumers to understand both metals before deciding what their final selection should be.
“For the design planning process,” Russell points out, “I have clients handle actual metal alloy samples, and feel the heft in their hand. Everyone is surprised at how much heavier platinum is than the same ring made in white gold.” After that revelation, the client needs to consider their lifestyle.
“Next, we have a discussion on how the ring will be worn.” Everyone wants their jewelry to last, Russell tells. For bridal jewelry that will be worn daily for decades, durability is paramount. She offers straightforward guidance to help clients make the right choice for them. “White gold is alloyed to become as white as possible. But with normal wear, it must be re-plated with rhodium every few years to keep that bright white look,” she cautions. Simple everyday occurrences with careful use eventually takes its toll. “Each time a faucet is turned on or a door opened, a tiny bit of gold and the rhodium plating wears away,” she says.
Over time, Russell says, the white gold ring becomes thinner. The choice still rests with the customer of course. “When white gold is chosen, I only use nickel-free white gold alloys because of how many people are allergic to nickel or develop allergies later in life.”
Ring designs with slender prongs and bands are stronger in platinum, according to Russell. Its natural white color will not need to be plated to maintain that platinum-white look. Here’s something both jeweler and customer can value. “Platinum prong settings do not need to be re-tipped every five to ten years, which is something needed with white gold.” The issue of secure settings that won’t wear away is a big deal, especially with costly stone centers. “The platinum prongs show off bright white diamonds so well, and hold them so securely, that I’ll often suggest platinum prong settings for the large center diamond on a yellow gold ring,” Russell discloses.
The Pros and Cons of Platinum -v- Gold
“One thing I caution clients about is that platinum’s strength and durability does not mean the ring will not scratch or dent. I’ve seen platinum rings badly dented and bent from workouts at the gym and even enthusiastic clapping against heavy rings on the opposite hand. To keep the bright shiny look, a platinum ring will need periodic polishing,” she cautions.
Counting the Cost
Customers have a dream ring in mind, but often a budget to consider. Russell says that part of the design process is calculating what it will cost to produce that jewelry for the client. “We look at the latest trading on the precious metals market, and how that affects the price. White gold has lower fabrication and finishing costs, and 14 karat white gold uses only 58.5% precious metal (18 karat being 75% pure gold).
“Platinum requires more expensive processing and labor to complete, and in the case of platinum, 95% pure precious metal is used,” she points out. “Everyone has a different budget for a ring, and I like to help clients make the best decision for the long run.”