This article will explain the history, chemical properties, and uses of palladium within the wedding ring industry.
Soft, pliable, and brilliantly white, palladium is a popular alternative to white gold and platinum wedding rings. This unique and sometimes rare metal has a longstanding tradition in the jewelry industry as both a gold alloy and an individual wedding band material. Similar to gold, palladium prevails as an easily customized metal and can be thinly sliced, engraved, and altered to befit a variety of styles.
In 1803, a young English chemist discovered the element palladium and named it after the Pallas Meteor, which received its own title from the Pallas monster slain by the goddess, Athena. At first, this soft metal was used to treat the symptoms of tuberculosis, but caused serious side effects despite its effectiveness against the disease. Since then, palladium gained its popularity within the jewelry industry during WWII as restrictions on silver led to the necessity for alternative metals. In the 1940’s palladium was even considered a “Royal Metal” and used as a material for kings and queens. Problems with the selling of palladium in Russia and South America eventually caused platinum to become the preferred metal once again. Today, palladium is used as both an alloy and metal conductor in the electronic, textile, photography, and art industries.
Palladium, or the chemical element Pd, is a member of the platinum group along with platinum, ruthenium, rhodium, iridium, and osmium. As with many of the elements in this classification, Palladium is a lustrous and soft white metal with many of the same properties as platinum and white gold. Palladium is formed in platinum ore and can be abstracted through a process of oxidation.
One of the unique differences between palladium and other metals lies within its stunning color. Palladium is one of the few naturally occurring white metals, and is significantly whiter than platinum and white gold. This natural color helps add to palladium’s affordability because jewelers do not need to apply the process of rhodium plating, or blanching of the metal. Palladium is classified through a process of numbering the amount of pure palladium present in a metal. The most common of these distinctions used in jewelry is called Palladium 950, meaning 95% palladium and 5% of another softer metal alloy.
Compared to other metals within the platinum group, palladium is significantly softer and more reactive to water and other hardships. In order to offset these negative qualities, jewelers often apply an annealing process (or heating treatment) and later cool the metal through a system called case hardening. This change in temperature strengthens the properties of palladium, thereby increasing its resistance to abuse.
One of the beneficial aspects of palladium is that it is resistant to interactions with several natural acids and does not tarnish or rust over time. Palladium is similar to platinum in that it holds up better than gold when it comes to scratch resistance and endurance. This is not to say that palladium is particularly scratch-resistant or cannot be bended. However, unlike pure gold, palladium is not easily warped and is significantly stronger in alloyed form.
Wedding Ring Uses
Alloys: Due to its natural white color, palladium is one of the most popular white gold and silver alloys. Jewelers often use a small level of palladium to increase brilliancy and strength in these metals. One of these common alloys is called “palladium white gold” which results in a 14k or 18k gold combination. Palladium can further be alloyed with silver, tungsten, and titanium.
Palladium Care: Although palladium is vibrant in color, the softness of the metal may become dull or tarnish over time. Jewelers can, however, easily clean and refurbish palladium jewelry. According to luxurypalladium.com, buyers should have their palladium maintained by their jeweler every six months. Normal cleaning and careful handling can help preserve palladium from physical damage.
Customization: Unlike harder white metals such as silver and lower-karat gold, palladium’s softer structure can be easily engraved and customized. Palladium is one of the few metals, other than gold, that can be cut into thin sheets through a process similar to gilding. The process of working palladium is almost is almost identical to the way jewelers handle platinum. The only significant differences are that palladium is more abundant and easier to work with than platinum.
Affordability and Demand: Palladium is generally more expensive than gold but significantly less expensive than platinum. More and more, palladium is a cost-effective way of achieving the beneficial qualities of platinum for a cheaper price. Palladium continues to grow in popularity as worldwide demand for the metal has reached 1.4 million ounces this year. China is the leader in both pure and fabricated palladium jewelry demanding almost 27% of palladium’s yearly output. This increasing demand makes palladium a significant investment value in the wedding ring industry.