one ring to rule them all...
April 17, 2010 8:35 PM   Subscribe

Your opinions on metal choice for engagement+wedding rings, hopefully with the benefit of a decade of hindsight regarding how the appearance will age and what maintenance is required...

I'm engagement-ring shopping and have chosen an arrangement that pretty much requires a white metal. I want all three rings to match very closely in appearance and manufacture, which means there are slightly heavy wear-resistance requirements because I use my hands a lot. I'm worried that even though it is easily repolished to gloss, gold will wear away and I'm not keen on having to have it re-plated every year and replaced in, what, 30 years?

I'm quite happy with the wear lifetime of Pt/Pd but people tell me the dents and patina can be quite unsightly. All of the employees at the jeweller I'm most likely to use were giving me the really hard-sell on using Au over Pt, which seems odd considering there was much less in it for them and most of them said that they themselves refused to buy Pt because it was so much harder to maintain. The problem is, I haven't been able to find any examples of what a Pt ring looks like after ten or twenty years of use/abuse to see for myself.

And then there's Pd - the metal is a bit cheaper, it's harder than Pt but has a similar finish. I'm seriously considering brushed-finish Pd at this point because any wear and dents ought to be a lot less obvious... but then repolishing is impossible.

I'd consider titanium or tungsten for myself but then it wouldn't really match and that's not on. Buying a separate "stunt ring" seems a bit silly.

Does anyone have (links to) photos of old and well-worn Pt or Pd rings in either gloss or brushed finish? Google is just showing me new rings that people are trying to sell. Any other pearls of hindsight you wish you'd known when buying yours?

Piggy-back question: are lab-grown diamonds and sapphires available yet? There was a lot of hype in 2006-2007 with a couple of startups, but I'm still only seeing rocks from the ground being sold to consumers and I'd much much prefer a synthetic (but molecularly identical) rock over feeding money to DeBeers.
posted by Ultimate Sockpuppet the Second to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Lab-grown sapphires are available and have been for years. They can be sold as "genuine sapphire" because they are chemically identical.

Both my husband and I purchased antique wedding rings, 14K gold. They're from the 40s, and they don't appear to have any appreciable wear. I wouldn't be too concerned. (I also use my hands an awful lot.) My mother's engagement ring is an 80-year old platinum heirloom and while I don't have a picture of it handy, it has never looked knocked about to me.
posted by KathrynT at 8:40 PM on April 17, 2010

Is there a particular problem with a stunt ring, or with removing your ring when doing especially ring-damaging things?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:57 PM on April 17, 2010

At my mother's funeral, I (her eldest child) took her 14K gold wedding/engagement set from her finger (with the assistance of a good funeral director), and gave it to my sister (her youngest child) as a memorial. 6 weeks later, I did the same with my Dad's white gold and 14K gold wedding ring, which my sister keeps now, together with Mother's. They'd been married 53 years, then, and Mom hadn't been able to remove her rings in the last 35+ years, and Dad probably hadn't had his off since 1995, or so (hospitalization). Both their rings were worn, but not nearly through, and that gentle, long wear was testament to a life lived together, and many hardships won through, as individuals, and as a couple...

You could do worse than to see some honorable wear in 15 or 50+ years, on a ring you value each and every day you wear it. I can say this as the owner of a perfect, simple, heavy 14K gold band from my first marriage, which I wore, off and on, as work and circumstance dictated, for the 4 years that marriage lasted, and which has lain, for 30+ years now, un-worn, but still inscribed, and otherwise bright, and perfect, as the day it was bought, and now, entirely meaningless.
posted by paulsc at 10:32 PM on April 17, 2010 [7 favorites]

I don't have any real information to offer you on the various metals you mention, but I did want to note that you can absolutely refinish brushed metals. You just brush them again. No big deal at all.
posted by Netzapper at 10:58 PM on April 17, 2010

I wear rings on four fingers and do not take them off, at all. while none are 'wedding' rings per se, they do undergo heavy wear and tear.

