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Platinum vs. Gold


#1

I recently began shopping for an engagement ring. Last Saturday I
shopped at two reputable retailers in my area, and was told two
conflicting things about platinum.

One retailer, who offers engagement rings in gold, white gold and
platinum, said that the reason platinum is more expensive is due to
it’s rarity. But it is not as strong as gold like some people would
have you believe.

The second retailer only offers gold and platinum. No white gold at
all. The sales person claimed platinum was the strongest metal to use,
and that it was so expensive because it was so durable.

Which is it? Knowing that the trend today in engagement rings is
white metal, it seems to me that the second retailer knows they’ll
sell the more expensive white metal due to the high demand that
fashion has dictated.

Any info would be appreciated. I have searched the web for an answer,
and have only come across chemical explanations of both metals. Thank
you.

Sincerely,

Heidi Halabuda
Atlanta, GA


#2

Heidi, There are several reasons why platinum is more expensive than
gold. Platinum jewelry is generally made with an alloy that is 90-05%
pure platinum, 14K gold is 58% pure gold, 18K is 75% pure gold.
Platinum is a comparatively heavier metal. A ring made in platinum
will weigh approximately 41% more than 18K and 63% more than 14K gold.
Platinum is also more difficult to work with than gold. Platinum is a
harder metal that will offer a gem stone greater protection than
other metals. These are some of the main reasons that a platinum ring
will cost you considerably more than the same ring in gold.

Joel
Joel Schwalb
@schwalbstudio
http://www.schwalbstudio.com


#3

You’ll get a terriffic amount of about this here, since
jewelers know a heck of a lot more about platinum than most sales
people do. I just want to waste no time getting in my $0.02 worth.

  1. platinum is rarer that gold, and that is part of the reason it is
    more expensive.

  2. most gold is 14 karat or 18 karat in some cases. That’s 14/24
    pure gold plus 10/24 other less precious metals like silver, copper,
    zinc, nickle, palladium. These “alloys” give us the different shades
    or “colors” of gold like yellow, rose, white, etc. This means that if
    gold is around $300 per ounce, and ounce of 14 karat gold only has
    only around $175 worth of gold in it. Platinum, on the other hand, is
    used in a much purer state, usually 95% pure with some added
    irridium, ruthenium, or palladium, to give it a little toughness. I
    think platinum is around $675 per ounce when last I checked, but I
    could be off, it’s been climbing due to demand, I think.

  3. Producing platinum jewelery is considerably more labor intensive,
    and the equipment is an additional investment over what a gold
    manufacturer already may have. It takes skilled people to work it,
    and they get paid more. In short, labor costs contribute
    considerably to the cost of platinum jewelry. Expect it to cost
    anywhere from 2 to 3 times as much as a 14 karat article.

Gold, in it’s pure state, is not as dense as platinum, but is a
little stiffer. Gold, in it’s 14 karat alloyed state, it’s much
tougher and stiffer than platinum. Platinum usually stays pretty
soft. It is, however, denser than gold, so it resists abraission
better. It lasts longer than gold jewelry, as long as it’s not beat
on too much, since it takes forever to wear it down. Platinum is very
white, as metals go. White gold is a bit grayer or yellower by
comparison. Now white gold usually has either palladium or nickle to
give it it’s whiteness. Palladium can sometimes be to soft for some
settings, and it’s usually not as white as nickle alloyed white gold.
Nickle, however, has problems. Corrosive chemicals can enter the
grain boudaries of white gold nickle alloys, causing things to happen
like prongs breaking off and allowing a stone to fall out. Platinum
settings are more secure because, a.) the prongs don’t “shear” off
and b.) the prongs don’t wear away.

Platinum is a good choice if you like white. You could also consider
a 14K white gold mounting with a platinum head holding the stone.
Better price without the risks of a white gold setting holding the
stone. However, platinum has that unmistakable “heft” to it that is
very appealing. Plus, there is a lot of excellent design being done
in platinum today. It can be a high end product in all aspects.

Good Luck.

