What is Palladium? Palladium has been used in jewelry making since 1939. It is a precious white metal in the platinum metals group and, as such, shares many qualities with platinum. Before 2004, palladium was primarily used in white-gold alloys and was generally considered too expensive to be used as the primary metal in jewelry. Recently, however, the price has dropped, making it a more viable option for jewelry making.
How Does Palladium Compare to White Gold and Platinum?
Palladium looks a lot like platinum, but is almost half the weight and density. Because it is less dense and more plentiful than platinum, it is significantly cheaper.
Unlike 14k (53% gold) and 18k (75% gold), palladium jewelry is usually 90 to 95% pure, with ruthenium used as an alloy metal. For this reason, even though gold is more expensive per ounce, palladium jewelry is more expensive. We’re using more palladium for that same ring design compared with gold, which is mixed with less expensive metals.
How Do Ring Costs Compare?
I recently compared retail prices on 6mm, size 8, Comfort-fit wedding bands. Here’s what I found online:
Platinum ring: $1250.00
Palladium ring: $750.00
14k white gold ring: $580.00
[Prices from Blue Nile January 2016]
Since platinum is so much heavier than palladium, the difference in price makes sense. Even though the cost of raw gold and platinum are similar, keep in mind that the amount of 14kt gold used is only 53% compared with 90% or more for palladium or platinum.
What About Casting Palladium?
I asked Don Briscoe, owner of casting company Artistry of Gold, what his experience has been with the casting of palladium.
“The biggest problem with palladium is its tendency to absorb gasses."
“If a metal absorbs gasses, that complicates the casting process. If it absorbs too much gas, then in the cooling process the gas tries to escape and you get porosity spots or discoloration. Palladium’s tendency to absorb gasses creates a real and continuing problem for jewelers working with it. If a jeweler sizes or works on palladium there will most likely be discoloration of the metal in the heat-worked area."
“Further the solders available to rejoin palladium often darken when heated compared to the surrounding metal color."
“If a jeweler decides to rhodium plate a palladium ring thinking it is white gold, it will darken the metal -- the opposite of the desired white result.”
In other words there are reasons to be careful if you buy a palladium ring. Only have it worked on by a jeweler who knows how to work palladium.
What If I Have Nickel Allergies?
Palladium—along with zinc and silver—are often used in the alloying of white gold. They are used to replace the more common nickel alloy, which is harder and cheaper. Palladium is used as an alloy to white gold these days since it’s hypoallergenic, and so many people seem to be allergic or sensitive to nickel.
Since palladium is considered hypoallergenic, it’s a good choice for people who are allergic or sensitive to nickel.
[Not sure if you have a nickel allergy? This great article from The Wall Street Journal can help!]
Pros of a Palladium Ring
- It is less expensive than platinum due to its lower density and weight.
- It doesn’t require rhodium plating like nickel white gold.
- It is generally 90% to 95% pure.
- Some people will appreciate the relative lightness of palladium.
- Palladium is considered hypoallergenic.
Cons of Using Palladium
- Palladium’s light weight can be off-putting. Many people value the more substantial weight of platinum and gold.
- The range of palladium jewelry is very limited and many jewelers don’t stock rings made of this metal.
- Not all jewelers are knowledgeable and equipped to deal with palladium, making it possibly challenging to be repaired without dark marks or porosity.
- Heat work (like sizing or repair) will probably leave a dark mark on your ring.
- Normal laser welding is not recommended for sizing of palladium, although a pulse or TIG welder can be used. If your jeweler uses open flame solder for palladium work, it is recommended that a propane or gas torch be used. With platinum, laser welding works just fine.
To drill deeper into how to handle palladium sizing and repairs, check out Johnson Matthey’s 84 page palladium technical manual.
Technical Challenges of Working With Palladium Spelled Out
Palladium solidifies very quickly when being cast. The consequence of this trait is that a design that involves thicker and thinner elements next to each other may fail to cast completely. The same is true for casting with angles or corners in the design.
Since we’re talking about casting palladium, it is best to use a caster with equipment that uses only argon gas instead of oxygen, which creates a vacuum.
A caster casting palladium needs to use more sprues, (the lines of metal leading into a cast piece). A yellow gold ring might need one sprue and a similar palladium ring might need three or four. These sprues would be there to help release the gas absorbed during casting to help reduce the possibility of porosity -- the ugly little pinholes created as gas escapes the cooling metal. Also, with palladium’s habit of solidifying quickly, a single sprue method would run the risk of an incomplete casting.
What do I Think of Palladium? For Jewelry and as an Alloy
I’m not a fan. Personally, its lightness makes rings feel kinda fakey to me. I also tend to avoid it because I know how challenging it can be to work with.
Since a lot of the designs I create have details I fear a failed casting of the details.
As far as palladium as an ingredient in white gold for my allergic to nickel clients, I'm fine with that, but have to have more care taken in casting and repairs.
Should You Choose Palladium?
Picking palladium is a personal choice. I have made palladium designs that my clients loved, and I've sized a few palladium rings and managed to not leave obvious dark marks, but I was quaking in my boots.
If you ask me about palladium, I’ll suggest palladium white gold because it’s a lot easier for me to work with.
I’ll take platinum and palladium alloyed white gold, thank you!