1. chinese gold, 18K, with a copper alloy - this one is a set of four slimmer rings and the thinnest are bent out of shape (squeezing between fingers, not perfect circles)

2. indian gold 22K about 5.5 gms almost the size of a signet ring - solid and shiny since the day it was bought 14 years ago

3. chinese gold 22K about 5.5 gms - only 2 years old but no difference in its shine and #2

4. chinese gold 22K band, probably around 3gms, about 25 years old - some soft wearing of the surface 'machined' pattern but no difference in shine. quality chop on the inside still visible in sharp relief (#2 for eg. is handmade and you can see the casting finish on the inside)

hope this helps explain why perhaps you were being recommend Au so much.
posted by infini at 11:27 PM on April 17, 2010

Similar to KathrynT, I have a gold engagement ring from late 30's or early 40's. Band part is 10k (I think) yellow gold, the top is white gold. I haven't had it myself that long, but it seems to have held up quite well over the years.
posted by radioamy at 11:30 PM on April 17, 2010

Not being jewelers, I don't think most people will know what you mean when you talk about Pt, Pd, Au, etc. Can you spell this out in layman's terms? Are you thinking about Platinum and Paladium? (either of which would probably be fine if you want white metal, by the way, and I personally would pick that over white gold).

That said, my mother had a platinum band with small encircling diamonds she wore for many many years with no appreciably noticeable wear to speak of. She took it off for some stuff, but she wore it a lot and she was an artist so it definitely got some banging around.

When I got married, my mother offered her father's 14K yellow gold wedding band for me to use for my husband. It was beautifully worn a bit on the surface from years and years of use (don't think my grandfather ever took it off till he died) but that just enhanced its look. We had to add a bit to it to make it bigger for my husband and the jeweler who did that also polished up the outside a bit (we kept the old engraving inside from my grandparents' wedding). My husband has been wearing it now for 20 years with no ill effects and the ring itself is about 90 years old now.

Also, as paulsc says, a bit of wear on a well loved wedding ring is to be expected and honored.
posted by gudrun at 11:41 PM on April 17, 2010

Response by poster: Good to hear all your gold rings are holding up well, which makes me less worried about their lifetime. If yellow was a suitable colour then I'd be happy with it (and certainly agree with paulsc's "honourable wear" notion), but I'm also worried about how the colour changes as the rhodium wears through. A bit more reading leads me to believe that white gold made with Pd instead of Ni/Cu is a lot whiter, so that could be a good option.

Eyebrows: I dunno, it just seems weird or duplicitous to me to have two wedding rings - its purpose as an icon kind of implies that it should be a singular item; likewise I'd feel similarly weirded-out by "upgrading" an engagement stone - the value being that it is that particular rock. I've no idea if stunt rings are a common approach as I've not really asked anyone in person. I'd just prefer to be able to leave the ring on unthinkingly unless doing hard manual labour or working directly with abrasives.

Netzapper: does re-brushing involve any metal loss? If not, then that's great. I obviously don't want refinishing that involves more wear than repolishing.

gudrun: Au, Pt, Pd, etc are the standard element abbreviations for the elements (gold, platinum and palladium, respectively).

As for synthetic sapphires - I had a look and they are indeed very cheap, like $20 cheap vs $1000 for a similar size from a mine. Is there an agreed-upon measure of colour similar to that used for diamond grading? It's pretty hard to judge saturation using jpegs off the internet. Piggyback question again: is there a forum as good as pricescope for things other than diamonds? They're pretty unwelcoming of lab-grown/cultured discussion there, though their natural-diamond related information is unbeatable.
posted by Ultimate Sockpuppet the Second at 1:51 AM on April 18, 2010

Ultimate Sockpuppet the Second, there's white gold which looks just like silver or platinum in color, so you could use that.

My partner and I have got brushed platinum wedding rings, which we've worn daily for eight years now. The jeweler we bought them from said that the brushed finish might need to be touched up every year or so, but that this could be done without metal loss. However, while the finish got a lot of tiny scratches over the first year or two, they evened out over time, so the rings now look brushed again and just a little bit shinier than when they were new. We never had them re-brushed because we like the way they look now.

