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Argentium compared to white gold and platinum


#1

Hello All,

Someone posed a question to me that I could not answer and I’m
hoping you all can help. I was asked how argentium sterling compares
to white gold and platinum with respect to color, durability, and
lustre. The person doing the asking is considering having an
engagement ring and wedding band made from argentium.

I just started working with argentium and have no experience
whatsoever with white gold or platinum. Can someone give me a quick
and basic comparison?

I’ve spent most of the morning in the archives. There is plenty of
info about argentium, but I couldn’t find any specific comparisons to
these other metals.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Sue


#2
Someone posed a question to me that I could not answer and I'm
hoping you all can help. I was asked how argentium sterling
compares to white gold and platinum with respect to color,
durability, and lustre. The person doing the asking is considering
having an engagement ring and wedding band made from argentium. 

Argentium is similar to sterling silver in these respects.

For color, silver (either argentium or standard sterling or fine
silver) is BY FAR the whitest in color. It’s the whitest of any
metal.

Of the three you mention, though, it’s also the softest, and will
wear down the quickest. Engagement and wedding bands made of silver,
if worn all the time, will not last many years before being worn out,
unless they start out unusually heavy (which of course, is affordable
in silver) Most of the wedding rings I’ve made or worked on over the
years have been gold or platinum. But a few have been silver. In
general, the silver ones tend to dissappoint over time, simply
because they wear out faster than the marriages do…

White gold is the “stiffest” and springiest of the three. especially
with the nickle based white golds common in the U.S. The palladium
white golds are softer and less springy. Nickle white golds can vary
a lot in color depending on the alloy. These go from very white, but
darker in tone than silver, to a decidely yellowish or brownish (for
the palladium white golds) cast. For this reason, many white golds
are routinely electroplated with rhodium, a hard white member of the
platinum group of metals. The plating eventually wears off,
especially from high spots, but is usually easy to have replated when
desired. In general, you can consider most white golds to be the
least white of your three choices. As I said, some of them, are very
white, but on average, most have a soft slightly yellowish tone when
compared to silver or platinum ’

White gold is tougher and harder, by far, than silver This is why
you often see wedding rings made in these gold alloys, while you
almost never see commercially made wedding rings in silver. The white
gold rings can be expected to have a reasonable life span. But they
won’t last forever. Nothing will. Still, if you were to make
identical rings in silver, and again in the average white gold, you
could probably expect the white gold rings to last two to three
times as long. That’s a major difference.

white golds do have some drawbacks. The biggie is that in the U.S.,
the most popular white golds owe their color to the nickle in the
alloy, Some people are allergic to nickle, and simply cannot wear
these white golds. The problem is such that in the E.U., white golds
generally are made instead, with palladium as the source of the white
color in the alloy. The result is softer, and less white in color.
But allergies are not then a problem. Whether this restriction
against nickle white golds in the european union is an over
reaction, is a matter of debate.

Platinum, your third choice, is the most expensive and
traditionally, considered the most luxurious, highest quality metal.
Many goldsmiths used to working with all three, would agree. It’s
wonderful stuff. You have to know how to work it, as it can be less
forgiving of mistakes and careless technique. But well done, platinum
can be the longest lasting choice. Using that same example of rings
in silver or white gold, if you then make one in platinum, if it’s
well made, especially if hand made or forged, etc, instead of cast,
it could last two to three times as long as the white gold ring.

What that translates to is that a traditional modest weight ring in
silver might have a reasonable life span of five years, a similar
white gold one, ten to fifteen years, and the platinum one, twenty to
life… Now, there are not guarantees. I’ve seen platinum rings,
especially cast ones, destroyed or worn out in just a few years, and
some silver last quite a long time. But on average, these rules of
thumb are probably not too far off.

The big thing about platinum is how it reacts to abrasion. With
silver or gold, an abrasive particle (everything the ring comes into
contact with, including house dust), causes a scratch and in the
process, displaces a little metal and removes a little metal. With
platinum, while the metal still gets scratched, very little of it
actually is removed. If you imagine running a finger tip along damp
clay, you leave a furrow with a ridge on each side, and most of the
clay stays on the piece rather than on your finger. So the platinum
in a ring gets abraded away, worn away, much more slowly than would
silver or gold (silver wears a lot faster than gold too) That’s part
of why it can last so much longer. Plus, it’s less prone to forming
stress cracks over time, or with exposure to certain things (gold
really doesn’t like chlorine. So bleach, or chlorinated swimming
pools, etc, can cause damage to the metal). It’s not fool proof, of
course. Nothing is. And it’s harder to work well, and more costly.
But done right, it’s the kind of jewelry metals in the minds of many
goldsmiths. Stones properly set in a well made platinum ring will be
held safely, a good deal longer, than in white gold.

