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A little bit of history on platinum
Platinum reached the peak of its popularity and was extensively used as a precious metal for American bridal jewelry in the early 1900's, and up to about 1940.
During World War II, the U.S. government prohibited the use of platinum for non-military use, as it was deemed a 'strategic metal' due to its desirable engineering properties such as: having a high melting point, being stable at high temperatures, having a high electrical conductivity, having a high strength and wear-resistance, and having a remarkable corrosion resistance even at high temperatures. As a result of the prohibition, during this era, platinum was replaced with white gold as a precious white metal in jewelry.
Platinum is an entirely different metal than white gold. Platinum is a chemical element (with the symbol Pt) and is naturally white (silverish-white) whereas white gold is an alloy usually created from a mixture of metals such as yellow gold, palladium or nickel, copper, zinc, and silver. Since white gold is not naturally white, it needs to be rhodium* plated to achieve the high white luster of platinum. However, rhodium plating will eventually wear off requiring additional plating to maintain the white effect.
*Rhodium is a hard, white, highly reflective metal of the platinum family.
Platinum vs. White Gold
Due to its strength & density, platinum holds diamonds securely and has a high resistance to breakage and wear. This is why platinum prong settings are frequently used on gold rings.
The major advantage of white gold over platinum is price. Platinum is more expensive because it is rarer and mined much less than gold.
Also, platinum is denser than gold, so the same ring will weigh significantly more in platinum than in gold. For example, white gold earrings are lighter and therefore more comfortable than platinum earrings of the same style and size.
Below is a table summarizing some advantages and disadvantages of white gold and platinum:
Platinum is a naturally white metal which will never fade, tarnish or change color over time, so it retains its finish better than white gold. Platinum does not require rhodium plating, but at times it is plated to conceal solder joints.
White gold is an alloy of yellow gold & non-precious metals. To maintain its white appearance, it needs periodic rhodium plating. Rhodium plating wears off in time.
With its high strength & durability, platinum prongs offer superior protection and security for diamonds. In fact, some European insurance companies won't insure diamonds weighing over 1 carat if they are not set in platinum! Platinum is not affected by chlorine and does not exhibit cracking and brittleness of nickel white gold.
White gold prongs are not as strong as platinum, and thus could be damaged by everyday contact with other surfaces. Also nickel white gold is susceptible to stress cracking and stress corrosion from chlorine, so avoid wearing white gold in hot tubs and swimming pools because chlorine can attack the metal.
Typically being 95% pure, platinum is one of the purest precious metals; such purity makes it naturally hypo-allergenic and thus ideal for those with skin sensitivity.
White gold is not pure gold because it is a mixture of yellow gold and non-precious metals, so it is not hypoallergenic. In fact, nickel white gold alloys may trigger allergic reactions for some. For example, if you are allergic to nickel, you may get itchy or infected ears after wearing pierced earrings with nickel white gold.
Platinum's high density makes it durable, so it doesn't wear away over time.
White gold loses tiny bits of its non-precious metals (such as silver) with every scratch, requiring rings to be reinforced, and worn areas to be replaced or re-shanked.
Being a rare and dense metal, platinum is more expensive than gold (platinum is about 20 times more rare than gold, and is about 1.65 times heavier than 14k gold).
White gold costs a great deal less, and thus is much more affordable than platinum.
Platinum expands or distorts very little (even when exposed to heat).
Gold expands and distorts more than platinum, especially when exposed to heat.
Few fun facts about platinum
So, which is better - A platinum or a white gold setting?
Both platinum and gold are relatively soft in their pure form, with gold being the softest. However, they become harder as certain alloying elements are added. For the sake of comparison, a 95% gold alloy would typically be softer than a 95% platinum. Platinum settings resist chipping, cracking, and breakage better than those of gold. Due to their greater density and strength, platinum settings retain their finish better and do not wear down the way gold does. Platinum is both durable and silverish-white throughout at all times.
The major advantage of white gold is its price. Another advantage of gold is its lower weight. For example, white gold earrings are lighter and thus more comfortable than platinum earrings of the same style and size.