My grandparents, who are 87 years old and haven been married for 64 years have got (yellow) gold wedding rings. My grandfather wore his all the time, even while working with his hands. His ring was worn through after about 50 years, I think, and my grandmother had a new one made for him as a surprise for their next anniversary.

Contact me via e-mail (address in my profile) if you'd like a photo of our wedding rings.
posted by amf at 3:20 AM on April 18, 2010

Pt wearer here. A few scuffs here and there, nothing dramatic or even really noticeable unless you look closely.

The thing I love about platinum is the weight. It is noticeably heavier than just about anything else you'll encounter of similar size.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:53 AM on April 18, 2010

Best answer: My grandmother passed down a Pt ring to me that my wife now wears, it is at least 30 years old and still looks great. Very thin but still holding up nicely.

Our wedding bands are Pt and after 3 years, I have to say, I love the way they look. A little scuffed and natural-looking, but every so often the catch the light just so, and it is a nice little tinge of 'wow marriage is great.'
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 5:22 AM on April 18, 2010

If the "synthetic" sapphires are that much cheaper, they may be imitation. Lab-grown sapphires are typically labeled "Genuine lab-grown" or something like that.

"it just seems weird or duplicitous to me to have two wedding rings - its purpose as an icon kind of implies that it should be a singular item"

And since it's a gut feeling on an emotional/sentimental issue, that feeling may not change, but -- if one of you LOST the ring and had to get a replacement ring, while it would be sad because of the emotional meaning, the ring IS just a thing, and you wouldn't feel any less married, would you? Though it might take time to get over losing the object.

I've had a "stunt ring" for years for when I travel in parts of the world where I prefer not to wear "real" jewelry -- and, these days, for traveling at all since I fear losing my "real" ring at an airport or something. It's a stand-in for the real icon, which -- to me -- doesn't seem weird, just practical. I also found that seriously the DAY I got pregnant my fingers swelled up like little cocktail weenies and I couldn't get my wedding ring on for the next nine months (and I was self-conscious about it because I was convinced people were judging me for being pregnant and unwed which of course nobody was ... but I was full of hormones). My husband offered to get me a "stunt ring" for while I was pregnant so I'd feel better about it, or to get me a sturdy but pretty necklace to hang the real ring from until I could wear it again. I thought these were both excellent ideas, though in the end I just went without. (I couldn't stand having anything on my neck b/c of morning sickness and I was constantly afraid my fingers would swell more.)

Anyway, if scuffing is really a problem (though I do think you're more worried than is warranted), and you really feel a need to wear a ring during those times, I think a stunt ring is more practical than weird or duplicitous. Or a sturdy chain to hang the ring from so you could take it off your hand but still have it next to your heart might be a solution as well.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:58 AM on April 18, 2010

Do not get titanium rings. My band is titanium and gold. Three years ago, Mrs Primate crushed her ring finger and my grandmother's gold band in a freak bowling accident (true!).

Anyway, the ER doctor told her she was lucky it wasn't titanium because that's the one metal they can't cut off, meaning the finger goes before the ring does. I've since asked my army trauma friend and my surgical nurse friend and they both say it's true. IANAD, so you should probably ask yourself, but I figure three datapoints on this are good enough for my guitar playing hands.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:56 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've only had my ring for 6 years. Hubby and I had a debate about this very topic when we were shopping for rings. I went with white gold because I want the metal to be shiny forever, and with white gold I can just get it re-dipped periodically if it starts to yellow. A minor inconvenience that may be required every 15-20 years, so no big deal at all in my book.

He, however, insisted on having a platinum ring. He really likes the weight of it, and he wants that patina to develop over time. FWIW, his rings looks pretty close to brand new still. But his ring was about 10x more expensive than a similar gold one would have been, so if price is a factor...