For color, platinum is very white, but has a dark tone. So grey is
the better word than white. Next to silver or white gold, platinum is
noticably darker in tone. But it doesn’t have that yellow tinge that
white gold sometimes gets. Instead, it tends, due to it’s reaction to
abrasion and it’s relative softness, to develop over time a patina, a
final finish formed if a network of very fine scratches. Silver and
gold do this too, of course. But with platinum, it tends to be less
shiny, more matte, because those scratches build up, instead of
abrading away. White gold wears down, but tends to retain some
sheen, as that abrasion that’s wearing it down also polishes and
burnishes it a bit. But at that same time, the same abrasion wears
off any rhodium, giving you that faint yellowish dingy color. (unless
you used one of the stiffer, higher nickle alloys. Harder to work
with by quite a margin) Silver too, wears down, but doesn’t keep
quite as much of a sheen. Exposed parts that keep being abraded and
rubbed stay bright, but a little more matte than does white gold.
The color, of course, remains very white (except when it tarnishes,
which may be less a problem with argentium)

Sorry if that all rambles too much. hope it helps.

Peter Rowe


#3

First off, I’ve no experience of Argentium, but have a lot of
experience of sterling silver (SS), white gold (WG) and platinum
(Pt). The following remarks pertain to standard Sterling silver (SS).

First of all, colour.

SS is much whiter than either WG or Pt. WG (palladium version) has a
definite yellow tinge when directly compared to SS or Pt. Compared
to yellow gold, it is certainly white, but, because of the yellowish
tinge, it is nearly always rhodium plated. I personally think this is
wrong, because the white metal people think they are getting is not
WG at all, and they get very upset when the plating wears through. Pt
is not really white either; it is very slightly greyish when viewed
next to SS, but certainly whiter than WG.

Durability.

SS is nowhere near as durable as WG, which, in turn, is not as
durable as Pt. Pt is the king. It wears differently to the other two
and generally can be expected to last about 3-5 times as long as WG
(or yellow gold). It is also the best metal to use for stone setting.

Resistance to tarnishing.

WG is very resistant, and Pt totally resistant. The rhodium plating
is also totally resistant, but will certainly wear off of an
engagement/wedding ring.

In my opinion, SS would be a very poor choice for this person. WG is
better, but only if the yellow tinge is acceptable. Did I mention
that I don’t approve of rhodium plating.

With the current price of gold, my choice would be Pt, but have you
considered palladium (Pd)? Pd is slightly whiter than Pt and has
many of the superior properties of Pt, at a fraction of the price.
I’ve made several pieces from Pd for people who wanted, but couldn’t
afford, Pt. They were not at all disappointed.

Regards, Gary Wooding


#4
With the current price of gold, my choice would be Pt, but have
you considered palladium (Pd)? Pd is slightly whiter than Pt and
has many of the superior properties of Pt, at a fraction of the
price. I've made several pieces from Pd for people who wanted, but
couldn't afford, Pt. They were not at all disappointed. 

Gary, the one thought I’d have with palladium is that one needs to
be aware that it’s neither as durable, nor as strong for stone
setting, as platinum. Everyone who’s learned to polish platinum, well
knows just how resistant to abrasion and wear platinum is. But by
contrast, palladium buffs up about the same as white gold, and I’d
expect it to have about the same durability in terms of how fast it
wears down. However, fully annealed, palladium is softer by a
significant amount, than is platinum. Especially if cast instead of
fabricated, it can be almost as butter soft as silver. That has
implications for how one designs stone settings, especially, since
prongs might be too easy to bend, loosening a stone, if the setting
does not take this softness into account. Fabricated from rolled
sheet, forgings, drawn wire, etc, palladium improves quite a bit,
but it’s still not at all the equal to platinum for strength and
hardness, and it lacks the springiness and hardness of white golds
too. So it’s advantages are most strongly, the far more affordable
price than either gold or platinum. And the color, like platinum, is
a pleasing grey without any yellow or brown overtones. Stones look
very nice against it, as with platinum. It’s also almost equal to
platinum in terms of freedom from allergic reactions in some people.

But in fabricating it, one does have to deal with one factor that
platinum does not do, and that’s heat oxidation. The temperatures for
soldering are high enough that standard soldering fluxes don’t
protect against oxidation, and normal pickle won’t remove that blue
oxide. (you take it off mechanically or by coating with flux again,
and heating just till the flux liquifies. Then pickle off the flux,
and the oxidation will go with it. More work that just pickling it
after soldering.)

Where I work, we’ve had to introduce our line in palladium to give
the stores that carry our line, that range of more economical price
points (for the same reason, we’re not offering some of the mens
wedding bands in 316 stainless steel). But as one of the goldsmiths
who then has to work with those castings, or modify them, or
fabricate with palladium for special orders, I have to say that while
you CAN do it, I sure don’t enjoy working with palladium as much as
either platinum or gold. And some others I know are also frustrated
by it. In particular, one jeweler I know who wanted to mix metals,
with palladium bezels (for the color and tarnish resistance), but
using sterling or argentium for the backs of the bezels and the rest
of the pieces, finds she has a hard time getting strong solder joints
between palladium and ether gold or silver. There is such a large
difference in melting points between palladium and silver or gold,
that apparently the silver or gold solders simply don’t diffuse much
into the palladium, and joints end up not very strong. She’s had
bezels split apart from their backing when she went to burnish them
over. No fun… In short, you CAN work with palladium, but don’t
assume it’s as easy to work as silver or gold. It’s not, and it can
surprise you in nasty ways sometimes. Platinum can also be hard to
work, but frankly, is a much more satisfying metal to work with, and
if I want a lower price, I’d rather go back to white gold than to
palladium. White gold seems rather more predictable, if only because
I’ve a lot more experience with it. And for me to say I’d prefer
white gold over something else is notable. I’m no great fan of white
gold…

