Should You Use Palladium for Your Engagement Ring?

 

Palladium

Palladium in the Rough

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?

A Beautiful Palladium Ring From Stuller, Inc.

A Beautiful Palladium Ring From Stuller, Inc.

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?

alaina-brookes-nickel allergy

Ring Dermatitis - Image from Alaina Brookes

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

  1. It is less expensive than platinum due to its lower density and weight.
  2. It doesn’t require rhodium plating like nickel white gold.
  3. It is generally 90% to 95% pure.
  4. Some people will appreciate the relative lightness of palladium.
  5. Palladium is considered hypoallergenic.

Cons of Using Palladium

  1. Palladium’s light weight can be off-putting. Many people value the more substantial weight of platinum and gold.
  2. The range of palladium jewelry is very limited and many jewelers don’t stock rings made of this metal.
  3. Not all jewelers are knowledgeable and equipped to deal with palladium, making it possibly challenging to be repaired without dark marks or porosity.
  4. Heat work (like sizing or repair) will probably leave a dark mark on your ring.
  5. 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.

Sprue Leads Molten Metal into the Mold to be Cast

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!
Calla Gold

 

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About Calla Gold

Calla Gold is a Personal Jeweler and Author who takes pride in working with clients one-on-one to integrate their personal sense of style and taste into custom designed jewelry and repaired jewelry pieces.   Unlike typical Santa Barbara jewelry businesses, Calla Gold has no brick-and-mortar location. Calla Gold comes to you, bringing you the jewelry collection you want to see and collaborating with you to create unique custom jewelry. Calla also works with at-a-distance clients.

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Jennifer Goddard Combs
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Jennifer Goddard Combs

Calla, this is fascinating! I have never heard of this metal before. I know that you personally don’t like the “fakey” feeling of Palladium, but I’m curious to know if it is actually of a lower quality in metal? I feel like the weight would trip me up too, but am curious if the metal feeling holds validity in the actual quality.

Dr. Lynn K. Jones
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Great blog, Calla – very interesting and informative! It would be terrible to discover that you have a metal allergy *after* getting a wedding/engagement ring. Do you know of any way to test for metal allergies without, you know, actually getting a rash?

Dani Antman
Guest

Hi Calla, I now know a lot more about palladium, a jewelers metal I had never heard of before…thanks for all the interesting info!

Patricia Schwartz
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Great blog, Calla! I wouldn’t have guessed that palladium rings could cost more than gold rings, but your explanation made a lot of sense. I like palladium’s silvery look, but I agree with you that traditional gold rings are the way to go.

Bob Burger
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I’d never heard of palladium. I read this and then Googled it and see a lot of jewelers using it. Is there a situation where you’d be more enthused about using it?

tracey
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tracey

Googled palladium and found your article. I do appreciate that it is nice and not technical, not too much anyway.
Good stuff.

Michelle
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Michelle

This article has the info I was just looking for everywhere! Thank you for your time to provide us with all this information.

Lisa
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Lisa

Hi,

This is a fascinating read.
Does Palladium discolour? If so what would cause it?

Many thanks

Lisa

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