We also ended up buying the main diamond in my setting from, but bought the actual ring and had it set locally. We ended up getting the perfect stone, and were very happy with them.
posted by wwartorff at 7:16 AM on April 18, 2010

Here's some more search terms for your sapphire: "Laboratory-grown" and "cultured." While it's technically very illegal in the US to label a non-sapphire as "synthetic sapphire," the internet is a weird and wild place. (source)

A good jeweler should be able to order stones for you to look at, for free.

My engagement ring has a Chatham Sapphire in it. The color really is just like the website shows. I love it, although the color is a pretty good giveaway that it's cultured (at least to all my jeweler friends!)

Platinum is a pretty amazing metal - it has to be welded rather then soldered, and it has no memory.That means that it's not springy the way most metals are - you know how you can bend a piece of metal, like a paperclip, and it springs back a little? Platinum doesn't do that. It just stays. (My awesome engineer husband says that it has no elastic region).

Brushing takes about 30 seconds, and probably removes about the same amount of metal as polishing.
posted by WowLookStars at 7:30 AM on April 18, 2010

Best answer: ok so yes, i am a jewler

if they were anything like me, they may have been steering you away from plantinum because it's a huge pain in the ass to work with, it's heavy, soft, dosen't take detail well, takes forever to polish, and when all is said and done most commercial jewelers will rhodium plate it to get a pure white color and it's then identical to the white gold pieces (which are generally rhodium plated also) platinum has no material advantages over gold, it's just more expensive so people perceive it as being somehow "better"

gold on the other hand really is a pleasure to work with. it comes in a wide variety of colors and some blends really are quite durable. palladium white, for example is MUCH harder than yellow and has a very nice white color. keep in mind the karat value, the higher the karat the purer the gold is meaning it will be softer and more yellow. 14k white is harder and whiter than 18k white.

finally, i think you are really overestimating the amount of wear these rings will receive, unless you're talking about a VERY thin band, wearing through it should not be an issue. as has been said above, a well made gold band can and should last for generations with occasional re-polishing. unless you are removing a serious gouge, the amount of metal removed during polishing is very very small, like can't be measured without some fancy ass tools, small. a brushed or satin finish will not show many scratches as you noted, but you are mistaken about re-finishing. those finishes can easily be re-applied if needed.
posted by swbarrett at 7:49 AM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

(uh, yeah, I knew they were element abbreviations, it is just that the last time I had to memorize the elements was 40 years ago and it is not something I use in my job or life, so I had to resort to google to refresh my memory for what Pd is, so I wasn't sure of what the point was in not just spelling out the names of the metals in your question.)

Something I didn't see mentioned but thought it might be worth thinking about, is that the gold in jewelry is of course an alloy, and one of the metals often used in nickel. Some people have an allergy to nickel which may result in a rash when wearing gold alloyed with nickel. It is often the case that many men and some women wear jewelry regularly for the first time when they wear a wedding ring. You and your fiance may want to make sure you are not sensitive to nickel before you decide on the metal for your rings. In my case, I had only worn silver rings before I got married and no earrings and not much other jewelry. I either have always had or have developed a mild nickel intolerance and my gold wedding ring makes my skin break out somewhat.
posted by gudrun at 6:01 PM on April 18, 2010

heh, that should be "used is nickel" (darn it, should have previewed)
posted by gudrun at 6:03 PM on April 18, 2010

When I was in your shoes -7 years ago- I was dead set on platinum, but a good friend steered me towards white gold. He said platinum is easily marked and dented and the polish lasts very, very little and they generally look like hell. He knew this because when he had been in your shoes -10 years ago- he had been dead set on platinum, had prevailed, and had the dull, dented rings to prove it.

I went with white gold, rhodium-plated, and have been very happy with them. They wew re-plated and polished a couple of years ago, but only because we ran into our jeweller and she insisted, but they looked fine.

White gold is the ticket.
posted by Cobalt at 7:45 PM on April 18, 2010

Response by poster: thanks all! Can't say I'm any more decided but at least I know a little more detail now.
posted by Ultimate Sockpuppet the Second at 5:41 AM on April 19, 2010

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