David L. Huffman


#4

David, very well said lad, my thanks to ye for a great explanation.
Will keep that around for the next time the question comes up!!
Don at The Charles Belle Studio where simple elegance IS fine
jewelry!


#5

Dear Heidi,

I spent ten years selling jewelry and now I work for a jewelry trade
news center as their senior editor for jewelry design & retail
issues. I’m also a GIA Diamonds program graduate & Alumni member,
earning my GG.

One thing that really disappoints me is the inaccurate information
presented to consumers. Sometimes salespeople mean well but are not
knowledgeable enough to better address various topics. I know there
are others who will say whatever they think will close a sale,
regardless of anything else. Fortunately, I believe the latter aren’t
highly common. Unfortunately, I believe the former is.

I think you are smart to verify what the real answer is. I always
appreciate opportunities to help educate anyone, salespeople or
consumers, because I strongly feel everyone is best served by having
correct and the ability to make informed decisions! Plus
I kind of miss interacting with customers…

So, to answer your question, platinum is both MUCH harder and rare
than gold.

It is a denser metal, if you hold two identically styled rings, one
made in platinum in one hand and one made in gold (white or yellow)
in the other, you’ll feel a significant difference in their weights.
Platinum’s density makes it a much heavier metal. It also makes it a
lot more durable than gold, meaning it will hold up to wear and tear
better.

The denseness also means platinum is harder to manufacture jewelry
with it, it requires special casting equipment to take the high
temperatures needed to melt this metal. I don’t recall the exact
melting point, I think it’s something like 2000 degrees. Once it’s
cast, platinum also takes longer to “finish” - to attain a textured
or perfectly high polished surface. Obviously, labor and equipment
needed to work with platinum costs more.

Platinum was widely used prior to WWII but it was designated as a
strategic metal during the war. With platinum no longer available for
jewelry making, manufacturers turned to gold, alloying it with
nickel, silver and/or another platinum family metal, to make it look
like the restricted - and cherished - white metal. White gold became
popularly accepted and basically ended up as a substitute long beyond
the end of the war.

However, platinum does have a few superior aspects, eventually
bringing it’s use back into the mainstream market.

First, it’s pure. Platinum is alloyed, but only with other platinum
family metals - iridium, ruthenium, palladium, rhodium or osmium -
depending on what method will be used to make a given item and what
characteristics are best suited for that. That’s why you’ll see
stampings inside rings like 90%Pt 10%Irid. Also, platinum never
causes skin reactions because of it’s purity.

Gold is alloyed with a host of other metals, as I listed some before
for white gold. This is because pure, or 24k, gold is soft - you
could use a bar of it as sidewalk chalk! It isn’t dry like chalk, but
you can easily indent your fingernail into it. 14k signifies 14 parts
gold to 10 parts other metal (585), 18k is 18 parts gold to 6 parts
other metal (785) and so on. Some people do have sensitivities to
some of the metals used in alloying gold, especially nickel. White
gold alloyed with a platinum family metal costs more than when it’s
alloyed with silver and nickel.

Second, platinum can be worked into designs that gold does not lend
itself to.

And third, because pure gold is bright yellow, and yellow is a strong
color, eventually it will “bleed through” the alloys used to make
white gold. Not so much that it’ll look the same as yellow gold
alloys but enough that if you held it up to platinum, you’d clearly
see the difference. This isn’t a huge issue though because a quick
buffing by your local jeweler will remove the yellowish tinge from
the surface. It’s due to oxidation, that’s all.

But all of these reasons are why platinum is known as “The King of
the Noble Metals” and also “The Jewelers Metal of Choice.”

To best explain how rarity factors compare between platinum and gold,
here’s a mental picture for you. If you took ALL of the gold EVER
mined and melted it down to refine it back to pure 24k, the end
result would be a cube that would fit into a football stadium. If you
did the same with platinum, you’d end up with a cube that would fit
into an average person’s living room! I still think that’s amazing!

An additional fact is that it takes four months to process platinum
ore. Again, cost factors are higher to do that.