Peter Rowe


#5

Hi Peter,

I confess that I don’t work with castings. I fabricate everything,
so was unaware that cast Pd is that much softer. In my experience, Pd
work hardens rather quicker than the other precious metals, which can
be both beneficial and problematic, depending on circumstances.

I recently made a rather long heavy curb chain from Pd and found the
soldered joints rather brittle, but attributed it to the hydrogen
from using my water torch. Next time I’ll try oxy/propane. I spoke to
a Johnson Matthey rep at IJL about it earlier this month, and they
seemed to think that it was more dependent on the particular alloy
that I used, but the jury is still out about that.

The purpley/blue oxide is a surprise the first time you see it, but
it disappears like magic when a soft flame is waved over it. It’s
almost like airbrushing the colour away with a flame. Quite strange. I
don’t have any first hand experience with it’s durability compared
with Pt, but would certainly expect it to last longer than white
gold, especially when considering the latter’s propensity for
cracking. I agree that it’s not so nice to work with as Pt, but much
prefer it to white gold.

Regards, Gary Wooding


#6
I confess that I don't work with castings. I fabricate everything,
so was unaware that cast Pd is that much softer. 

Similar to the way cast platinum tends to be softer than fabricated
platinum, even if the latter is fully annealed. I believe this has to
do with the fact that palladium, like platinum, tends to form a
rather coarse crystal structure when cast, compared to that you’re
working with in fabrication.

In my experience, Pd work hardens rather quicker than the other
precious metals 

Faster, at least, than platinum. I don’t think I’d agree that it
work hardens faster than nickel white golds…

I recently made a rather long heavy curb chain from Pd and found
the soldered joints rather brittle, but attributed it to the
hydrogen from using my water torch. 

Maybe. It seems to prefer a neutral to very slightly reducing flame,
unlike the somewhat oxidizing flame often recommended for platinum.
Not sure if it’s the same mechanism, but palladium is also not so
friendly to laser welding, giving cracking and porosity problems with
the welds, even with argon shielding. it varies, and sometimes you
get a decent weld, but it’s not predictable. Whether this is a
similar mechanism as the problems with solder joints, I don’t know,
but perhaps.

The purpley/blue oxide is a surprise the first time you see it,
but it disappears like magic when a soft flame is waved over it.
It's almost like airbrushing the colour away with a flame. 

I’ll have to try that. I’d not noticed it doing that, though. I
usually coat the piece in flux or boric acid, and heat just till the
coating melts and goes clear. After pickling, the blue color is gone.
This is useful since it can get up inside mountings or behind
diamonds, if you’ve somehow oxidized those areas. Your flame method
might have trouble reaching up into recesses behind stones…

don't have any first hand experience with it's durability compared
with Pt, but would certainly expect it to last longer than white
gold, 

That may be correct for fabricated pd, but I’m not sure. For
castings, their softness makes me doubt it. Just the comparison to
the speed with which the two metals can be polished suggests to me
they’d wear away about the same. But that’s just a hunch, not an
actual observation. We’ve not been using pd long enough to really see
how it holds up over time. But palladium CAN be durable and hard. I
know this from having to work on a few wedding bands. These were
dies struck or made on lathes from tube, or the like. Standard
commercial mass produced wedding bands. These are MUCH harder than
the castings we’re getting for our own line, so the work hardening in
their manufacture makes a major change. I just wish there were some
easy way to get that durability in our castings… It would change
the way I feel about the stuff.

...I agree that it's not so nice to work with as Pt, but much
prefer it to white gold. 

I’m no fan of white golds. But I’ve so much more experience with it,
that at least I can say I know generally what to expect with white
golds. With palladium, the stuff still gives me nasty surprises, and
I just don’t much like the stuff either. Don’t like the look, or the
feel of the stuff. Lacks the satisfying weight and heft of gold or
platinum…

Peter Rowe


#7
I recently made a rather long heavy curb chain from Pd and found
the soldered joints rather brittle, but attributed it to the
hydrogen from using my water torch. 

We found that high temperature work with Pd created a brittle joint.
PM West confirmed that you can’t bring the Pd close to welding temp,
like you can Pt, without the risk of a brittle joint. That’s why the
Pd hard solder flows at a fairly low temp.

I think this is the problem with laser welding too. Although you
have a small heat zone with the laser, you are super heating the Pd
weld…and that causes the brittleness. Surface repairs laser
beautifully on Pd but seams need to be soldered.

I’ve found the 20K white solder is actually a better color match for
a visible seam in Pd. The Pd solders leave a slight but detectable
grey line.

Mark