When selecting the perfect setting for your jewellery piece, you will most likely come across two most popular choices: platinum and white gold. It seems that these two metals look almost identical to the naked eye, but there is a significant difference in composition and price. Platinum vs white gold, let the battle begin!
What is Platinum?
Named from the Spanish word for silver, platinum is a naturally occurring white precious metal used since ancient times with the history tracing back to ancient Egypt 5000 years ago.
Preferred for its remarkable durability, the metal was used to adorn Egyptian coffins. The South American Inca Indians used platinum to decorate their artefacts. However, with the Spanish conquest of South America, the metal’s value was dropped because they considered it to be inferior to silver. Platinum was not that favoured until the 1800s when it began to reclaim its original status of a precious metal. Today, it is the premier choice for diamond and gemstone jewellery.
Compared to other precious metals, platinum is extremely rare. Sourced from Russia, Canada, the USA, Zimbabwe, Australia and South Africa, the total amount of platinum mined annually is 15 times less than that of gold and 100 times less than that of silver.
It doesn’t corrode, discolour, fade or lose shape with time. Being one of the hardest metals (4 – 4.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness), platinum is an excellent choice for jewellery, especially for engagement rings and wedding bands. In addition to jewellery, it is used in manufacturing and electronics, with over the half annually mined amount being used in the automobile industry.
Platinum used in jewellery production usually contains high purity levels, ranging from 85% to 95%. 100% pure platinum jewellery is quite rare because this metal is almost always mixed with other metals such as copper, ruthenium, iridium, rhodium, palladium and cobalt.
To find out how much pure platinum your jewellery alloy contains, you need to look for the hallmark which is a small identification symbol stamped on the jewellery piece. Pure platinum is often marked with letters “PLT”, “PLAT” or “PLATINUM”, which indicates that the jewellery piece is made of at least 95% platinum. If other alloys are mixed, the hallmark will indicate the number of parts-per-thousand, such as 850, 900, 950 or 999.
What is White Gold?
White gold is a precious metal that doesn’t exist naturally. It is a mixture of yellow gold and white metals such as palladium, silver, nickel and zinc. These alloys give white gold paler colour, more hardness and durability as the hardness of pure gold is 2.5 – 3 on the Mohs scale. The silvery-white colour is achieved by final coating with a metal called rhodium. To retain its colour and lustre white gold needs to be dipped every few years to replace the rhodium plating.
White gold as we know it today was invented in the 19th century but didn’t become popular until the economic boom following World War I (28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918). During that period platinum was needed for many military purposes and white gold was used in jewellery as an easy and less expensive alternative. Since then white gold has become a popular choice for engagement and wedding rings as well as other jewellery pieces.
Standard white gold purity used in jewellery production varies by country, the most popular being 14k and 18k gold. There is also the minimum gold purity for an item to be called gold. For example, in the US the legal minimum standard gold purity is 10k. In the UK, France and Portugal the lowest permitted gold purity is 9k while in Greece and Denmark the minimum standard is 8k.
Platinum vs White Gold Price
Although platinum and white gold look similar to the naked eye, there are some differences between them.
The primary difference between white gold and platinum is their price, platinum jewellery being more expensive.
Though these two metals are quite similar in price per gram, more platinum is required to make a jewellery piece because it is denser. Platinum is about 60% heavier than 14k gold and 40% heavier than 18k gold, meaning jewellery made in platinum will be heavier than an identical piece made in white gold. This results in a higher price.
Another reason for a higher price is the platinum rarity as this metal occurs in only a few locations in the world. Moreover, platinum used in jewellery has a higher purity level than gold. While white gold is almost always under 75% (18k) pure, platinum should be at least 80% pure to be considered platinum.
Platinum vs White Gold Colour
Although white gold and platinum are almost identical in colour, there is some difference in appearance, especially when time passes.
While platinum is a naturally occurring white metal, white gold is an alloy consisting of yellow gold and other metals and rhodium plating to achieve the silvery-white colour.
It is important to understand that the rhodium plating wears off with time exposing the original yellow gold colour. This is why to keep white gold shiny and white, you will need to have its rhodium plating restored from time to time.
Platinum, on the other hand, does not change its colour or fade but it tends to scratch and develop a patina that makes it look dull and matte. In case you want to restore the lustre of your platinum ring, you need to have it repolished.
Platinum, White Gold and Allergies
Platinum jewellery is hypoallergenic. Being a naturally white precious metal, there is no need to mix it with nickel to which some people are allergic. Although some platinum alloys can contain nickel, its portion is so low that it is very unlikely to cause any skin irritation.
White gold sometimes contains nickel in high concentration and this may cause allergic reactions. However, if the jewellery piece is coated with a top layer of rhodium plating, it will keep the nickel from coming in contact with your skin. Problems start to arise when the rhodium plating wears off. In such a case you simply need to have the jewellery replated.