Sitting at my bench the other day, I heard an uncharacteristic murmur of annoyance from the area of the stone-setting bench where Sara was working. This was highly unusual, as Sara is the most even-tempered one of us and always approaches her work with an unfailingly positive attitude. I looked over and understood immediately: the dreaded 18 karat white gold. Sara was in a moment of mortal combat with an 18 karat white gold Cupcake setting for a pair of labradorite stones, and the metal was not backing down… literally. This alloy can be extremely stubborn. It is excessively springy and refuses to stay where you want to put it… such as snugly onto a gemstone. It tends to pop right back up and stick its tongue out at you, hence Sara’s annoyance that day. I dare say we’ve all been there.
This temperamental nature of white gold is why we will sometimes steer folks to platinum or palladium for their settings. Both of these other white meats… I mean metals… are far more malleable than white gold. They are considered “dead metals”, an unattractive way of describing how they lie down and surrender when you push a bezel or prong over a gemstone. No fussing, no talking back. Just sweet gem-setting harmony. This is why we usually make our Cupcake Studs in palladium as a white metal option, because its inherent malleability allows us to push and texture the rim of the bezel onto even fragile gems like opals and moonstones and labradorites. As a result, we feel powerful.
It’s not that we hate white gold. Every alloy has its best uses and appealing features. White gold, while not truly white, has a lovely warm tone due to its content of gold (obviously, a yellow element). The light color comes from the other metals in the formula, usually nickel or palladium, which help to lighten, but cannot entirely conceal, the yellowness. It’s like an incandescent bulb versus a fluorescent one. White gold is also very hard and durable, and will keep a shine longer than platinum. We like to use it for wedding bands without gemstones, for thin bangles, and for designs that are clean and simple with few parts to be soldered.
Conversely, both platinum and palladium are naturally white elements with a cool, grey cast. Platinum is palladium’s more refined and elegant sibling, quite precious and very dense. It’s a dream for setting gems into, and will last a long, long time. We love working with platinum because, once you learn how to respect it at the workbench, it will not put up a fuss. Palladium is less dense and less expensive than platinum, and also darker. It’s great for big things like wide cuffs and chunky rings, and it is a non-tarnishing alternative to sterling silver. It’s wonderful for more casual, textured designs and can be worn by people with an allergic sensitivity to white gold and silver.
In the end, Sara ultimately won her battle with the white gold Cupcake Studs. They are now in our gallery looking for a new home. They may be the last ones we ever make, opting instead for palladium, at least until someone custom-orders a pair in white gold. Then we’ll polish up our steel chisels and bravely go back into battle.