Nonferrous metal prices from NY Merc Monday listed gold at $274.00
troy oz, and platinum at $586.60 troy oz. So there really are reasons
why platinum jewelry is priced higher.

Please realize though that per oz cost of metals are only part of
jewelry cost. Manufacturing expenses are just as important and vary
quite a bit depending on how a piece is made, how well it is made,
who made it and what part of the world they’re in.

Sometimes two items may look similar but are manufactured so
differently that their prices may at first seem confusingly spread in
range. This fact is sometimes twisted to make a certain item seem
like it’s a great value or one is overpriced. Yes, sometimes two
comparable pieces do turn out to fit that scenario but most of the
time there are reasons for the price variances and the lower priced
piece may not actually be the best value after all.

The last important point worth knowing is that your choice of metal
is really a personal one. Gold is an exceptional material, it
certainly isn’t inadequate for most jewelry uses! There are a few
situations where platinum is mandatory for a quality product - like
invisible settings, and some where it is smarter to use - like prongs
securing a substantial stone sitting high from a ring.

It’s best to remember what your lifestyle is and how you’re going to
wear a given item when deciding on both materials and designs. If
you’re into rock climbing and plan on a ring that’ll rarely come off
your finger, platinum is much better suited to your needs. If you’re
activity is more on the gentler side and you plan on a ring to wear
occasionally, platinum probably isn’t as needed.

No one should push you into platinum if you are satisfied with gold’s
attributes and have considered your durability needs. A truly good
jeweler will work with you to assess your needs and wants and explain
what the best options are to meet them. I would continue searching
until you find someone who takes interest in YOU, can answer all of
your questions, provide details and has a good education and history.

I’d be happy to confirm any further you receive, if you’d
like. Hopefully you’ll find a jeweler that passes any pop quizzes
with flying colors - or at least admits when they aren’t sure of
something and offers to find out the facts. When you find someone
like that who you feel comfortable dealing with, you can build a
lasting relationship with them and have a confident jewelry future
ahead!

Good luck! Jeanette Marie Kekahbah


#6

Dear Jeanette Marie Kekehbah, Enjoyed your thorough description of
platinum and gold to Heidi,and the rest of us! Don’t remember reading
from you in the forum(?) But please, please contribute again.

Thomas Blair
Island Gold Works


#7

There is a little misor lack of understanding recently
about platinums hardness vs gold. Most of this comes from people
remembering the old die struck jewelry of 1920s -1940s This was very
hard as it had been severely cold worked by the die forming process.
however most modern platinum jewelry is not die struck but is cast or
fabricated so it is basically in its annealed state. Here are some
numbers relating to the hardness of some common platinum and gold
alloys. The comes from the Platinum Guild’s
"Manufacturing Process Volume 5" and Mark Grimwade’s book
"Introduction to Precious Metals". It is out of print but if you can
find a copy it is a great intro to the metallurgy of precious metals.

From Grimwade " Hardness is a useful property in that it gives some
indication of the resistance of a material to damage by wear and
scratching."

The hardness values are listed in the Vickers scale (HV) the larger
the number the harder it is.

Platinum- 5% Iridium Annealed/ as Cast 110 HV

Platinum- Cobalt 4.5% Annealed/ as Cast 135 HV

Platinum- 4.8% Reuthenium Annealed/ as Cast 130 HV Cold Worked
220-230 HV

18K yellow gold Annealed/ as Cast 150 HV , Cold Worked 210 HV

18k Pd White gold Annealed/ as Cast 90 HV , Cold Worked 216 HV

18k Nickle White gold Annealed/ as Cast 220 HV , Cold Worked 350 HV

You can see by these numbers that if you are trying to sell someone a
cast ring and scratch resistance is the main selection criteria then
18K nickle white gold is a much better buy than platinum. Also 18k
yellow is harder than most platinum alloys as cast.

There are some new platinum alloys available that are heat treatable

that are not widely used that have hardness values in the Annealed/
as Cast 190-210 HV , Heat treated after cold work 420-430 HV this
is close to some tool steels in hardness but this is a new material
and is just starting to be used in jewelry manufacturing.

Jim – http://www.mokume-gane.com jbin@well.com James Binnion Metal Arts
4701 San Leandro St #18 Oakland, CA 94601 510-533-5108


#8

Dear Jim, Thanks for the about metal hardness…I wish I
had the benefit of same when I recently channel set a bunch of
diamonds in white gold…I won’t make that mistake again! You are
never too old to learn and Orchid is a great place to get that
learning. Thanks…Ron at Mills Gem, Los Osos, CA.


#9

Then why is there such a difference in estate pieces in how they’ve
held up?! Platinum wins hand down. I’m not talking about die-struck
platinum either! I’m not arguing with you but I’m baffled by your
referenced - 10 years of looking at jewelry contradicts
those numbers. There’s got to be another factor here somehow.

Is it a comparison of data of equal weights? In other words, two
rings alike in style would have a 60% weight difference due to the
denseness of platinum but perhaps two pieces of equal weight (and
different size obviously) might test differently because you’ve taken
so much mass out of the plat sample that performance isn’t the same?

Why do white gold prongs need retipping so much more frequently than
plat prongs? Doesn’t seem to matter what the white gold alloy is,
retipping is common after 2-4 years. Not the case with plat at all!

You’ve made me curious!

Thanks,
Jeanette


#10

Because many more pieces are die struck. than most people imagine.
Earlier in the 20th century casting was not developed to the degree
that it is now and most production work was die struck. A large
quantity of that very fine platinum filigree work was die struck.

  Is it a comparison of data of equal weights? 

Weight has nothing to do with it hardness is a material
characteristic that is independent of density.

Hardness is not the only factor and as I said " Hardness is a useful
property in that it gives SOME indication of the resistance of a
material to damage by wear and scratching."

For example it is easier to wear away something that is very hard
with abrasives than something that is soft Like it is easier to wear
away a stone with a diamond bur than it is to wear away gold with
that same diamond tool.

Jim


jbin@well.com
James Binnion Metal Arts
4701 San Leandro St #18
Oakland, CA 94601
510-533-5108


#11

In my relatively short time as a goldsmith, only about 7 years now, it
has come to my attention that although the vickers numbers don’t lie,
platinum actually is softer than some gold alloys, it has the
capability to “hold onto itself” much better than gold. It lasts
longer and wears better, but it definitely scratches and dents easier.
However, I would rather use it as my setting material anyday. I
don’t know the technical reasons behind this seeming anomaly, and
would love to see some opinions. Thanks
A.J.


#12
    So, to answer your question, platinum is both MUCH harder and
rare than gold. 

People tend to assume that because platinum lasts so long that it
must be harder than white gold. Actually platinum is significantly
softer. It scratches easier, dents easier, and bends easier.
Platinum is long lasting because it does not wear away. It is a very
difficult metal to polish for this reason.

    you're into rock climbing and plan on a ring that'll rarely
come off your finger, platinum is much better suited to your needs.
If you're  

A platinum ring would not be a good choice for an activity like rock
climbing because every rock it touched would scar the surface.

    Then why is there such a difference in estate pieces in how
they've held up?! 

Not so long ago people treated their most valued posessions like
jewelry with great care. The idea of wearing a piece of jewelry all
the time for any activity (like rock climbing) is a fairly new bad
concept. Delicate antique platinum mountings have lasted well partly
for that reason, and partly because the metal wears away so slowly.
Some white gold rings from the same period, even though they are made
from a harder metal, have worn out from the metal wearing away on the
inside and outside surfaces of the rings.

Platinum is a wonderful metal for jewelry but until harder alloys
become commonplace, its softness will remain a challenge for jewelers
and customers alike. Although platinum is unsurpassed for certain
styles of jewelry, there are designs where white gold would be more
sensible choice. Anthony Toepfer, Anthony Toepfer Jewelers, Keene,
NH


#13

I belive the reason that platinum lasts longer than nickle white gold
in settings and rings is that it is more difficult to abrade due to
the fact that it is softer than white gold. For example try to file
a piece of rubber then try a filing hard plastic. The rubber just
moves out of the way of the file teeth while the plastic cannot
because it is harder. This is also why setters love platinum is it is
easy to move over the stone and has very little spring back And they
all universally curse setting in white gold because it is so hard. As
for the durability the abrasive grit and grime that peoples hands
come in contact with on a daily basis will cut little microscopic
shavings off the white gold but the platinum will resist this due to
its softer nature.

Another thing to think about is that toughness and hardness in

metals are generally mutually exclusive. Like in steel. Hardened
tool steel is incredibly hard and can cut most other metals but it is
very brittle and if it is not softened a little by tempering after it
is hardened it will shatter like glass if dropped or struck. That
same piece of steel in its annealed state will bend and twist with
very little problem but is almost useless for cutting.

Jim


jbin@well.com
James Binnion Metal Arts
4701 San Leandro St #18
Oakland, CA 94601
510-533-5108


#14

Great topic and a helpful one for “beginners”. I only know how to work with silver/gold for now but someone mentioned the need for special equipment to work with platinum. May someone please comment about this? What kind of extra equipment is needed?


#15

Platinum melts at a much higher temperature than gold or silver. As a result platinum solders are formulated to flow at much higher temperatures than gold or silver solders. Platinum cannot be soldered without a gas/oxygen flame. If you are working with a gas/air torch it cannot get nearly hot enough. This is why platinum was not used as a jewelry metal until the development of bottled oxygen. It was actually Cartier in Paris who first began using bottled oxygen in the jewelry workshop in the 1890s. This is one reason Cartier is still intimately associated with platinum jewelry.
Because of the high temperatures at which platinum is soldered it glows white hot when under the torch. Thus you need to wear dark tinted glasses or goggles when soldering or fusing platinum to keep the intense light from damaging your retinas. If you are going to melt platinum the goggles need to be darker than the ones you may use for soldering platinum. I cannot over-stress the importance of eye protection when soldering platinum.
Also, because of the high temperature when soldering you cannot use regular picks or tweezers when the platinum is hot. They will burn up and will contaminate the metal, much as lead will contaminate gold or silver when hot. You must use picks or tweezers made of tungsten or with tungsten points. Tungsten melts at a much higher temperature than platinum and will not contaminate the metal.
As well, you have to have special pads or platforms to place the platinum on when soldering. Charcoal blocks and other regular soldering platforms will quickly get burnt up under the high flame.
That said, platinum is a joy to work with. Because it is a poorer conductor of heat than either gold or silver you can solder multiple joints quite close together without fear of them remelting. It is much more abrasion resistant than either gold or silver, so delicate joints and settings last much longer. It is stronger in thin sections than either gold or silver, so hinges, wires and setting can be more delicate. It also files beautifully. It feels more like mild steel under the file than like other precious metals.
I suggest picking up a copy of Jurgen Maerz’s book “The Platinum Bench.”


#16

There is a difference between cast and fabricated platinum. And there is a noticeable difference between the different platinum alloys.
Hand fabricated platinum was traditionally done with a platinum alloyed with iridium. Very soft when cast but more durable when fabricated.
Casting platinum was rarely done before the 70s. Once the technology for casting plat was dialed in plat jewelry became much easier to make and started to increase in popularity. Cobalt plat alloys are often preferred for casting. Then there is ruthenium platinum as well. Casts well and fabricates nicely.
In my humble opinion cast platinum does not wear as well as fabricated, but then my sweetie Tim and I are old school fabricators.
Jurgen Marez, James Binnion and especially Theresa Frye are the real experts. Theresa who owns Techform Advance has written and published a number of papers on platinum. You can find them online through the Santa Fe Symposium in their free publicly shared site of past symposium papers.
I love working on platinum. My annoyances with it is that it eats up burrs and placing and balancing solder pallions with spit rather than flux is a pain in the ass.